How ironic it is that of the 195 countries in the world, North Korea is still thoroughly vexing us more than half a century after we fought a war there.

Over our July Fourth celebrations, it was another missile launch aimed at unsettling us. Now the ploy seems to be hacking into our computers. Will this annoying, irresponsible behavior ever stop?

Probably not for a long time.

Arguably one of the poorest nations on earth, and one of the most isolated, North Korea is dominated by leaders who stay in power largely because of their hatred for us and South Korea.

North Korea keeps its people starving and ignorant of the rest of the world. It is creepy to stand at Panmunjom where the 1953 armistice was signed and watch the wary faces of the North Korean soldiers and see the Potemkin villages in the distance.

The official news service of North Korea is a joke. The top story is usually about the comings and goings of Kim Jong Il. For example, he just visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung. The Korean Central News Agency also reports faithfully on ever-more "successful" underground nuclear tests and missile launches.

When the long-suffering people of North Korea are mentioned at all, it is because they are honoring their leaders or rising up in spontaneous, "mammoth" rallies to protest the latest round of United Nations' Security Council resolution on sanctions against North Korea. That strains credulity since millions of North Koreans do not have electricity, TVs, radios or outside newspapers.

The official government position on its reprocessing of spent nuclear rods from power plants is that "this will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from the hostile forces."

Remember the movie "Wag the Dog'' in which the U.S. president concocts a war in faraway Albania to boost his job approval rating?

The recent trial of two journalists was another recent effort to anger the United States and rouse nationalistic sentiment. In March North Korea jailed "Chinese-American" Laura Ling, 32, a Current TV correspondent, and "south (no capitalization) Korean-American" Seung-Un Lee, 36, a TV editor, for entering the country illegally to film human rights abuses.

The government "news" agency said its "investigation proved that the intruders crossed the border and committed the crime for the purpose of making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) smear campaign over its human rights issue."

The agency said the two had a "confab" with U.S. editors in January. The women were respectively sentenced in June to 10 and 12 years of hard labor. The agency said, "We are following with a high degree of vigilance the attitude of the U.S. which spawned the criminal act against the DPRK."

Most recently, U.S. government Web sites were attacked, involving the Defense Department, the National Security Agency, the Treasury Department, the Secret Service and the State Department, among others, and so were official South Korean Web sites and U.S. commercial sites, including The Washington Post and the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. officials insist no lasting damage was done other than delays in accessing sites, but they strongly suspect the attacks were orchestrated by North Korea.

Here's betting that President Obama soon makes good on his promise to name a White House cyber-security czar. Despite public assurances that the threat can be contained, the White House is extremely worried about vulnerabilities in U.S. computers.

Even though South Korea has staved off joining the modern world by ousting international aid workers and repudiating diplomats and private entrepreneurs from other countries, its isolation won't last forever. Someday, after Kim Jong Il dies, the Koreas will be united, democratic and prosperous.

But not soon. Meanwhile, more U.S. presidents will have to spend valuable time and energy tightening international economic screws on a misguided country that is still in the Dark Ages.

-- McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.