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World/National News

December 30, 2012

World/Nation news in brief

(Continued)

Topping its to-do list in the new year: Set off toward a Martian mountain — a trek that will take up a good chunk of the year.

The original itinerary called for starting the drive before the Times Square ball drop, but Curiosity lingered longer than planned at a pit stop, delaying the trip.

Curiosity will now head for Mount Sharp in mid-February after it drills into its first rock.

“We’ll probably be ready to hit the pedal to the metal and give the keys back to the rover drivers,” mission chief scientist John Grotzinger said in a recent interview at his office on the sprawling NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory campus 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

___

North Korea’s caste system, long the arbiter of life, frays under the growing power of money

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — For more than a half-century, a mysterious caste system has shadowed the life of every North Korean. It can decide whether they will live in the gated compounds of the minuscule elite, or in mountain villages where farmers hack at rocky soil with handmade tools. It can help determine what hospital will take them if they fall sick, whether they go to college and, very often, whom they will marry.

It is called songbun. And officially, it does not exist at all.

The power of caste remains potent, exiles and scholars say, generations after it was permanently branded onto every family based on their supposed ideological purity. But today it is also quietly fraying, weakened by the growing importance of something that barely existed until recently in socialist North Korea: wealth.

Like almost all change in North Korea’s deeply opaque society, where so much is hidden to outsiders, the shift is happening slowly and often silently. But in the contest for power within the closed world that Pyongyang has created, defectors, analysts and activists say money is now competing with the domination of political caste.

“There’s one place where songbun doesn’t matter, and that’s in business,” said a North Korean soldier-turned-businessman who fled to South Korea after a prison stint, and who now lives in a working-class apartment building on the fringes of Seoul. “Songbun means nothing to people who want to make money.”

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