North Korea's New Street and Fanta for Phantoms: The Week in Global-Affairs Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about the world

North Korean military soldiers walk along the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings just after attending its official opening ceremony on April 13, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea.
North Korean military soldiers walk along the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings just after attending its official opening ceremony on April 13, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Wong Maye-E / AP)

The Useful Village
Ben Mauk | Virginia Quarterly Review
“It’s an oddly warm October morning when Grit Richter, sitting in her modest office in Amt Neuhaus, gets a phone call from the interior ministry in Hannover. An administrator explains to her that Sumte, among the smallest of the thirty-six territories under Richter’s purview, will receive 1,000 asylum seekers starting at the end of the month, to be housed in the Apontas office complex. Richter isn’t sure she’s heard correctly. Yes, the administrator says, they know that Sumte is small. They also know that the complex is empty and disused. But the village has something that no other town in the area can boast: 21,000 square feet of dry shelter. Her options, she’s told, are to say ‘yes’ or ‘yes.’”

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Starving to Death
Max Bearak and Laris Karklis | The Washington Post
“Our world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe.

But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II. As defined by the United Nations, famine occurs when a region’s daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people.

The persistence of such severe hunger, even in inhospitable climates, would be almost unthinkable without war.”

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The Syria Catastrophe
Richard Beck | N+1
“Syria initially seemed to have avoided the wave of Arab Spring unrest that swept across much of the Middle East beginning in late 2010, but beneath its surface stability and continuity lay several of the same factors that destabilized Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and other countries. Political power was concentrated among a tiny elite of technocrats and Assad flunkies. The Mukhabarat, a set of brutal intelligence agencies originally trained by the Stasi, snuffed out the faintest flicker of opposition. The introduction of neoliberal economic policies also unsettled Syrian society—Assad had attempted a halfhearted marketization of the economy that produced the worst of both worlds, destroying the country’s economic safety net without actually producing more jobs. Farmers who had relied on now-diminished government fuel subsidies could no longer afford to keep their machines running. In the cities, millions of educated young people found there was nothing for them to do with their educations.”

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In Thailand, blood sacrifice is out. Strawberry Fanta is in.
Patrick Winn | PRI’s The World
“In Thailand, it’s common to believe in paranormal spirits. This alone is not particularly extraordinary. The same is true of people in Iceland, Taiwan, the United States and many cultures around the world.

But Thailand is unique in its melding of spirituality and cuisine. To appease the spirits in Thailand, skip the somber incantations or spells. These ghosts prefer snacks.

There is a generally agreed-upon menu of ghost-friendly food and drink offerings. Rice and plain water will do in a pinch (or if you’re broke). But Thai spirits would much rather receive bananas or coconuts. Better still, some starchy, eggy desserts.”

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How Russia Hacked Obama’s Legacy
Hayes Brown | Buzzfeed News
“No one from the Obama administration seems to remember when they figured out they were falling victim to one of the greatest intelligence operations in history.

‘This was the kind of realization that came incrementally,’ a former senior State Department official told BuzzFeed News. ‘There wasn’t a moment where you realized that Pearl Harbor had been hit by kamikaze or that the World Trade Center has been hit.’

Now, as two congressional committees and the FBI investigate Russia's role in the election, former Obama officials find themselves grappling with a new legacy, one that formed at the 11th hour of their time in power. As they looked toward a world where pariahs like Iran and Cuba were won over with diplomacy, they fell victim to a sneak attack by an old adversary. And they let it happen, offering up stern warnings and finger-wagging instead of adequately punishing Russia for achieving something that even the Soviet Union at the height of its power couldn’t manage: meddling in the US election and rattling Americans’ trust in their democracy.”

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Woken up Before 5 a.m. to See North Korea’s Leader, Five Hours Later
Sue-Lin Wong | Reuters
“Suddenly, there was fervent clapping and cheering, balloons bobbing, flags flapping. Kim Jong Un and top government officials walked onto the stage to a fanfare from the brass band reserved to mark his public appearances.

It is ‘a very significant, great event, more powerful than the explosion of hundreds of nuclear bombs on the top of the enemies’ heads,’ said North Korea’s premier Pak Pong Ju, the main speaker at the opening ceremony.

The completion of Ryomyong Street is one of the examples of ‘a brilliant victory based on self-reliance and self-development against maneuvers by the U.S. and vassal forces’, he said, using the state’s typical descriptions of the United States and its allies.”