North Korea LoveFest

For the second time in two months, my heart is with the North Korean football (soccer) team.

News reports say the team – which turned in a gutsy and sportsmanlike performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – and its coach have been publicly shamed in a 6-hour harangue by party officials and ministers. As the Telegraph wrote:

The players were subjected to a “grand debate” on July 2 because they failed in their “ideological struggle” to succeed in South Africa, Radio Free Asia and South Korean media reported.

The team’s coach, Kim Jong-hun, was reportedly forced to become a builder and has been expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The coach was punished for “betraying” Kim Jong-un – one of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il’s sons and heir apparent.

Following ideological criticism, the players were then allegedly forced to blame the coach for their defeats.

Sure North Korea went out in the first round.

Yes, they lost miserably to Portugal 7- 0.

And, yes, *sigh* it is hardly surprising

to hear the North Korean regime express displeasure.

But the truth is that the ruling cadres are just missing the point.

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To North Korea, With Love

It was supposed to be a World Cup blowout. One of the best teams in the world teaching upstarts a much needed lesson.

Brazil was going to stomp North Korea – and I was going to cheer every second.

But North Korea was spunky. No silly theatrical dives, no overly-dramatic facial expressions or picked fights. They ran like the wind. When they fell or tripped, they got right back up – and patted the back of any Brazilian player involved. They held off the Brazilian side well into the second half of the match out of sheer grit and determination. As the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t help but admire these men for standing firm against a football institution like Brazil. 

And by the end of the match? Well, we all knew they couldn’t win going down 2 goals to nil against the Samba Kings but I found myself cheering — like, jump up and down, pump fists in the air, cheering – when North Korea scored in the 89th minute.

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The master of his fate …

Nelson Mandela is my hero.

Oh now, I know, I know …. I should qualify that before anyone goes off in a tizzy.

If I applied a magnifying glass to every aspect of his personal and political life I’m sure I would discover plenty of chink’s in my hero’s armor. Did he keep every promise? Did he make no mistakes at all? Did he sometimes compromise when he should have stood firm? Did he endorse violence? Support dictators and strongmen? Is he really the picture perfect specimen most would like to believe? Is South Africa now the best run, most prosperous country in the world because of his leadership?

(For the record? No. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No.)

Let’s be honest here. If we discounted every potential hero on the basis of mistakes or personal indiscretions, I doubt even Ghandi would make the cut.

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Rooting for Hope …

What do you get when you mix groups of Palestinians, Americans, South Africans and a bunch of Europeans? Proof positive of the commonalities we all share as citizens of the world.

Residents in the Gaza Strip got a rare treat this weekend as home region favorites squared off against Italy in the inaugural match Saturday of the United Nations Development Programme-sponsored “Gaza World Cup” – running until May 15. (For the record, the Italians won 1-0.)

Football – or soccer as Americans usually call it – is the world’s game. A great equalizer. A sport with unrivaled global popularity that can – and does – see kids from the harshest megacity streets to impoverished rural villages reach for their dreams. (Yes, yes, cue the Ricky Martin muzak.)

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Changing Reality: A jihad we can all support

What do Mick Jagger, Coca-Cola and Lahore, Pakistan all have in common?

They are all elements in one man’s ongoing jihad to build bridges across borders.

Salman Ahmad is a modern warrior, armed with weapons of mass destruction aimed straight at hatred, mistrust and divisiveness. Using his favored tools – a guitar, haunting melodies and poignant lyrics – he is out to tear down barriers and get people around the world to stop and really take a look at each other.

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New Media: The good, the bad, and the downright ugly

Over the span of the last two weeks we have witnessed both the power and the folly of new media.

The blogosphere, twitterverse and other online forums proved to be effective rapid-reaction communications tools when a massive earthquake devastated Haiti on Jan. 12. Outside Haiti, the Internet exploded with posts and tweets providing donation information, suggestions to help people search for loved ones and heartfelt entreaties to lend a helping hand. From inside Haiti survivors tweeted eyewitness accounts and offered to help locate loved ones, uploaded information to MySpace, YouTube and Facebook.

Did all this online activity dig people out from under collapsed buildings? Did it put bandages on bleeding wounds? No, of course not.

But it did provide an almost immediate platform for people to come together, share information and reach out with compassion and do what they could to help Haiti.

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Hope for Haiti, Hope for the World

The blogosphere and twitterverse exploded late last night with the news of a massive 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. The current outpouring of support, prayers and entreaties to help Haiti recover are both humbling and inspiring – and remind us all that even in the face of great tragedy there is hope for us all when people of the world unite in common purpose.

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DRC Paraplegics Take On Social Stigma through Music

A group of disabled singers and musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo have banded together to challenge discrimination and stigma through music. Their refusal to accept the disdain of DRC society and impoverished, unfulfilled lives on the fringes is a testament to the human spirit.

 Ok, so that might sound cliché, but I mean it. Most of us pass through lives that would widely be considered mundane or “normal” – fretting over “normal” problems like paying the bills, little Billy’s school grades and mowing the lawn. These artists have taken a horrendous situation and turned it into a positive. How many of us “normal” folk can say that?

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A leader for the times: Maldives President Nasheed

You have to give Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed gold stars for perseverance and creativity. At a time when our planet is in desperate need of creative leaders willing to “think outside the box” to address a host of critical common threats to the human family, Nasheed stands out as a man unwilling to give up in the face of indifference.

Nasheed took 11 of his cabinet ministers out to a coral reef near one of the Maldives islands for the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting last week. Decked out in scuba gear and seated around a horseshoe table amidst the coral, the officials passed around an “SOS” agreement calling for carbon gas emission cuts.

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