May 292015

I remember being in the fourth grade and sitting in Mrs. Dillard’s room watching a film about the Holocaust. I remember seeing footage of repurposed agricultural equipment moving literal bucketloads of gassed Jews’ corpses around like dirt, filling huge mass graves with them.

It was the first time I saw such vivid and graphic imagery of the horrors of the Third Reich. It definitely stuck with me. And yet, I feel it far more horribly today than I did then. For one thing, I can look back and realize that when I was watching that film, I was watching something that happened only 35 years earlier. Well, now I can remember things—lots of things—that happened 35 years ago. It’s not such a long time, you know?

For another, I think parenthood brings devastating perspective to it. Imagining these atrocities visited upon ourselves is nothing compared to imagining them happening to our children.

ilsungWe say “never again” because it’s what we say. But, as Jonah Goldberg wrote in a 2009 piece that I credit with sparking my sustained interest in North Korea, we must not mean it.

I don’t know that enough folks walking around grasp the true nature of North Korea. It makes headlines for its nuclear weapons program, but it should, much more, for its shameful and severe human rights abuses. It’s not a place where really bad things happen to a few people. It’s a place where really bad things happen to nearly everyone, and unspeakably horrible things happen to a lot of those.

The world has never seen a cult of personality to rival that around Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il before him, and Kim Il-sung before him. Question their supreme leadership—either outright, or by doing something foolish like owning a radio that receives other than state-approved frequencies—and you could find yourself in one of the dozens of prison or reeducation camps filling the valleys of the mountainous terrain. Your kids and their kids will probably go, too.

North Korea officially denies the existence of these camps, either outright or by claiming gross misrepresentation of their purposes. (This denial continues despite satelliterepatriate photography and ample testimony of people who actually made it out.) Several hundred thousand people are held. Some die every day. More arrive every day. Starvation, torture, infanticide, rape, public execution—all commonplace.

About a year ago I read The Aquariums of Pyongyang. The author, Kang Chol-hwan, beginning at age nine, spent ten years of his life in Yodok concentration camp because his family was considered politically unreliable.

“I will face execution if I reveal the secrets of Yodok.”

– written oath all released Yodok prisoners must sign

The book is primarily an account of his time in Yodok, but that time is bookended with what his life in North Korea was like before his imprisonment, as well as his eventual defection and his work today. Of course, it is a deeply disturbing narrative, but it is also skillfully told and translated. I very much enjoyed reading the book.

It’s his work today I find fascinating and inspiring, and it’s a cause I’m proud to support.

To learn about the brutality of the North Korean regime is to fully realize the futility of bringing about its end externally. It’s completely implausible except by force, and given that a war with North Korea on day one would be a war with China on day two, that’s just not going to happen.

nkscKang Chol-hwan is president of the North Korea Strategy Center (Wikipedia link, organizational link in South Korea). His organization undertakes many activities designed to bring about a free, open, and democratic North Korea. The one I find most fascinating is his systematic infiltration of North Korea with Western media, mostly on DVDs and USB thumb drives. What’s he sending? How about Friends? Desperate Housewives? From the North Korea Strategy Center site:

Kang likens the USB sticks to the red pill from The Matrix: a mind-altering treatment that has the power to shatter a world of illusions. “When North Koreans watch Desperate Housewives, they see that Americans aren’t all war-loving imperialists,” Kang says. “They’re just people having affairs or whatever. They see the leisure, the freedom. They realize that this isn’t the enemy; it’s what they want for themselves. It cancels out everything they’ve been told. And when that happens, it starts a revolution in their mind.”

“For every USB drive I send across, there are perhaps 100 North Koreans who begin to question why they live this way. Why they’ve been put in a jar.”

That’s how it’s going to happen. That’s the only way it can happen. Seems like long odds there too, but if a man of Kang Chol-hwan’s background says it’s the best hope, then there must be something to it. He may be the most qualified person on the planet to speak on the issue.

Donations are accepted by bank transfer and through Bitcoin (again, a link to South Korea). I don’t ask you, my dear readers, to support specific causes very often, but please consider this one. The North Korean regime is an atrocity in every sense of the word, and I would love to live long enough to see its destruction.

Wouldn’t you love to be able to say you helped it along?

 Posted by at 6:00 am
May 282015
  • I missed Texas this week because of a longtime friend’s going-away. I’ll have to make up for that.
  • We’re replacing Lea’s car this year. That means I’m in touch with a dear old friend, classmate, and colleague. That means I’m hanging out at Jerry Damson Honda shootin’ it. And I find out a fellow who gave me, in 1993, a crash course in human relations that I still use daily is still down there turning the crank. Great to see you, Buddy! God bless!
  • Related, for deep insiders: dug the Blues Brothers’ “Soul Man” on the way home one night this week. Play it, Steve!
  • Steve‘s still around. We lost Duck a few years back. RIP. It was, indeed, a band that could turn goat piss into gasoline.
  • The Indy 500 kicks off a great several weeks for the IndyCar Series. We have a double-header in Detroit this weekend, and Texas the weekend following. Back to Fontana at the end of June. I love this sport.
  • If you’re a hardcore vegetarian, you probably ought to look into what carmine is.
  • Ever wondered whether the Hells Angels have a FAQ? They do. (Spoiler: the missing apostrophe isn’t really missing.)
 Posted by at 12:01 am
May 272015

yikyakSo, for my latest sociological peek into something not intended for me but about which I was curious—see also—I’m fresh off having a week-long look at Yik Yak. It’s an anonymous social network on which you “yak” and reply to everyone who’s paying attention within a 10-mile radius about whatever’s on your mind (in 200 characters or less). Users upvote and downvote yaks and replies, and anything that gets to -5 gets deleted.

Yik Yak is intended for and primarily used by college students, so right as classes get out for the summer might not have been the best time for this experiment. However, there seem to be enough folks around—summer class attendees, kids home from elsewhere—to give me a flavor of it. Right now, ’round these parts, there are two or three dozen new posts daily.

My capsule impression of my admittedly limited view is that nearly nothing of any consequence whatsoever happens on Yik Yak. A good, solid two-thirds of what I saw fell into one of these categories:

  • I’m bored
  • I’m hungry
  • Finals suck
  • Life is so unfair

On that last bullet, I saw more than one regretful lament about not talking to him/her, of the sort I wrote about earlier this year. There was attendant encouragement to take those opportunities when they present, so that’s a good thing. For a lot of the rest of it: sheesh, at the melodrama. It seems a lot of people this age look at their lives in absolutes. My life is a total tragedy. I’ve ruined the best thing that ever happened to me. Things will never get any better.

I don’t really remember my generation carrying on like that to a significant degree, but I’m sure we did. Consequently, it’s probably reasonable for me to expect to see it in our boys, too. It’s easy to look at these young people now, from 20 to 25 years ahead of where they are, and see how objectively ridiculous a lot of their concerns are. It’s easy to see that they’re just the loveliest, brightest, most engaging people who just haven’t cultivated any patience or perspective whatsoever yet.

That’s also, in some ways, most unhelpful. After all, “your concerns are objectively ridiculous” isn’t a particularly comforting thing to hear unvarnished, even if it’s true. It’ll behoove me to remember that when I’m in position to offer solace at my house.

What else did I see? An occasional “I’m horny.” A bitch about road construction. Etc. The only other thing that sticks with me is how skittish everyone was about any sort of gender/race identification. I never saw anything offensive, but people just didn’t want to hear about any of it at all. A reply identifying a server as a “Hispanic girl” was quickly downvoted to the memory hole. Ditto saying a place had a “lesbian vibe”—and that was a reply to a post asking about gay bars! Wow. I hope we’re just about to a tipping point on all of this hyper-offense. I was reminded of Jay Leno being called “kind of racist” for saying “I don’t really like Mexican” to a kid who was running out for lunch.

I could see Yik Yak being really cool in a large crowd where something interesting was happening and a lot of people were actively using it. I didn’t see much except people breathing at each other. Maybe I’ll take another look when fall classes gather.

 Posted by at 7:31 am
May 242015

What an inspiring performance! That was just an outstanding job getting back through the field to win this year’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Congratulations to Juan Pablo Montoya on driving one hell of a race.


He is a reliably entertaining driver, and I’m delighted to have him back in the greatest racing series in the world. If it had to be a Penske driver, he’s who I would have picked. Heh.

Other thoughts:

  • I am so glad no one was seriously hurt. After all of the airborne cars in practice, I was concerned we’d have a serious accident this year. I understand Sebastian Saavedra is going to be OK (after being pinned in his car for a time), and I hope the injured Dale Coyne Racing pit crew members are all right.
  • Tony Kanaan definitely had a car to compete, and though I hated to see him err, I loved how gracious he was in his post-crash interview.
  • Congratulations to Charlie Kimball on a podium finish. He and Scott Dixon finished 3-4, which wound up being the best story Chip Ganassi could tell. For a while, it looked like it was going to be a banner day for Ganassi.
  • Speaking of, I hated to see Sage Karam taken out on the first lap by Takuma Sato’s stupidity. I think Karam was going to be competitive today, and I’m watching his career with interest. He’s skilled and personable, and the kind of kid we need for IndyCar to flourish long-term.
  • Straight No Chaser did a fantastic job with the first post-Jim Nabors “Back Home Again In Indiana.”

I told Lea I was sad, because right now we’re absolutely as far from the Indianapolis 500 as we can be. “That much closer to fall football, though!” she replied. True enough!

 Posted by at 3:27 pm is using WP-Gravatar