Just how radical are Pope Francis's black shoes?

Any fashionista worth her salt knows the importance of shoes, so perhaps it's not surprising that speculation has already surfaced about what Pope Francis's choice of footwear could mean for his papacy. The New York Times reports:

[Francis] wore simple black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first Mass as pontiff.... In an ancient institution where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, has dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy. Whereas Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, was a theologian who favored red loafers, ermine-lined cloaks and erudite homilies, reviving papal fashions from centuries past, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, appeared Thursday to be sending a message of radical humility.

But just how radical are black shoes? (After all, the innovations of new popes are often overstated.) While red shoes have historically been the papal footwear of choice, stretching back centuries (see the image on left of Pope Pius VII's slippers from 1808), they haven't always been as extravagant as Benedict's beloved red shoes.

In 1969, for instance, Pope Paul VI abolished the ornate shoe buckles favored by cardinals and past pontiffs. And John Paul I, who was fond of the motto "humilitas," continued to don plain red-leather shoes.

John Paul II, meanwhile, opted for a pair of ordinary brown shoes. But Pope Benedict XVI, a fan of tradition, restored the red leather. It remains to be seen whether the new precedent-setting pope -- the first Francis, Latin American, and Jesuit -- will also be the first pope in recent history to regularly wear black shoes. If he does, it may say more about the changes in store for the Catholic Church than you might think.


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A total cyber blackout in North Korea would affect about 1,000 citizens

North Korea is famous for its lack of Internet access, but that doesn't mean it's pleased when its servers happen to melt down. This morning, after reports of disruptions to its news services, the country lashed out at the United States and South Korea for allegedly shutting off its Internet.

"It is nobody's secret that the U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime are massively bolstering up cyber forces in a bid to intensify the subversive activities and sabotages against the DPRK," said KCNA, the country's chief propaganda outlet. "Intensive and persistent virus attacks are being made every day on Internet servers operated by the DPRK."

KNCA provided scant details about the allegation, but the Associated Press reports that foreigners in Pyongyang said they could not get online on Wednesday or Thursday. A Bangkok-based company that services North Korea's Internet also acknowledged a cyber attack but noted that servers were recovering on Friday. In any event, given North Korea's reputation for prohibiting and censoring Internet use, how many of its citizens would actually be affected by a cyber blackout?

It turns out, a vanishingly small number. Though the DPRK doesn't publish Internet penetration statistics, the estimates range from "a few hundred people" to "1,000 at most,"  according to analysts speaking with Agence France Presse. A less generous estimate offered by the BBC in December pinned unrestricted access to "just a few dozen families -- most directly related to Kim Jong-un himself." That's because Internet use is banned for average citizens, though exceptions can be made for other types of people in the country.

For example, last month, foreign residents of Pyongyang were informed that a mobile Internet service would be available March 1, provided by Korean Post and Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt's Orascom Telecom. But sorry locals. "The policy only covers those from outside the country," reported Wired magazine. "Citizens of the country are still barred from making international calls and accessing the internet. As such the move is likely to be entirely centred around generating revenue from tourism and not a result of Eric Schmidt's recent visit to the country."

If you do manage to get online, you probably won't like what you see. That's because instead of the Internet, North Korea has the Intranet, a domestic service built in 2008 that isn't connected to the rest of the world. As the BBC's David Lee discovered while surfing the web in Pyongyang's only cyber cafe, it's a pretty lonely place:

What they see is an internet that is so narrow and lacking in depth it resembles more an extravagant company intranet than the expansive global network those outside the country know it to be.

Typical sites include news services - such as the Voice of Korea - and the official organ of the state, the Rodong Sinmun.

But anyone producing content for this "internet" must be careful.

Reporters Without Borders - an organisation which monitors global press freedom - said some North Korean "journalists" had found themselves sent to "revolutionisation" camps, simply for a typo in their articles.

At last check, the Internet appears to be back up for foreigners. About 48 minutes ago, for example, the AP's chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder uploaded an Instagram photo of a violent propaganda painting inside a Pyongyang kindergarten. Hooray for the .0o1 percent?