North Korea's New Weight Loss Drink Prevents Cancer, Fatness

It's a sad irony for a country wracked by malnutrition: A North Korean research institute is reported to have made a breakthrough in the science of weight-loss.

On Tuesday, Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea's premier English language news website, posted an article about a scientific discovery: The Foodstuff Institute under the State Academy of Sciences had domestically localized a protein compound called oligopeptide, which helps in "controlling body weight" and "helps prevent fatness and cancer," according to the article. Nutrients and drinks made from the substance "won high appraisal at the exhibition of scientific achievements held by the State Academy of Sciences last year," the article continues.

On the one hand, scientific advancements, if this indeed is one, are beneficial to countries of all economic statuses. On the other hand, the World Food Program said in November that about "80 percent of North Korean households lacked the essential amount of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins in their diets," according to The New York Times. And while it's unknown whether anyone outside of the occasional international reader of the occasionally dependable KCNA knows about this drink, the optics aren't great. 

h/t @adamcathcart

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The War You Missed Last Week

They've been hailed as the best hope for a political solution to the Syrian civil war, but it's now safe to say -- as everyone not named John Kerry had been predicting all along -- that Syria's bloodshed shows no signs of slowing down while diplomats toil away at U.N.-backed peace talks. The current round ended in Geneva Friday much like they started, with no actionable path towards a peaceful settlement to the nearly three-year-old conflict.

In the week since the talks began, 1,870 people, including 430 civilians, died in Syria, according the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This week's toll is about average for the conflict, which has killed more than 130,000 people in three years.

While representatives from Syrian opposition groups and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad traded barbs, government helicopters continued to drop barrel bombs on rebel enclaves in the hard hit city of Aleppo. The bombs, oil drums filled with explosives and metal shrapnel, are crudely improvised and cannot be directed at targets with any real precision. The latest attack, on Thursday, killed at least 16 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a recent cross-border attack, Syrian government tanks fired on rebels trying to flee into Lebanon. According to a security official, over a dozen shells exploded along the Lebanon-Syria border. The attack wounded two Lebanese and killed a Syrian refugee, a Lebanese security official told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Syria has backtracked on its commitment to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile. The deal, which was negotiated last fall by U.S and Russian officials after an August chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held part of Damascus, did not codify any real enforcement mechanisms. Assad has stalled in surrendering the weapons, but with no leverage, the international community has few options to force Assad to comply with his disarmament obligations.

The second round of talks is scheduled to begin Feb. 10, though Syrian government officials have yet to confirm that they will attend. And while Geneva II offered little in the way of tangible progress, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi expressed some hope that the past week was "a beginning on which we can build."

But with violence as brutal and intense as ever, there is little evidence to support his optimism.

Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images