The Head of the World Health Organization Bears May Day Greetings from Pyongyang! (Update: No Signs of Obesity There!)

chan.jpgIt could have been worse, I suppose, had I awakened this morning to the clatter of panzerkampfwagens rolling through the D.C. suburbs blaring the Horst Wessel Lied from loudspeakers. But if the prospect of the U.N. as Government of Earth horrifies you any less, get a load of what Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, holds up as the very model of a peachy health care system:

UN health agency chief Margaret Chan said on Friday after a visit to North Korea that the country’s health system would be the envy for most developing countries although it faced “challenges”. “Based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have something that most other developing countries would envy,” she told journalists, despite reports of renewed famine in parts of the country.

“To give you a couple of examples, DPRK has no lack of doctors and nurses, as we see in other developing countries, most of their doctors and nurse have migrated,” the director general of the World Health Organisation said. She also highlighted its “very elaborate health infrastructure” extending to a district network of household doctors, she added. [AFP]

The factual ignorance and the prevailing moral retardation of the United Nations even manage to put the Catholic Church’s recent troubles into perspective. Hey, at least they’ve only enabled the rape of a few thousand children! Speaking of a regime that willfully allowed up to 2.5 million of its people to starve to death, while the survivors merely watched their loved ones starve to death, Chan concedes that all is not perfect in North Korea:

“I can see perhaps that malnutrition is an area where the government has to pay attention, especially in pregnant women and young children,” Chan said in a telephone news conference about her visit.

Then, citing official North Korean statistics without apparent irony or suspicion …

[S]he praised the extent of child vaccination in the country, citing coverage of about 90 percent, as well as the way it tackled tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases.

But there were some qualifications. An OFK reader — one of (so far) two journalists for major news services who e-mailed me from the verge of apoplexy about this story, I will note — described this one as “perhaps the understatement of the decade:”

Chan later accepted that what she saw in Pyongyang “might not be representative of the rest of the country.

To say the least. Chan clearly wasn’t led to the hospital in Chongjin where the doctors, denied any medicines or modern equipment, spent large parts of their days gathering, drying, and grinding herbs to make “traditional” medicines, but who could seldom do more for their starving patients than watch them die. She wasn’t guided to the black markets where people buy the medicine — often, it’s crystal meth — that their government refuses to provide while it spends its money on luxuries for its Inner Party. Or to any of the schools that had to close during the most recent of North Korea’s frequent epidemics of H1N1, tuberculosis (regular and drug-resistant), typhoid, paratyphoid, typhus, or scarlet fever, despite the regime’s vaunted excellence at vaccinating children. Or any of the places Norbert Vollertsen described in this Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Though I was assigned to a children’s hospital in Pyongsong, 10 miles north of Pyongyang, I visited many hospitals in other provinces. In each one, I found unbelievable deprivation. Crude rubber drips were hooked to patients from old beer bottles. There were no bandages, scalpels, antibiotics or operation facilities, only broken beds on which children lay waiting to die. The children were emaciated, stunted, mute, emotionally depleted. [….]

Once, I had an opportunity to visit my driver, a member of the military, who was in the hospital because of injury. The authorities were vexed that I wanted to see him, but I was able to overcome objections. As was my custom on hospital visits, I took bandages and antibiotics–basics. On this occasion, I was embarrassed to see that, unlike any other hospital I visited, this one looked as modern as any in Germany. It was equipped with the latest medical apparatus, such as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, electrocardiograms and X-ray machines. There are two worlds in North Korea, one for the senior military and the elite; and a living hell for the rest.

Ms. Chan’s belief in the illusion through which she was paraded is, quite simply, beyond belief. It is in jarring contrast to North Korea’s refusal to so much as let the U.N.’s Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Vivit Muntarbhorn through his borders.

He also highlighted reports that the regime had tightened its grip on food distribution by prohibiting smallholders and markets. “The situation concerning food shortages in 2009 — with impact on 2010 — remains severe,” especially in the northeast, he added. Muntarbhorn stressed that “the problem is not simply food shortage but distorted food distribution, from which the elite benefits.” [AFP]

“Logically, it would seem that if the authorities are not able to satisfy the basic needs of the people, the people should be able to participate in activities which can help generate income so as to enable them to produce or buy their own food as well as sustain their livelihood,” he told the council. [Reuters]

This, children, is why the very term “United Nations” has become an oxymoron.

Update: Oh my God. Please tell me she was misquoted:

Chan spent most of her brief visit in Pyongyang, and she said that from what she had seen there most people had the same height and weight as Asians in other countries, while there were no signs of the obesity emerging in some parts of Asia.


  1. To be honest, I have a feeling Bruce is actually a right-wing agent provocateur; it’s like a bad impersonation of conservative’s idea of what all “leftists” are like.

  2. Is this you, Bruce, and is this your reason for knowledge of Korea? If it is, it’s a very sound basis, and thank you for your service — even though I disagree with your conclusions!

    “Joseph Alvarez wrote on 2004-03-12 20:54:59.0

    Comments: I served in Korea from January 1952 to November 1952. I was in the 223rd Inf Regt, Item company, 3rd platoon, 4th squad. We had a great bunch of men in the outfit and I am proud to have served with them. I am looking for Joey Rawlins, Dan Kolke, Bruce Carson, Joe Machunis and Richard Walsh. “

  3. Bruce first off if I had a dime for every wrong fact on wikipedia I could hire Bill Gates to mow my lawn. If you have ever read the accounts of people that visit N Korea they are given no access to the people and can’t go anywhere without a minder. If the North has nothing to hide why do they try and hide everything. Noam Chomsky is a deluded anti-american left wing wac job. Go to Asian Times and in letters section on page 40 of archives, I have a letter on april 12 2007 where I take that punk apart by the seams. Kim is not insane he is a malignant narcissist which is worse, he calmly watched his own brother drown to death. The North Koreans admitted to enriching uranium thus voiding the 1994 agreement. That agreement was a joke the US along with South Korea and Japan agreed to providing two 1000 MW power plants to generate electricity for the closure of a 5 MW plant that wasn’t making any power. Only the snot nosed democratic punks the US sent could negotiate such a treaty. Those punks on there best day can not negotiate crap from a goose. The currency change from Nov. 30 2009 which greatly damaged the private markets that feed the people of North Korea was strictly a north Korean decision. Bruce you will not respond because you can not counter my argrments with any facts, go find a tree to hug you will feel better in the morning.

  4. No David, I never served in the army. I wasn’t even born yet during the Korean War. :-\

    Any source that there are over 20,000 defectors in South Korea? Here’s a source to the contrary:

    By the way, to Dan, I’m not saying North Korea doesn’t have a lot of problems. Obviously, they do, but I oppose sanctions which historically only cause the common people to suffer. That was the case in Iraq where sanctions lead to death of many children. North Korea is probably much the same… anyway they don’t cause the leadership to suffer at all. The food shortage is of course related to the North’s ability to afford purchasing food, without foreign trade they can’t afford it. But the lack of obesity means the food they DO have is equally distributed, which is a damn site better than the US where we have starving people and obese people.

    But I guess if you want to invalidate any dissenting opinion who questions whether North Korea is the hell hole you claim, so be it. And I’m not even saying it’s great, just pointing out it might not be the gulag you claim.

  5. @Bruce

    The lack of obesity? Haven’t you seen the tire around Kim Jong Il’s stomach? How about Kim Jong Nam? Let’s not even get into the increasing amount of caviar imported from China.

    Sanctions or no sanctions, North Korea’s songbun ideology is the primary reason North Koreans go hungry. Mismanagement, lack of capital, and overall indifference by the government magnify the suffering of the people. Kim Jong Il simply does not care whether or not non-military North Koreans go hungry. If they complain, send them and their entire family to a labor camp. Here’s a link to a news report which shows that sending aid to North Korea is unnecessary, and unlikely to end up in the stomachs of the people who need it most.

    North Korea aren’t hungry because of sanctions, they’re hungry because their leader is an uncaring, narcissistic, piece of ****.

  6. Glans — I am so old that I can remember attending a Chomsky lecture on transformational grammar. It was the Vietnam Era, and the lecture hall was packed with people wanting to hear him excoriate McNamara. Instead he chose to discuss how changing the position of the verb in a sentence creates a whole new set of presuppositions as to the meaning underlying the sentence. He is, besides being somewhat politically lunatic, a philosopher of substantial regard in his method of trying to discern reality and meaning from the way words are joined together in speaking and writing. This is an extremely abstruse form of modern philosphy — and it was a boring, really boring, lecture. If you didn’t leave to go out into the rain, you fell asleep in the lecture hall fug of smelly bodies.

    So, when you ask Bruce about Chomsky’s philiosphy, you are in fact engaging in a form of ambiguity, linguistic and moral!

    But, unlike a similar situation in North Korea today, all those sleepy bodies were well fed. best regards

  7. Bruce,

    It is misleading to use South Korean numbers.

    Every DPRK subject who is illegally present in China is a “defector” in your vocabulary. “Defector” is a horrible word for economic refugees, (and I suggest, politely, that you should consider your own lack of human feeling in respect of them when you use such a loaded word.)

    Still, there are hundreds of thousands of them.

  8. Frankly, I never got the whole opposition to using the word defector. The word itself comes from desert and it means abandoning one’s country in favor of an opposing one, which is true for those who make it to and remain loyal to another country (usually South Korea).

    I was excoriated once or twice by those who thought I was deliberately insulting and demeaning the refugees with this word choice, since they must have assumed that defector must also represent to me the same qualities with which they had imbued that word.

    While the word refugee does suggest blame be placed on the Pyongyang regime for the persecution and famine that has forced people to leave, the word itself seems to suggest a pathetic passiveness, while the word defector suggests to me an active decision to say screw it and walk out, an ownership of one’s life course.

    Is the problem that on some level defect looks a bit too much like defecate? If so, then we should rescue it, take it back from such scatological inferences, much as I’ve been trying to do with niggling (and plan to do with niggardly).

    Please, someone enlighten me with a source (preferably online) that shows why refugee (or some other word) is so superior and defector should be eschewed.

    [I’m not very PC, unless you mean pro Corea.]

  9. “Defector”‘s original sense was a deserter, which is not considered an attractive moral attribute, and it was used in that sense in the period of punishment of the Republicans after the Monarchy reinstated itself following the English Civil War and the death of Cromwell. So a defector was a man of substance or birth who went Republican, and deserted the cause of the King. It fell out of use.

    It was resurrected, as a form of Orwellian doublespeak, by leftwing journalists in the 1930s and 50s to express implicit disapproval of Soviet citizens who fled to the West for a better life. Its similarity was to “defective,” a much used word at that time for mentally inadequate people. It was particularly used for artists, like Baryshnikov, who fled to the West for artistic freedom (read, between the lines of disapproval, a 5th Avenue penthouse.) Likewise, it was adopted by us for people like Kim Philby and Rupert Hansen who “defected” to the East — a decision implicitly deficient in logic to us.

    It was a term of disapprobation that, like Tory or Whig, developed its own usage and so is now used by most people, as kushibo uses it, as a morally neutral, factual word. But it isn’t — it carries inside it the hidden message that defectors are wrong, misguided, inadequate, selfish.

    It has a strong political undertone, with an implication still of “turncoat,” a permanent but self-interested change in allegiance and mentality. It is incorrect to use it for someone like a refugee or an economic migrant, who is voting with his feet for food or work, and has no particular political motive, and who would likely be happy to return to a job and family with food. By using it for such people, one increases the level of their “thought crime” and justifies a scheme of punishment based on their actions of (allegedly, but falsely) seeking to undermine the political stability of the system from which they are fleeing.

    Calling “defectors” all people who leave North Korea is to accept the DPRK’s position that all dissent, of any form, is treason. They are instead “economic refugees” which is considered a temporary rather than permanent status.

  10. David Woolley, thank you for your comment, which helps me to clarify my question. I wasn’t refering to linguistics or analytic philosphopy. I meant to ask Bruce if he thought North Korea would be better of under anarcho-syndicalism. If so, I hope he explains that to the DPRK leaders and people.

  11. Kushibo, how do you derive “defect” from “desert”? Sure, they both have the prefix “de” and the suffic “t”, but so do hundreds of other verbs. That leaves “fec” and “ser”. How do get from the one to the other?

  12. I remember defect coming from the Latin for desert, which the freebie dictionary in the Mac OS bears out:

    late Middle English (as a noun, influenced by Old French defect ‘deficiency’ ): from Latin defectus, past participle of deficere ‘desert or fail,’ from de- (expressing reversal) + facere ‘do.’

    And if you can’t trust free stuff from Apple, what can you trust?

  13. Thanks for your response, david woolley, but I’m not so sure I buy it, for two reasons. First, my own experience with the word is not from the 1950s, but from being a kid in the 1980s, where “defectors” were brave souls who had left the USSR or the Soviet Bloc for greener pastures and a better life. And I reject outright the notion that by using defector I am tacitly, implicitly, or willingly “accepting the DPRK’s position that all dissent, of any form, is treason.”

    I mean no disrespect whatsoever (and I genuinely appreciate your response), but if the reasons you state are roughly the reasons defector is out of favor, I don’t see any real reason to stop using it. In my case, at least, it carries none of those negative connotations and I think it is in fact a strong and appropriate word: It represents an active rejection of the Pyongyang regime.

  14. kushibo, defect and desert are synonyms. One doesn’t derive from from the other. They were already synonyms in Latin: deficere, defectus, synonymous with deserere, desertus. Each had various other meanings, but both were applied to someone who quit one side and went over to the opposing side. Cicero and Caesar used both of these verbs with that meaning.
    And I’m still waiting for Bruce to explain the benefits of anarcho-syndicalism to the DPRK.

  15. I’m not a Latin-specializing etymologist, so I can’t say whether something was “derived” (your word, not mine) from the other. Whether defect and desert are mere synonyms or whatever, might point about their accepted meaning today still stands. david woolley’s “hidden message” about the meaning is only revealed if he reveals it.

  16. What kushibo is expressing is the growth of language. To people such as I and of my generation, defector is a word akin to defective and deficient, and loaded. To people of his generation, it means “brave soul.” It’s not at all a bad thing, but it does show how generation gaps can develop.

  17. david woolley, “defector” is related to “defective” and “deficient”, I grant you that. And the verb “desert” (abandon) is related to the noun “desert” (wasteland). So what? So long life and good health to you and to Kushibo! And to the entire community! And to heck with hidden messages.

  18. It is strange that the world is so worried about what the monkeys in Syria are doing to each other …. yet we have an entire country that is a gulag pure and simple and no on cares …. is it the squinty eyes? Is it because they are little yellowish people? Or is it because they represent the model of the world that the Elites at the UN and many other leftist elites see for all of us.

    North Korea is a gun free zone … that is what all slaves have in common …. they do not own guns.

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