For the most part, we live our lives in little spheres of sameness — where we live, where we work, where we go to school, where we go out to eat. Occasionally, though, we have to move outside of those spheres, and when we do, it helps to have the nutdar in good working order.
This afternoon I needed to go to the Kroger pharmacy near our house. When I got there, the prescription wasn’t ready, but the pharmacist told me it would only be a few minutes. There was a little waiting area with three chairs next to each other in a row, two of which were already occupied by a young guy with close-cropped hair and an old guy wearing a leather motorcycle jacket who just sat down. My choices were to sit between them, or stand. When I considered the options my nutdar kicked in and told me to stay clear, so I moved a distance away and checked my email without making any eye contact with my fellow pharmacy customers.
Sure enough, a few moments later the young guy and the old guy started an unnervingly loud conversation about drugs and their health problems. The young guy spoke in rapid-fire cadence and seemed wired to the hilt, like a character in a Hunter S. Thompson book. In just a few minutes his booming voice covered why he didn’t trust generic drugs, his fear that he’s had multiple heart attacks, a rumor he heard that the DEA had shut down a local pharmacy for violations of federal drug laws, and some kind of mechanical problem he was having with a motorcycle that he had bought on Craig’s List in a “rip-off” deal. The old guy, not to be outdone, chipped in with ringing declarations about his various ailments, suggestions on drug that the young guy could take to deal with those apparent heart attacks, and a diagnosis of the motorcycle issues. I tried not to listen, but it was impossible to avoid.
I don’t know if these guys were dangerous or harmless, but it was the end of the day and I didn’t want to find out. I’m glad my subconscious kept me away from them. It’s nice to know that my nutdar is still in prime working condition.
In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President Bush described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as parts of an axis of evil in the world. He was criticized by some for not engaging in constructive dialogue with those entities, but now a detailed United Nations report shows just how extraordinarily evil the North Korean regime really is.
The 400-page report was released by a specially appointed UN Commission. It compares the crimes being committed in North Korea to those that occurred in Nazi Germany, and for once the conclusion is apt rather than reckless hyperbole. Through interviews with refugees and victims, the report documents the starvation, torture, discrimination, and repression that are key elements of the North Korean regime. It describes how North Korea operates a system of unspeakably cruel labor camps and prisons, where inmates are starved, murdered, raped, and subjected to forced abortions; escapees described prisoners being forced to drown their own children and dig their own graves before being murdered by guards with hammers.
The atrocities in the labor camps have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, and hundreds of thousands more have died through starvation as a result of governmental policies that use the supply of food to keep the population under control. The report finds that North Korea also practices discrimination against women and others in a rigid, state-assigned class system, prevents the free exercise of thought, conscience, and religion, and operates a police state in which security forces use violence and cruel punishments to create a climate of fear.
The UN report reminds us of the Holocaust and calls for prompt international action to end the atrocities of an evil government, but that is not likely to happen. North Korea denies all of the allegations of the report. More importantly China, North Korea’s ally and protector, indicates that it will not support any intervention. As awful as the North Korean regime is, and as terrible as the suffering of its people may be, the international community has few options short of invasion — and there does not seem to be much appetite for such a step.
So, we are left with a report that probably will not change the reality in North Korea — but that report nevertheless serves a useful purpose. There truly is evil in the world, and it is important for us to be periodically reminded of that unfortunate fact.