Slave to the Blog: The Dog Bites Man Edition



Press coverage of North Korea often emphasizes strange, sensationalistic themes. Here is a collection of the largely expected, if not obvious. In some cases, it must have been a really slow news day.

North Korea's Air Koryo ranked world's worst airline.” Well, that UPI headline pretty much says it all. The ranking, by British airline consultancy Skytrax, is based on factors such as aircraft safety, airport facilities, customer service, in-flight meal quality, and the service-mindedness of flight attendants. Customers complained of disinterested flight attendants and inflight entertainment that consisted of propaganda films praising the “lives and achievements of North Korean leaders.” I was going to make a joke about this being better than a steady diet of Kevin Hart movies, but, no, I think being force-fed films praising the lives and achievements of North Korean leaders is even worse.

N. Korea ranks near bottom among countries in Internet speed.” This shocking headline comes to us via the Korea Times. Actually, the DPRK did better than I would have guessed: in the annual ranking by Akamai, it came in 134th out of 170 countries, besting countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Nepal. And who’s number one? South Korea, with an internet speed 13x that of the North.  The always opinionated Felix Abt has a personal history of the North Korean internet in the Diplomat.

Prevalence of metabolic syndrome and its related factors among North Korean refugees in South Korea: a cross-sectional study.” OK, this isn’t a headline, it’s the title of an academic paper, so we should cut them some slack. The study compared rates of obesity across North Korean refugees in South Korea, and native-born South Koreans. Lo and behold, South Koreans have higher rates of obesity. The policy takeaway: “As weight gain during adaptation to South Korean society is a potential risk factor for [metabolic syndrome] MetS, public health initiatives to prevent rapid weight gain among [North Korean refugees] NKR are needed. Considering the substantial burdens of [cardiovascular disease] CVD and diabetes mellitus in South Korea, efforts should be made to decrease the prevalence of obesity and MetS in NKR in order to reduce morbidity and mortality due to these diseases.” Translation: we have to teach the North Koreans that when you make it to the South, and are confronted with cheap, rich food, don’t pig out, even if you are stressed, or you will get debilitating diseases and die.

North Korea is still working harder.” OK, the actual Daily NK headline is “Kim Jong Un using ‘200-Day Battle’ iteration to bolster North Korean regime.” Point: the 200-day Battle charges on!

Suspension of Travel Visas to China Creates Hassles For North Koreans.” This is actually an interesting story; it just has a dumb headline. Of course, the suspension of travel visas creates hassles, the interesting thing is that the move, initiated by the North Koreans—not the Chinese—is disrupting cross-border trade and finance. Would seem to be a classic case of shooting oneself in the foot, but what do I know?

North Korea ratifies UN convention against organized crime.” I have to admit I was tempted to save this one for a “not satire” post. Yes, the Soprano State has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. According to the reporting in NK News by Hamish McDonald (does this guy ever sleep?) “the convention seeks to “promote cooperation to prevent and combat transnational organized crime more effectively”, which covers a variety of criminal activities, including money-laundering, corruption and various forms of illicit trafficking.” Of course, North Korea has been historically associated with many of the activities proscribed by the convention. But this could be more than a joke: ratifying these conventions has a way of coming around to bite the country when it does not live up to its obligations. Or as one of my colleagues observed, joining could be a subterfuge to get the inside dope on how to circumvent the transnational law enforcement regime. According to McDonald, “The UNODC could not be reached for comment on the submission of the relevant accession documents by North Korea or possible concerns given the state’s prior links with criminal activity and criminal organizations.”

House committee passes legislation calling for N.K.'s designation as terror sponsor.” Lastly, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill designed to pressure the State Department to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terror. This development in and of itself is not surprising. As I observed in an earlier post, given the Congressional calendar for the remainder of this session, I would be surprised if the bill passed the House and Senate and became law. Rather it is establishing a marker, and the next time North Korea is thought to have engaged in a terrorist act, the legislation will have been teed up for passage.

With this kind of normalcy, who needs weirdness?

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