A purge in North Korea
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12 political photos that made us look twice in 2013

A purge in North Korea
Jang Song Taek, the uncle of the secretive 30-ish North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was dramatically removed last week from a special party session by armed guards.

Calling him “despicable human scum,” the state then summarily executed the man who had mentored his nephew during the transition after the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il.

In his two years in power so far, observes The Times, Kim Jong Un has invested “the country’s scarce resources in water slides, roller coasters, ski slopes and a ‘dolphinarium.’ ”

We might dismiss it as eccentric, except that North Korea has that nuclear arsenal.

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A lonely time for a cardinal
The former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, seemed increasingly isolated this year.

He was “relieved of public and administrative duties following the release of personnel files that suggest he protected accused priests from criminal investigation,” official reports recounted. Criticism from parishioners, the media and others mounted. And in Rome, where Mahony attended the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, cameras captured him, well, alone.

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 (AFP/Getty Images)
Obama shakes hands with a Castro
President Obama made headlines with a gesture.

At the memorial service for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela this month, he shook hands with Raul Castro, president of the long-estranged communist Cuba and brother of Fidel. As The Times said: “A handshake with the leader of a nation that’s been a foe for half a century is never just a handshake.”

The world took note.

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 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The ad that launched New York’s new mayor
In 30-some seconds this summer, a young black narrator sporting an oversized Afro counted off the reasons he liked New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.

His surprise closing line: “And I’d say that even if he weren’t my dad.”

As a rival campaign conceded about the double-take appearance from 15-year-old Dante de Blasio: “That ad killed us.”

And yes, Bill was elected, and Dante now has true star power.

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Generations of royalty
Not since Queen Victoria’s time has it been possible: Today’s queen of England was photographed this year with three potential future kings -- the first such image of royal succession in more than 100 years.

Marking the autumn royal christening of baby Prince George was his father Prince William, his grandfather Prince Charles and his great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Ahhh, tradition.

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Malala speaks to the world
“They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed,” proclaimed Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, who was shot and nearly killed by Taliban fighters, to the United Nations in July.

“And then, out of that silence, came thousands of voices.”

Her cause: Girls should have the right to go to school.

Wearing a pink shawl that belonged to slain Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Malala told the U.N. assembly on youth that she didn’t want revenge against the Taliban, which has threatened to hunt her down again.

Oh, and she gave those first formal, public remarks since the shooting on what was also her 16th birthday.

Would we do the same?

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The face of a man who gave away secrets
At first, the source for the leaked data about top-secret electronic intelligence programs was anonymous. Rumors flew, cloak-and-dagger stories were spun.

Then, days later, the man dubbed a “traitor” by ex-Vice President Dick Cheney emerged. He turned out to be a mild-looking, bespectacled 29-year-old high school dropout and computer tech for a defense contractor. Edward J. Snowden told interviewers last summer that he spilled details of classified surveillance programs because, well, “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded.”

How much do we care?

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Where women aren’t allowed to drive
It’s 2013, and women can’t get a driver’s license or drive legally in Saudi Arabia?

Right, because such freedom might lead to “increased premarital sex and promiscuity,” warn clerics in the conservative kingdom.

The image of a fully veiled woman, complete with sunglasses, furtively tooling around in the family car during a “defy the ban” protest in October speaks volumes.

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A Texas filibuster
Hour after hour, the slight figure in running shoes talked ... and talked some more ... under the Capitol dome in Austin.

Texas Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis was trying to stop a Republican-backed antiabortion bill.

During her filibuster, she couldn’t eat, nap, leave the floor, lean against the podium or speak about anything except the bill at hand.

After 11 hours, she had prevailed -- at least temporarily -- and so had her pink running shoes.

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A gay woman’s victory over DOMA
Edith “Edie” Windsor was angry, according to The Times.

If her longtime partner, Thea Spyer, had been named Theo instead, the estate she left to Windsor would not have been taxed. “So I decided to sue and get my money back,” said Windsor, now 84.

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, clearing the way for same-sex married couples to enjoy the same inheritance laws and other benefits granted opposite-sex couples.

Really, who else could have been grand marshal this year at the Gay Pride Parade in New York?

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Not much of a birthday at Yosemite
Yosemite, our universally acclaimed and beloved national park, celebrated its 123rd birthday in the fall. Instead of welcoming crowds, though, the usually packed and always popular Yosemite had to turn visitors away.

As the partisan bickering in Washington shut the federal government, one of the most visible repercussions was the immediate closure of the country’s 401 National Park Service sites.

As a forlorn Irish couple on their honeymoon told The Times: “We grew up seeing pictures of it in books. You know, the cars underneath those huge sequoia trees. That was America.”

Oh c’mon -- didn’t we all think: Can’t we compromise? Do we have to close our national parks?

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The gas, and the faces of Syria’s dead children
Anti-government activists in August accused the Syria government of killing hundreds of civilians in a poison-gas attack against rebels in a Damascus suburb.

The Syrian government called reports of a massacre untrue, but the images of dead Syrian children on The Times’ front page was searing:

“Kids dead on the cover page is so wrong,” implored one reader, while another wrote: “To those of us who want to know what’s really going on in the world, the photo was the best evidence available.”

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