Sunday, February 21, 2016

Last Call For Kim Jong Ugh

Days before North Korea’s latest nuclear-bomb test, the Obama administration secretly agreed to talks to try to formally end the Korean War, dropping a longstanding condition that Pyongyang first take steps to curtail its nuclear arsenal.

Instead the U.S. called for North Korea’s atomic-weapons program to be simply part of the talks. Pyongyang declined the counter-proposal, according to U.S. officials familiar with the events. Its nuclear test on Jan. 6 ended the diplomatic gambit.

The episode, in an exchange at the United Nations, was one of several unsuccessful attempts that American officials say they made to discuss denuclearization with North Korea during President Barack Obama’s second term while also negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.

Mr. Obama has pointed to the Iran deal to signal to North Korea that he is open to a similar track with the regime of Kim Jong Un. But the White House sees North Korea as far more opaque and uncooperative. The latest fruitless exchanges typified diplomacy between the U.S. and Pyongyang in recent years.

Since taking power at the end of 2011, Mr. Kim has stepped up the North’s demands for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, 63 years after it ended with an armistice. Many analysts see the move as an attempt to force the removal of the U.S. military in the South. The U.S. insists denuclearization must have priority, and said that has to be part of any peace talks, even while dropping the precondition that North Korea first take steps that show a willingness to give up its nuclear program.

Pyongyang rejects that. “For North Korea, winning a peace treaty is the center of the U.S. relationship,” said Go Myung-hyun, an expert on North Korea at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank. “It feels nuclear development gives it a bigger edge to do so.”

The international reaction to North Korea’s January nuclear test and follow-up rocket launch this month was swift, with Japan imposing new penalties on Pyongyang, South Korea closing an inter-Korean industrial park that had filled the North’s coffers and American lawmakers passing a bill to tighten economic sanctions against the regime. Mr. Obama signed the bill into law last Thursday.

I would rather that the United States err on the side of being too nice than too militant, but at this point it's clear that trying to deal diplomatically with North Korea is a mistake, and that yes, President Obama absolutely got taken for a ride here.  It would explain why the new round of sanctions against the Kim Jong Un were signed with lightning speed without much complaint from either party.

Some folks just aren't worth the time for diplomacy, and I hope we've learned our lesson here. The North Koreans got their big screw you Obama moment and it worked perfectly.  Coming off Iran and expecting North Korea to follow suit?  That smacks of ego, and fighting on that level against someone like Kim Jong Un is a losing battle every time.

I love President Obama, but hey, he doesn't win them all.  And this time he got pantsed by the local bully.

The Gig Economy

Yet another reminder that the most ridiculous city to live in here in America is liberal haven San Francisco and its environs, where not everybody is a tech millionaire, but she has to pay like one.

A fired employee from the Silicon Valley tech firm Yelp! has raised anger over the $1.38 billion company’s labor practices after writing a blog that pointed out that the profitable company’s employees are struggling to survive.

The employee, known as Talia Jane online, posted on her Medium blog that many employees can’t make basic living expenses, in an open letter to the company’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, according to Business Insider. After publishing the letter, Talia Jane was fired from her post as customer service agent.

Her letter is a summary of the economic misery many millennials have found themselves in after leaving college.

“So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week,” she wrote. “Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent.”

But it seems San Francisco-based Yelp! didn’t appreciate her essay. No more than 2 hours after posting it, Talia went on Twitter to say she had been fired.

She had been paid just over $733 biweekly and was paying $1,245 monthly for rent.

“I make $8.15 an hour after taxes,” she said.

Among her other grievances, she writes, “I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries.”

Business Insider says her letter and firing have led to an outpouring of support, including people donating to her PayPal account to help.

In an interview with Business Insider, she says while at Yelp, things got so bad she woke up with hunger pains.

“I brought up the wages in every quarterly meeting I had with my managers,” she said. “They were well aware that I was struggling despite doing what I could with what I had. The last straw was when I woke up yesterday two hours after going to sleep because my stomach hurt from hunger. And it’s something I’m used to, but this time it was really driving me to put something in my stomach immediately – I couldn’t wait 15 minutes for my rice to cook and it all became very clear that this shouldn’t be an issue I was dealing with to the point where I forgot it wasn’t normal.”

Here's the best part:

Yelp and its CEO both responded to Talia’s letter and firing.

We agree with her comments about the high costs of living in San Francisco, which is why we announced in December that we are expanding our Eat24 customer support team into our Phoenix office where will pay the same wage,” Yelp said in a statement.

We can get away with $8.15 an hour in a red state.  Welcome to the gig economy, kids!

Sunday Long Read: Walls Tumblr Down

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Elspeth Reeve over at TNR, as she takes a look at teenagers who ruled kingdoms and empires on the photo blog Tumblr, made serious bank, and watched it all burn.

When Pizza reached 100,000 followers on Tumblr, she posted a picture of a pizza box, takeout chicken wings, and an orange soda spread out on her bed: “pizza and chicken wings 2 celebrate.” One fan replied, “CONGRATULATIONS GIRL! YOU DESERVE IT!” Another: “MOTHER OF GOD 100K?!?!” An anonymous user was unimpressed: “you only have 100k because of ur url.” But Pizza shot that down: “uh no i had 93k before i got this url so excuse u.”

It had taken Pizza more than two years to reach this milestone. In late 2010 she had signed up for Tumblr, the then-three-year-old social network, and secured the URL At first, she mostly posted photos of party outfits—hipster photos, she thought. They were the kind of images you might find under the “summery” Tumblr tag: poolside drinks, sunsets, sundresses, palm trees, tiny succulents; a shopping list of the things she wanted to buy, if only she had the money. Pizza also wrote some funny one-liners, but otherwise she reblogged jokes, switching back and forth between fashion and comedy. She tried out new names, new personas, changing her URL a few times; after a couple of years, she went all-joke. By the end of 2012, she had amassed 90,000 followers, a respectable number for a Tumblr, a sign she’d earned a certain amount of fame in her circle—the teens who reblogged her jokes. She then changed her domain to, her followers started to call her Pizza, and her numbers began to climb. That same year, she turned 15.

Pizza’s strategy was brilliant: When a random Tumblr would write about “pizza”—either the food or herself—she’d reblog the post to her huge audience. Once, when a user wrote “so is tumblr user pizza god or beyonce,” she dug up the post and reblogged it with the comment “I’d like to confirm that i am both.” Users marveled at how quickly she responded, how you could “summon Pizza.” It made her seem all-knowing, but not superior. After Ellen DeGeneres ordered 20 large pies at the 2014 Academy Awards, Pizza dashed off the line “did u guys see me at the Oscars.” The post received almost 500,000 notes and was reblogged by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, with the comment “You looked great, pizza. Congrats on everything. I love you.”

One of Pizza’s most successful posts was “josh hutcherson’s parents are probably called josh hutcherdad and josh hutchermom.” It received over 419,000 notes. The joke was copied like crazy by humor accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. @RelatableQuotes’s version gathered 2,958 retweets and 4,425 favorites. @SoDamnTrue tweeted it for 1,630 retweets and 2,879 favorites. In June 2014, Pizza had more than 1 million followers and was the biggest star of the Tumblr teen comedy world. Two months later, her blog was gone.

Type in today and you’ll get a simple, haunting message: “There’s nothing here.” The 1 million left behind began to buzz: Where was Pizza? Why did Pizza go? Who killed Pizza? Tumblr users began to piece together the mystery of her disappearance. They wrote mournful posts: “i miss tumblr user pizza *insert titanic ‘come back’ gif*.” A fake conspiracy blog joked she quit after leaving the illuminati because of a fight with BeyoncĂ© over “how to wittily answer anonymous hate mail.” A rumor spread her blog was terminated for being racist. A Reddit user called her blog’s death “one of the biggest scandals to have ever happened on Tumblr.” Last fall, OfficialUnitedStates, another humor blog with a large following, wrote, “i miss … sometimes late at night i wonder what tumblr would be like if she hadnt disappeared into the night one year ago today.”

As someone who's been blogging on the net for more than seven years now, I can definitely relate to Pizza and why she quit, burnt out, depressed, obsessed.  It's a fascinating story, and there are a lot of folks out there like Pizza who all have stories of their own.

Definitely a good read this week.

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