North Korean’s View of the US

I found these interviews of North Korean refugees by Asian Boss fascinating.



Dirty Politics across the Centuries

Yes, I’ve been binging on Adam Conover’s Adam Ruins Everything. He’s witty, smart and research-based. I may have my students make debunking videos next semester.

The barbs sound better, though perhaps more vicious, in 1800. Am I being biased against modern times?

There are just two bad examples here. I imagine if vulgarity were more rampant, his video would have been longer.

The Quiet American

“I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.”

I really loved Graham Greene’s The Quiet American even though the tone and the main character so differed from favorites like Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Gaskell’s Margaret Hale or any 19th century novel that I treasure.

Yes, the two world wars left a stamp of jaundice and cynicism on Europe and Greene shows that (in many of his works). Yet I think he’s insightful and observant. Somehow while the main character Fowler, cynical, selfish and tapped out, earned my sympathy because he was honest with himself. I guess the similar sorts I’ve run across aren’t.

I like how Greene plays Fowler’s cynicism off Pyle’s (the chatty, “Quiet” American) innocence. By connecting them through Phuong, Fowler’s mistress whom Pyle falls for and takes. Through Phuong we see the the West’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Pyle sincerely and innocently loves her. He deals with Fowler, who offers Phuong so little. She’s like a servant and whose job could end whenever he’s called back.

Fowler lies to her, has cheated on his wife and while I didn’t like or respect him, he was the most perceptive observer in the book. He saw how flimsy and immature Pyle’s views on democracy, world affairs and Vietnam were. He also is fully aware of the selfishness of his relationship with her, but does nothing for her. While Pyle offered Phuong marriage, love and respect as well as future prosperity, his simplistic ideas about politics led to many deaths including his own. Insulated from reality by his optimism and blind trust in a handful of books, Pyle epitomized the idea that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Throughout the story Phuong is distant and opaque throughout the book. Other than her penchant for buying scarves, we know so little of what Phuong really thinks. Pyle and Folwer probably didn’t know her all that well either. Phuong never complains to her sister or anyone about her life direction. She’s willing to forego decision-making and leave that to her sister or Pyle or Fowler.

What engaged me most was Greene’s style and the complexity of characters and plot. I didn’t know anything about Vietnam in the 1950s and this book made me appreciate that history more.

A few favorite quotations

“So it always is: when you escape to a desert, the silence shouts in your ear.”

“Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.”

Well . . .

I must say I’m stunned, by the election results. There will be plenty of analysis and talking heads will have a field day. I need time to absorb all this and to gain some perspective.

I do think Hillary lost rather than Trump won. I think any Democrat other than Hillary could have won, just as I think any GOP could have beaten Trump. I see this as a failure in the primary system and the failure of the media and political organizations to connect with people.

We’re in for a turbulent ride, that’s for sure.

I do pray that it won’t be as bad as many think. I can only say I pray that as I think God’s needed to ensure sanity and some peace.


Mainly, I’m stunned.


Maybe the media will learn not to give the spotlight to every hothead with a big bank account who says something that’ll heighten ratings. Not that the media is the only one at fault, but they bare some responsibility. They egged him on when they broadcast his ridiculous assertions about Obama’s birthplace. They gave him so much attention during the primaries. How I hope they find a way to bring civility back.

That said, I’d like to see our protest take the shape of everyone speaking civilly, refraining from profanity, donning a pocket square, spats, gloves, pearls, whatever you’ve got or can get at a second hand shop, that suggests elegance, restraint and civility.


Civility at Work

I admire how this young Hong Kong protestor calls attention to the two men who are apparently spies and have been following him. He does it with respect and civility showing how the Chinese government operates and the risk those who want democracy face in the “One Country/Two Systems” era.

I pray nothing bad happens to this man.

Constitution of Užupis

A friend is traveling through Lithuania and found the Republic of Užupis, a district in Lithuania that considers itself independent (in a tongue in cheek way).

Here’s their constitution:

  1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
  2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
  3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
  6. Everyone has the right to love.
  7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
  8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
  9. Everyone has the right to idle.
  10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
  11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
  12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
  13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of nee[d].
  14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
  15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
  16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
  17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
  18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
  19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
  20. No one has the right to violence.
  21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance. [In Lithuanian this reads Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.]
  22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
  23. Everyone has the right to understand.
  24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
  26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
  27. Everyone shall remember their name.
  28. Everyone may share what they possess.
  29. No one can share what they do not possess.
  30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
  31. Everyone may be independent.
  32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
  33. Everyone has the right to cry.
  34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
  35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
  36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
  37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
  38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
  39. Do not defeat.
  40. Do not fight back.
  41. Do not surrender.

On Privacy

I got to attend the ALA session “Don’t Track Me: A Cross-Generational Conversation on Personal Privacy” on Monday.

Law Professor Geoff Stone from Univ. of Chicago led a Socratic discussion with 10 high school students. Stone opened with asking students how they would feel about losing a diary they kept on a iPad. “Would you care?” All said they would; several asserted that they believed they had a right to manage personal information.

Stone asked whether managing one’s personal image, hiding information about failures, mistakes, actions at parties, etc. isn’t presenting a false self. He asked whether it’s illegitimate to present a false self to the community or public. That stumped the panel and, I admit, me. Stone wondered whether presenting a polished self that’s better than others and better than you are is something one has a right to.

Then Stone reminded the audience and panel that the constitution only limits the government, not companies or organizations. The topic then moved to the 4th amendment and the question of what is an unreasonable search. How far does the 4th amendment go? Is collecting phone numbers and data on calls a search? If you have a phone, you agree to give the phone company all this information. Why would you be bothered by the government having it? The students struggled with many of these questions.

Then Stone asked about an instance when you tell a friend something that you want to keep confidential. The friend though shares or broadcasts the information. The students who spoke realized that we risk sharing information when we communicate with individuals. The distinction is that in such instances we have choice. With phone data, we don’t.

Stone moved on to the issue of PRISM. The government could collect no data. It has chosen to (more or less*) secretly collect data. Some have said we should have had a public discussion and agreed to allow the government to collect this data. However, Stone pointed out that the government sees their action as taking the middle ground and is better than doing nothing and possibly losing more rights in the long run should terrorism have flourished. Had the government opened PRISM to public discourse, it would not have been effective as such disclosure would have tipped off possible terrorists.

Stone asked the students why so many of their peers disclose so much in social media. One teen mentioned that she’s an activist, but her parents don’t know. Thus she never grants interviews and she always wears masks to protests. Another student described how careful he is with social media and Stone pointed out that his circumspect behavior was more like a 50 year old than a teen.

Stone offered the idea that perhaps we will just learn to put things in a new perspective. By learning to live with less privacy, we might become more used to having our failings exposed through our own gaffs on social media or government surveillance.

Prof Stone has an article on the Snowden story on the Huffington Post website.

On Drone Strikes

Testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing this week. I hope we can end the use of drones.

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry


Be prepared to be blown away. Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry packs quite a punch. This documentary shows Chinese artist cum activist Ai Wei Wei as he stands up for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and seeks justice after police break into his hotel room in Chengdu and beat him.

The film fascinated me. It follows Ai as he tries to get the government to publish the real numbers of students who died in the flimsy school buildings in Sichuan. With newsreel footage and interviews, it shows the torture and abuse his father endured in the 1950s. I’ve read several books, fiction and non-fiction, about the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The stark newsreels of neighbor denouncing neighbor deepened my understanding of this horrible period.

The documentary shows Ai in New York where he started his art career and in Europe installing current works. Filmmakers follow him as he pursues justice after being beaten by police and detained so that he was unable to testify on behalf of another Chinese activist, who was found guilty.

Ai is mesmerizing. He’s bold, audacious, brave, down-to-earth and shrewd. He’s figured out the power of social media and despite the government’s censorship has attracted a following of Chinese who share his desire for transparency and democracy. These folks aren’t just spectators as we see when Ai protests the government mandated demolition of the studio the government told him to build, hordes show up for his protest. They know they’re being watched and recorded and are willing to take that risk.

Ai knows what the government’s up to and finds clever ways to show it for what it is. Though he doubts he can win, he works within the system seeking justice from the police whom illegally knocked in his hotel room door, beat and detained him. By recording every step of his bureaucratic quest for justice, he shows the world how the government works and that all is not well in the new China.

I found the interviews with fellow artists and Evan Osnos of the New Yorker insightful and trenchant. They show how people who care about China will stick their necks out to make it better, even though they doubt they’ll see improvement.

Living in China myself, I see the good parts and know that experiences like Ai’s and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo‘s are true, but it’s so easy to forget. I’m grateful for this movie that reminds me and fleshes out Ai WeiWei’s life and work.

Never Sorry is available on Netflix.

Ai Wei Wei’s Gangnam Style Parody

Election Night!

My sister got Honored Guest tickets to McCormick Place for election night. Here’s her email about the experience. (Once she posts it on her blog, I’ll remove this)

Met Meaghan’s friend’s Emily and Nellie at the Fairmont Hotel. I met Meaghan for brunch a few weeks ago and she brought Nellie along, so I already knew her a bit.

We hung out at the Fairmont until about 7:30, then there were shuttles over to McCormick Place. There were three types of tickets – Guest, Special Guest, and Honored Guest. Luckily we were Honored Guests so we got to take the shuttle and skip a LOT of the lines once we got there.

At McCormick Pl, we had access to one of three “rooms,” ours was nicknamed Soldier Field and it had a buffet, seating, lots of tvs, and a bar…we were with staffers like Meaghan, big donors, celebs (no one too great – Melanie Griffith, Rahm, a few musicians and some B-list actors). Hung out there people watching and keeping tabs on the results until they announced/predicted BO won. Then we went out of that room, down a hallway that went behind the stage, and popped out right in front of the stage, a huge area that was blocked off for the Honored Guests. So we were really close, about 10 people back over to the right of the podium. There was music and everyone was cheering and dancing and going nuts. Super fun.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited. For Romney to concede and then after that for about 20-30 more minutes for BO to give his speech. Still not really sure what held him up for so long, Meaghan guessed that he just needed time to digest the emotion of all of it.

The girls I was with had been there in 08, and so they were giving me perspective on how different it was. Lots of celebration and excitement, but the vibe was more of relief than elation like it was in 08. Different emotions. And fewer celebrities! But altogether a really, really amazing experience. Everyone was really excited about all the Senate wins, too.

After BO’s speech, we went back to our “Soldier Field” room (which was next to “Wrigley Field” – Biden’s friends and family room, and “Comiskey Park” – Obama’s friends and family room. There was a small stage set up in there and we knew BO was going to come and say a few words to the room (prob 500 people at this point). He came in with Michelle and said some words of thanks to the staff and the donors, and then shook hands with some of the crowd on his way out. That’s where I made my way to the front and caught him for a high five! Seriously awesome. Then he left & Biden came in, same thing (high-fived him too). Then we left, didn’t get home until after 3am, up at 6:30 for work today.

Here’s a report on the Romney hospitality.

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