Monday, December 19, 2011

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il dead: Reuters

(Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack while on a train trip, state media reported Monday, sparking immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program.

A tearful television announcer dressed in black said the 69-year old had died Saturday of physical and mental over-work on his way to give "field guidance."

He had suffered a stroke in 2008, but appeared to have recovered. North Korea's official KCNA news agency said he died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday (6:30 p.m. EST on Friday) after "an advanced acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a serious heart shock."

South Korea, still technically at war with the North, placed its troops and all government workers on emergency alert, Yonhap news agency reported. But Seoul's Defense Ministry said there were no signs of any unusual North Korean troop movements.

"Up until tonight, if anybody had asked you what would be the most likely scenario under which the North Korean regime could collapse, the answer would be the sudden death of Kim Jong-il," said Victor Cha, a Korea expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington.

"And so I think right now we're in that scenario and we don't know how it's going to turn out."

The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified of the reports of Kim's death and it was closely monitoring and in touch with South Korea and Japan.

The United States was committed to stability on the Korean peninsula as well as to its allies, the White House press secretary said.

Japan's Foreign Minister Jun Azumi said his country had to be prepared for the unexpected on the security front.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitch: A personal memory from my 'Penthouse' years

Controversial journalist Christopher Hitchens has finally succumbed to cancer
of the esophagus. I will miss his work, but I still have more than half his
memoir to relish. And I have the memory of my one phone call to him.

Early in my editorial career, I was a managing editor working for a subsidiary of Penthouse magazine; I worked on three pubs, actually: Penthouse Letters and Penthouse Forum (I was a senior editor on both mastheads), and Penthouse Hot Talk (of which I was the managing editor).

We never had to trouble ourselves with the "dirty" stuff -- we simply ran the photographs that Penthouse, for whatever reason, had rejected. If you've ever seen Hot Talk (henceforth to be referred to as HT), you'd never imagine they were "rejects." Bob Guccione made the final selections, so I suppose that women who didn't conform with his opinion of beauty were thrown in the "recycle" pile.

General Media, the parent company of Penthouse and the special publications group of which I was part, owned and operated an eclectic batch of pubs, some of which were quite profitable, at least for a time, such as Omni. GM also owned a large portfolio of several automotive magazine titles.

A year or two before the millennium, things started going seriously wrong for GM, as several troubling trends began converging on Guccione's empire. Wildly unsuccessful investments that Guccione had made years earlier -- including what was to be the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino, which in the late 1970s, due to financial and legal difficulties, was never completed and a casino license never issued (the company lost some $160 million -- where was Nucky when they needed him?), and there was also a (never-built) nuclear fusion power plant, yes, a (never-built) nuclear fusion power plant. These "investments" were a key part of the financial woes which were mounting and wreaking havoc on the company's books.

[Please bear with me; I will get to Hitch. As Quentin Tarantino wrote, and said, "It's not reaching the destination, it's the ride that counts," or something like that.]

Also fueling the company's problems was the erosion of Penthouse's readership base due to intense competition from other pubs, plus a new animal that had began pawing at the door --  the Internet. On top of that, some of GM's once-steady revenue generators, such as Omni and Longevity, were losing their juice with readers, probably due to cutbacks, and sales were seriously falling. Ad revenue is usually not far behind, and wasn't.