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From nuclear threats to dark-horse celebrity ambassadors, North Korea has made a name for itself as a hotbed of severity, secrecy and scandal.

Artisan coffee comes to North Korea

In Pyongyang, one new coffeeshop serves a hip and cosmopolitan roast.
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A general view of downtown street on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Feng Li/Getty Images)
Pyongyang is home to a hip new coffeeshop serving "third wave" coffee.

Should we trust the Pentagon on North Korea?

Obama doesn’t think North Korea can place a nuclear weapon on a missile — as the Pentagon claimed last month.
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Missiles are displayed during a military parade to mark 100 years since the birth of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on Apr. 15, 2012. (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL — The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) — the Pentagon’s intelligence arm — reported “with moderate confidence” in an intelligence assessment that North Korea had mastered a startling technology: the ability to shrink a nuclear warhead and place it on a crude missile. But President Barack Obama came out in apparent loggerheads with the Defense Department. And he wasn’t the first to question the Pentagon’s calculation.

South Korean fringe website: Let's use Boston to bomb North Korea

Korean web user says the marathon bombing is a good opportunity to 'kill that pig' Kim Jong Un.
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A South Korean activist stabs a pocket knife on a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during an anti-North Korea rally near the national assembly in Seoul on March 22, 2013. Some South Korean web commentators want the US to blame North Korea for the Boston Marathon bombings. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — Some Americans are speculating on Twitter that North Korea masterminded the bombings in Boston, pointing out its timing after two months of militant rhetoric. Of course, all five South Koreans interviewed by GlobalPost over the past day expressed shock over the news and thought such a scenario was incredibly unlikely.

But KoreaBANG, a popular blog, has put together a translation revealing the dark side of anti-Pyongyang punditry here in South Korea after the bombing.

A fringe group of anonymous Korean web commentators has been taking note of the conspiracy theories making their way around American social media. Some of them are calling on Washington to use the marathon bombing as the pretext for an invasion of the North.


Dennis Rodman is an FBI informant

And if you visit North Korea, you can become one too.
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Dennis Rodman speaks during the Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on Aug. 12, 2011, in Springfield, Mass. Rodman's recent trip to North Korea makes him the latest in a long line of musicians, artists and athletes who have helped open Asian dictatorships to the world. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
And if you visit North Korea, you can become one too.

Happy Birthday, Kim Il Sung!

For North Korea, the birthday of the 'Great Leader,' Kim Il Sung, is pretty much the most important holiday of the year.
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File photo shows a North Korean soldier during a military parade to mark 100 years since the birth of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012. (Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — Today is the 101st anniversary of the birthday of North Korea's "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung.

For North Koreans, it's pretty much the most important holiday of the year, along with Kim Jong Il's birthday on Feb. 16. They'll get three days off.


With North Korean threats, is South Korea safe for investment?

South Korean President Park Geun-hye reassured foreign investors despite talk from the North.
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A foreign businessman walks in the Myungdong shopping district on April 11, 2013 in Seoul, South Korea. According to reports a North Korean missile launcher has been moved into firing position as the continuing threats of attack emit from Pyongyang. G8 leaders convened in London to discuss the situation. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — We've heard a lot of talk in recent weeks about the military side of the North Korea threat. Today, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency is reporting that North Korea could have the capabilities to build a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile — even though there's a lot of disagreement over that part.

But how does the threat of military action play for foreign investors in South Korea?

Today, President Park Geun-hye met with foreign investors from Google, Citibank and Siemens — to name a few corporations — in her administration's Blue House, reported the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. She tried to assure them that her administration would create a stable investment environment despite North Korea's bluster.


Will a Korean conflict go nuclear?

And other pressing questions.
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A statue of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in the North Korean border town of Siniuju, across from China's northeastern city of Dandong. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — Well, we don’t really know the answer. Last time there was a Korean War from 1950 to 1953, some historians say it nearly did go nuclear — although there’s disagreement over the extent President Harry Truman was willing to consider the Bomb based on vague public statements.

Over the past month, I’ve been collecting some of the most insightful reporting that addresses the nuclear question and other ones. They range from diffident to downright alarming. Some favorites:


Kim Jong Un, the Nigerian

The mayor of a northern Nigerian town awarded Supreme Leader Kim honorary citizenship, citing his great wisdom and guiding hand against the imperialist powers.
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North Korean workers take a picture in the "African Renaissance Monument" in April 2010 in Dakar, Senegal. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL — Today is April 10, the date of the fake apocalyptic ultimatum that North Korea gave to foreign embassies in Pyongyang and expatriates in South Korea. The regime essentially advised them to pack up and leave, or else they can't be protected regardless of whatever happens after today.

Obituary: Korea's unification movement (1998-2013)

Now that North Korea has recalled its workers from the Kaesong Industrial Zone it's farewell to hope for a peaceful unification, at least for now.
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A visitor looks at 'reunification ribbons' displayed on a military iron fence at Imjingak peace park in Paju near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas on Feb. 13, 2013. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — Now that North Korea has recalled its workers from the Kaesong Industrial Zone — an area north of the DMZ where hundreds of South Korean managers oversee 51,000 North Korean laborers — it's farewell to hope for a peaceful unification, at least for now.

(Leonid Petrov is a Korea expert at Australian National University in Canberra.)

In the late 1990s, the peninsula was on a path towards reconciliation, and possibly unification into a single Korea. Diplomats and reporters were optimistic, pointing out that North Korea had been through a famine that left 1 million dead, and that the communist government could not maintain the status quo.

Proponents called the movement the "Sunshine Policy." The Kaesong Industrial Zone, opened in 2004, was the offspring of that movement — a model for the cooperation that would come.

"Sunshine" reached its height when the South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, who later won the Nobel peace prize, met his dictatorial counterpart, Kim Jong Il, for a historic summit in Pyongyang. People called him the Asian version of Nelson Mandela.

But critics said any hope for real progress was naive, and that North Korea was playing with Seoul to get aid and concessions that would enrich the regime. Were they right?


All quiet on the northern front

Some South Koreans are on edge over North Korean war talk. But for many, it's business as usual.
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A South Korean soldier stands on a military guard post near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas in the border city of Paju on April 5, 2013. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

I'm now in Yangju, a mostly rural town about a 30 minute's drive south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) near the North Korea border.

On most days when visiting this region, the occasional army truck will pass by, or I'll hear the sound of choppers flying near the Korean and American military bases not far from this area.

But today, despite the bluster, the forests and farms give off echoes of roosters crowing and dogs barking.

Over the years, plenty of Koreans have explained how they feel when the North drums up the militant rhetoric. It's just a part of life, they usually say, and not as big of a deal here as it is in the American press.

Or, to make better sense of it: As a child growing up in Los Angeles, I lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake. After the cataclysm, we heard all sorts of chatter about the coming "Big One," an eventual tremor so massive that it would reshape the landscape of southern California.