Monday, March 19, 2018

A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea

cover, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars,
January - June 2000
I recently began doing something I wish I'd done forty years ago when I was a college student: reading and thinking about the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (now Critical Asian Studies) - the publication of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars.

You can read this publication free online:

Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (1968-2000)
Critical Asian Studies (2001 onward)

I plan to talk in a more general way about this important publication in a future post. Here I will begin with a relevant example of its important work.

In a 1994 issue of the Bulletin, there is a group of articles about North Korea and nuclear weapons: "Notes from the Field: The Korean Nuclear Crisis." The articles are:

* Robert Perkinson - "Introduction"

* Bruce Cummings - "Old and New Korean Wars"

* Minn Chung - "'Seoul Will Become a Sea of Fire . . .'"

* Reunification Committee of National Council of Churches in Korea - "Statement on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula"

* Catherine B. Wrenn - "The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in Retrospect: The Case of North Korea"

* Tom Clements - "Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula: Visit of "MV Greenpeace" Spotlights South Korean Nukes"

* Minn Chung - "Chronology of Crisis: Important Developments for Peace, Reconciliation, and Denuclearization in Korea"

(You can read all these articles in pdf form In the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Volume 26 (No. 1 and 2).)

Robert Perkinson's introductory article calls our attention to the need to read critically -- in general, and as we comment on places and cultures that are not our own, and especially in charged contexts like the relationship between the United States and North Korea.

I jotted down some words from Robert Perkinson's article:

Western media spin . . .

monolithic ideological line  . . .

portraying . . .

condemning . . .

demonizing . . .

target the North Korean people as well . . .

overt racism . . .

mocking . . .

demeaning anecdotes . . .

"hysteria" . . .

epithets . . .

jingoistic . .

anti-Asian racial stereotypes . . .

denigrating . . . 

All of these are examples of behaviors that we who write about countries and cultures not our own must be on guard against. At a minimum, our unending effort to produce "colorful writing" -- stuff that people actually feel compelled to read -- is filled with the risk of leading readers by the nose instead of giving them the material to think for themselves. At a deeper level, the power we wield as observers and interpreters and writers generally needs much, much, much more acknowledgement, not to mention careful, measured, respectful, peaceful application.

I decided it would be valuable to spend some time examining how my own writing might be improved by paying attention to these behaviors.

I also decided to examine some specific examples of recent writing (by others) about the US, about North Korea, and about the US-North Korea situation, and try to highlight the ways in which these (and other) behaviors play a role in forming the impression that might be formed by readers.

The good news is that much is being written and shared today about North Korea.

The bad news is that we -- readers, writers, all of us -- have a lot of unexamined biases.

Let the critical reading begin . . . . 

To be continued . . . .

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Trump and Kim and Nuclear Brinksmanship: Too Close for Comfort

"For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Bay Area
residents are being forced to confront the unthinkable:
the possibility of a nuclear attack on our own soil."
(The Mercury News, August 10, 2017)
(Please share this post on Twitter.)

A number of things will need to be said to clarify the context of the Trump-Kim Summit.

I think the most important is: US people have woken up to the fact that "business as usual" (i.e. US nuclear deterrence doctrine) means that they are targets . . . and they've also woken up to the fact that a nuclear strike is not something anyone "survives."

Donald Trump cannot come back from Korea and say, "Too bad, we couldn't agree, we're going to pursue other alternatives."

There are no "other alternatives" to ending the risk of nuclear weapons use.

I knew something had changed when more and more members of Congress agreed to co-sponsor Ted Lieu's HR.669 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" - including 19 from California alone!

I knew something had changed when I saw the picture above on the front page of our Bay Area paper last summer.

I knew something had changed when Hawaii had a missile alert and suddenly everyone in the US knows someone who has been scared to death by nuclear weapons.

I knew something had changed when thousands of people started to watch this video from the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC):

"From the 1st second, to 70 years on: here’s what could happen
to you and your city if a nuclear bomb is dropped. #nuclearban"
(Please share this message on Twitter.)

For years, experts in the medical field, such as International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), have been urging us to face the facts: a nuclear strike is not something you "survive."

For instance, here's a video from the 1980s ("The Last Epidemic"), with specifics about the impossibility of providing medical care to all of the people harmed if San Francisco were struck by a nuclear weapon:

I guess now people in the US have begun to connect that reality to their own lives.

The degree to which things have changed struck me this morning when I happened to be reading an old Joan Didion essay about Joan Baez.

When she was at Palo Alto High School and refused to leave the building during a bomb drill, she was not motivated by theory; she did it because "it was the practical thing to do, I mean it seemed to me this drill was impractical, all these people thinking they could get into some kind of little shelter and be saved with canned water." ("Where the Kissing Never Stops," (1967), in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Picador edition, p. 83))

People have become a lot more practical in the past year. No one is talking about shelters. People are talking about getting rid of nuclear weapons.

Related posts

What Would a Nuclear Weapon Do to Chicago? (Go ahead, guess . . . )

Obscene Geometry: The Hard Facts about Death and Injury from Nuclear Weapons

US Mayors "Get It": The Nuclear Threat Must Be Stopped

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Yes, Trump to North Korea ... AND ... #restrictnukes

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it that we keep working
to restrict the ability of #DonaldTrump to use #nuclearweapons?
(Please share this message on Twitter.)

Yes, Donald Trump says he will go to meet with North Korea Leader Kim Jung-un by May.

. . . AND . . .

It still remains URGENT that formal steps succeed in restricting the ability of the US president to carry out a first strike with nuclear weapons.

As of today, there are 80 House members and 14 senators supporting restrictions on the ability of the US president to unilaterally call a nuclear first strike:

Co-sponsors of  HR.669 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" (plus bill sponsor Rep. Ted Lieu)

Co-sponsors of S.200 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" (plus bill sponsor Sen. Ed Markey)

Are your representative and senators supporting this bill?

This is not the end of the struggle to #restrictnukes. It's just the beginning . . . .


Full transcript of conference -- "Virtual Roundtable on Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons" -- from Public Books.

Nuclear Weapons: People Power Over Trump Power

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

By Any Means Necessary: Using a Graphic Novel to Get More People Talking About Drones

I'm digging into Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance by Pratap Chatterjee and Khalil.

(Shoutout to Eastwind Books of Berkeley for featuring the book and inviting the authors to a public event in February.)

I've decided to read a chapter a day and share some some comments.

Get a copy and read along with me!

Chapter One

Aha! Putting two and two together. The author Pratap Chatterjee is (at the time the book begins) with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism -- the prime source of information on what's really happening with drone warfare -- especially civilian victims of drone attacks.

Main takeaway for me from Chapter One: the number of outlets of all different types that need to work together to get the word out to the general population about the carefully crafted hidden nature of modern warfare!

(Very "meta"! Verax itself is a demonstration of that fact!)

Bonus reading: search for content on mainstream media response to the problem of drones

Chapter Two

Remember when everyone was up in arms about the NSA?

Main takeaway for me from Chapter Two: I've been paying attention to how out of hand surveillance and information technology are getting ... in theory ... but I (and all of us) need to start to deal with it seriously as part of our daily routine. Starting right now ....

Bonus reading: another tale of scientists who did work for the government and then expected the government to be grateful for their warnings: Unfinished Business in Chicago (Nuclear disarmament, that is)

Chapter Three

True, true, true . . .

Main takeaway for me from Chapter Three: I flashed back to CODEPINK's 2012 "Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control" in Washington, DC. That's where I saw Shazad Akbar speak, and it was after that that I came home determined to Make Drone Killing 100% VISIBLE!

Bonus reading: There was a period in 2014 when it seemed as if members of Congress might succeed in getting the US government to come clean with the facts on drone killing.

Chapter Four

It's all about software? That makes it hard for most ordinary citizens to get interested in. (And that's exactly the way the government likes it . . . . )

Main takeaway for me from Chapter Four: I know a little bit about tech . . . AND . . . every day I crawl a little further away from it, because it is so "boring." We need to do anything we can to get people to care about how technology is being used.

Bonus reading: Give science fiction a chance . . . These classics are painfully relevant today ("science fact"): 1984 . . . I, Robot . . . Ender's Game . . . Hunger Games . . . .

Chapter Five

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go directly to watch CITIZENFOUR.

Chapter Six

Well this was supposed to be a paced read of a chapter a day but it's now getting into the breaking of the Snowden revelations (per CITIZENFOUR) and pretty un-put-downable . . . .

(Oh, and a line spoken by Snowden in CITIZENFOUR that made me feel sheepish about my book recommendations two chapters back: "It's not science fiction. It's happening right now . . . . ")

Chapter Seven

Reading this chapter (and watching CITIZENFOUR) brought back memories of when the Snowden story first broke. At that time, it felt to me as if he was living what Jesus experienced -- the risk, the fear . . . . (I called him "The 365-Day Man.") We're coming up on Holy Week this year and I think it is worth reflecting on what it means in today's world to go up against Empire.

By the way, I thought Khalil's illustrations in this chapter were a great example of how comics can be used to convey the spatial and temporal relationships between a complicated combination of events.

About to break the Snowden story . . . in Verax . . . .

To be continued . . . .

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Trump and Nuclear Weapons? We need a different future . . . .

Dunne, Raby, and Anastassiades,
"Priscilla Huggable Atomic Mushroom"
from Designs for Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times

Yesterday I was at the Art Institute of Chicago and saw a staggering piece of art: "Priscilla Huggable Atomic Mushroom," from Designs for Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times by Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, and Michael Anastassiades.

The plush mushroom cloud is the perfect size to hug while curled up in a fetal position: "The soft, toylike object allows users to confront (and cuddle) their fear of nuclear annihilation directly."

"The soft, toylike object allows users to confront (and
cuddle) their fear of nuclear annihilation directly."
Dunne, Raby, and Anastassiades,
"Priscilla Huggable Atomic Mushroom"

I immediately thought of the Kurosawa film I Live in Fear, about a man who is alert to the risk of the next atom bomb dropping and can't rest until he finds some sort of solution.

Fearless samurai portrayer Toshiro Mifune plays against type
as the haunted protagonist of I Live in Fear.

And then there is what people in Hawaii experienced recently . . . .

Dunne and Raby have a book entitled Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, directed to getting us outside the ruts we're stuck in and inviting us to think about how the world could be completely different: "Dunne and Raby pose 'what if' questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want)."

What a perfect coincidence with the events of the past few days! We have just seen a vote of confidence in a new future by the people of Korea, as the teams from the North and the South marched together under one flag at the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Athletes march under the flag of a united Korea
at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
(New York Times photo)

Could there be a starker contrast with the stuck-in-the-past behavior of the current US president?

Trump: If N Korea keeps threatening, will be met with 'fire'."

And people in the US were confronted with that very mushroom cloud imagery again this past week as the cover story of TIME described Trump administration efforts to ramp up the US nuclear weapons program. The TIME piece described how the US government is toting out all the old arguments -- "we need more, bigger, better so that they don't get a step ahead of us!" -- while also reporting the argument for an alternative future: "Enough! We don't have to do this!"

For anyone willing to imagine the alternative future, here are two ways to work to make it happen:

(1) Support the effort of members of the US Congress to restrict the US president's ability to conduct a nuclear first strike.

(2) Support the effort of countries worldwide to bring about a global ban on nuclear weapons. (It's happening now at the United Nations!)

Working for an alternative future: do we really have any other choice?

Trump Administration
Collectible Plush Toy
offer good while supplies last . . . .

Related posts

Bunker Mentality

Is Kim Jong-un giving the US its "Suez Crisis"?

Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror

Nuclear Weapons: People Power Over Trump Power

133 Is a Lot of #Nuclearban-Supporting Countries

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

MEMES: Moment, Frame, Image, Words, Flow

I make a lot of memes, and I'm trying to work on my technique.

On Monday, I headed for Cambridge to visit my granddaughter. I had a copy of Scott McCloud's Making Comics in my bag. I thought this trip would be a good chance to study McCloud's great analysis of comics ("juxtaposed pictorial/other images in a deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer") and think about how his analysis might apply to the memes I create.

As I walked to the gate, I spotted this TIME magazine cover:

TIME, February 12, 2017: "Making America Nuclear Again"
featuring "Trump's Gamble"by W.J. Hennigan and
"Inside the Doom Factory" by Simon Shuster

"Well, I've gotta have that," I thought.

Later, as I read the first chapter of Making Comics somewhere above Colorado, I made notes about these elements:

* Moment
* Frame
* Image
* Words
* Flow

"I've got a few hours to kill," I thought. "What kind of meme would I like to make right now? Can I put these concepts to work?"

I thought about the TIME cover. It was a pretty good meme all on its own. It captured the moment of nuclear peril, using an image of a mushroom cloud, and all on its own it solved the problem of proper framing by showing the mushroom cloud within the magazine cover context (including the TIME logoface, associated verbiage, and an actual red frame).

I realized the words remained for me to add. It was immediately obvious that I wanted to rise above the ambiguous tone of the cover ("Making America Nuclear Again") and express urgency. The words that came to mind were, "When are we going to learn?"

McCloud stresses that the difference between a cartoon (one frame) and comics (multiple frames) is flow. My first thought was that my meme's flow could be from the TIME cover (frame #1) to the words "When are we going to learn?"(frame #2). Then I decided it might be interesting to show motion in the TIME cover ... starting with the original and fading to nothingness, to suggest the consequences of nuclear weapons.

This is what I ended up with:

@scarry on Twitter:
"Donald #Trump Is Playing a Dangerous Game of #Nuclear Poker"
@TIME @wjhenn …

I tweeted it together with a link to the story in TIME, as shown in the caption above.

I'm still not sure if I like the font and size I selected for the words, "When are we going to learn?" I didn't want to shout, but rather to encourage the viewer to lean in and share in this personal message, and think about it. I hope it's big enough to be visible. (Maybe I'll revise it later, after an interval and then a fresh look at it.)

And now . . . time for me to study Chapter 2 of Making Comics: "Stories for Humans"!

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

LACMA: Outside Looking In (#lacmaoutsidein)

Oasis #lacmaoutsidein #losangeles #publicspace

A week ago, I was visiting my son in Los Angeles. When he headed out for an appointment one morning, I asked him to drop me off at the LA County Museum of Art.

I was looking forward to seeing the latest exhibitions so much that it didn't even occur to me that LACMA wouldn't be open yet at 9:30 in the morning.

I was momentarily disoriented when I realized I was going to be outside the gate for an hour and a half -- on the streets of Los Angeles! without a car! But then I took a deep breath . . . got my heartbeat back down . . . and started to explore.

Then a few things happened in rapid succession:

* I noticed a phenomenal "shutter" effect as I walked alongside the fence with the sun shining through -- light-dark-light-dark-light-dark.

* I took a picture and shared it with my daughter in Chicago. (When she can't come to the museum with me in person, she cheers me on virtually.) We "LOL'd" about the fact that I was so eager I came before the museum even opened.

* I decided to walk around the (extensive) perimeter of LACMA and take a bunch of pictures.

* I realized I was seeing a new side of LACMA. I was documenting my experience of being "outside looking in."

* I thought about doing an exhibition of my photographs (and video) -- on social media. I decided Instagram was the right place for it.

* I wondered if a hashtag could be used to tie together my "virtual exhibition." I decided to use #lacmaoutsidein.

In the last year I've become aware -- along with many observers of the tech scene and social media -- that Instagram has important lessons for us about how to communicate better. My #lacmaoutsidein experiment was conducted with no particular end in mind -- other than to have fun, discover something new, and perhaps make something beautiful. I did suspect that it might hold lessons for all kinds of communication, including very intentional activist efforts. And, indeed, the images and the way people interact with them in a "virtual exhibition" stimulated all kinds of unexpected thoughts for me.

Please check out my #lacmaoutsidein "virtual exhibition" on Instagram. (And if you're really interested, you can see my "exhibition notes" on Twitter using the same hashtag!)

Meanwhile, I'm getting busy dreaming up my next project . . . .

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