On Tuesday we posted about the arrival of tuba player, basketball aficionado, and sometime geneticist Joe Terwilliger in North Korea, to help shepherd the illustrious (and illustrated) Dennis Rodman around the country, so he (Dennis) won't get lost. Joe is conversant, or better, in the North Korean dialect--at least as we thought--so this seemed like a reasonable way for a once-serious geneticist to spend his time.
But today the horrible news of Joe's trip is.....no news. A total silence. As quiet as a crowd before a foul shot....and what a foul shot this has turned out to be! Where's all the brave talk and hoopla that usually accompanies any attention paid to the Perfect Republic?
Well, as long as you promise not to tell anyone, we will tell you. We have learned (quite confidentially) that this was not another example of dictatorial failure to run the spin machine properly. No! It was a linguistic disaster, and you'll quickly know who was responsible.
You may have seen photos the other day of 500,000 young North Korean girls, all spontaneously assembled in identical pink dresses, on a Pyongyang parade squere. The news wires said this was to celebrate some latest government success or other. We wondered what that may have been, but we've learned that, instead, it was the result of the Terwilliger Debacle.
These nubile young servants of the State had, in fact, been assembled to have a Celebrate Genetics Day march, then to file one at a time by a Q-tip station to have a cheek (i.e., oral!) swab to donate their life-substance to the nation. This was a Terwilliger-arranged MegaMegaHyper GWAS study, to humble the rest of the world even more than a nuclear test would have, by generating more DNA data and more trivial but significant 'findings' than the world has ever known. This in itself is very strange: Normally, one would not expect Joe Terwilliger to encourage anyone to undertake
another GWAS study. Normally, he advises them to do some actual science
But then the true nature of the disaster became evident, and we can now explains the sudden silence! True, Joe is reasonably fluent in various languages, and he's plenty proud of it. But what the secret wires have informed us is that Joe's linguistic overconfidence has backfired big-time. In teaching the Kim crew about genomics, he told them they would have to sequence 6.2 billion units for each person they included in the study, and this material would have to be assembled in their new Shame-the-West lab.
But in his haste to be included in this trip, and tag along with the illustrious (and illustrated) Mr Rodman, Joe got his Korean phonemes mixed up when orally querying his Rosetta Stone Korean language program for the word he needed, and what he actually translated to the North Koreans was was beans, not genes!
Well, the North Koreans don't know as much genetics as they do nuclear physics, and whether or not Joe's instructions seemed strange to them, Kim's loyal citizens obediently and with amazing speed mobilized the required trainloads of bushel upon bushel, to be secretly delivered, from every corner of the country and in the dark of night, to the Lab, in order for the Big Data result to be sprung on an unsuspecting world, before the illustrious (and illustrated) Mr Rodman would end his 'good-will only' tour.
Instead, the catastrophe has occurred: the beans entirely clogged up the sequencing machines--and there is no Joe Terwilliger to be seen! (Fortunately, the North Koreans don't yet realize what's happened, and are searching the sequencer manual to see how they failed to set it up right). We don't know how you say HORSE in Korean, but we did, however, hear one report that the sound of a bouncing basketball could be heard in a gym near the lab.
Joe's obvious ulterior motive was that now the Koreans will have to invite him back, to teach a class on how to operate sequencing equipment.