Around a year ago, a friend saved a National Geographic for me. It had a section about North Korea and she thought I'd be interested - probably due to the amount I'd talked about it since I moved in with her.
The article focused on a new tourist trip to North Korea and I was appalled that it carried no condemnation of using the most oppressed society in the world for amusement.
The article seemed more concerned with presenting a report devoid of opinion. Fair enough, my friend said. After all it is not National Geographic's angle to endorse or condemn, she added. This did not account for the full page advertisement for the trips, depicting a child in North Korean military dress.
Today, Explore North Korea has a page of testimonials on its website urging people to pop over with an "open mind" - a faculty those of us who condemn the regime outright apparently don't possess.
American Malcolm Michael A. says: "It is a glimpse into a fascinating culture, and indeed into a society without any other on earth like it today."
The "culture" of North Korea revolves around racial superiority, religious legends about its leaders and constant surveillance of its citizens. Fascinating it may be, worthy of this pardoning, gentle tone it is not.
Englishman Adrian Smith-Brigg says: "Just go with an open mind and no preconceived notions, as no amount of research can prepare oneself for the experience of North Korea."
It may not have occurred to Mr Smith-Brigg that it is precisely an open mind that leads one to reject totalitarianism.
Some condemnation is found in these comments from Ralf Kreuze of the Netherlands: "You will be asked to do some things which you might find morally objectionable, like bowing to the statue of the Eternal President.
"Having to bow to what we consider to be the statue of a tyrant doesn't come easy. But rest assured, it won't take more than a second and you needn't fold yourself up to your knees. A small inclination of the body will suffice. Just try not to think about it and get it over with.
"Was it easy to keep my mouth shut and not talk about what I saw while I was in North Korea? Truthfully, no it wasn't, but luckily you are not alone. Since this is a group tour you will be able to talk to your fellow foreign tourists and vent whatever frustrations or opinions you might have to them. Just keep your voices low and try to speak so your guides can't hear you."
The spirit of these comments is more disturbing that the rest; go along, see the horror, be polite and do absolutely nothing about it.
Praising these guided tours serves a political purpose for a government that has cultivated a theocratic cult of oppression and starved its people to the point of stunting their growth.
Praise contributes to the fiction the regime wants to project: that they are running a prosperous, grand society that is open to scrutiny. Never mind the concentration camps, kidnapping and forced abortions to clean out any dirty Chinese pollution from the world's cleanest race.
Taking this visit as representative of a North Korea that needs only an open mind to be understood poisons the picture we need to expose. All of this just to indulge a bizarre kink for the obscure and write a grovelling, gut-turning appeasement of a tyrannical nuclear state.
It simply is not enough to let foreign regimes off in a misguided appeal to understanding. Just because North Korea is different does not mean we can't understand and criticise it. Anybody whose mind is open should reject something so closed and evil.
If you want to flatter an erratic, fascist, racist, theocratic state that imposes curfews on its citizens, murders people arbitrarily and runs concentration camps, then this appalling tour is for you. If you do not it is not - unless you find a way to balance your jolly by contributing to the condemnation of this appalling regime.Suggest a correction