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Archive for May, 2010

Book Review: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Posted by Lissa on May 19, 2010

Good morning all!  I know it’s Wednesday, and I’m going to work out, I honestly am, but I haven’t written a whole lot this week so I wanted to put actual content down today.

I came across this book — Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick — in a mention from Seraphic Secret. As with all interesting-looking Kindle books, I sent a sample to my iPhone (God I love technology) and tried it out.  I was fascinated. I love stories — it’s the only way I can learn history; dates and rulers go in one ear and out the other — and North Korea is such a weird, sad, mysterious place that I was hooked.  I bought the rest and gobbled down the rest of the book over the next day or so.

It’s not a historical analysis. It’s not comprehensive, and it doesn’t claim to be unbiased.  What it is, is a first-person account and description of North Korea from nine defectors that managed to get out.

A few themes in particular stood out for me:

– The “Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia” doublethink is real, folks.

A sarcastic inflection when referring to Kim Il-sung or a nostalgic remark about South Korea could get you in serious trouble. It was especially taboo to talk about the Korean War and who started it. In the official histories (and there was nothing but official history in North Korea), it was the South Korean Army that invaded, acting on orders from the Americans, not the North Korean Army storming across the 38th parallel. “The U.S. imperialists gave the Syngman Rhee puppet clique an order to unleash a Korean War,” goes the account in Rodong Sinmun. Anybody who remembered what really happened on June 25, 1950 (and which Korean could forget?), knew it was wise to keep one’s mouth shut.

– One of the big, obvious, flashy signs of living in an oppressive country is whether, once arrived, they allow you to leave.

In the evening, Jun-sang’s father would sit and smoke, sighing glumly. It was not that they thought anyone was listening—one of the advantages of a freestanding house was a certain degree of privacy—but they wouldn’t dare give voice to what they really felt. They couldn’t come out and say that they wanted to leave this socialist paradise to go back to capitalist Japan. So the unspoken hung over the household: the realization sank in deeper with each passing day that a terrible mistake had been made in going to North Korea. Returning to Japan was impossible, they knew, so they had to make the best of a bad situation. The only way to redeem the family would be to play the system and try to climb the social ladder.

– I didn’t realize that North Korea has its own unique flavor of Communist ideology.

Kim Il-sung’s goal wasn’t merely to build a new country; he wanted to build better people, to reshape human nature. To that end, he created his own philosophical system, juche, which is commonly translated as “self-reliance.” Juche drew on Marx’s and Lenin’s ideas about the struggle between landlord and peasant, between rich and poor. It similarly declared that man, not God, shaped his own fate. But Kim Il-sung rejected traditional Communist teachings about universalism and internationalism. He was a Korean nationalist in the extreme. He instructed Koreans that they were special—almost a chosen people—and that they no longer had to rely on their more powerful neighbors, China, Japan, or Russia. The South were a disgrace because of their dependence on the United States. “Establishing juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting depen dence on others, using one’s own brains, believing in one’s own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance,” he expounded in one of his many treatises. This was seductive to a proud people whose dignity had been trampled by its neighbors for centuries.

– And yet, unique flavor or no, some uniting factors appear:

To a certain extent, all dictatorships are alike. From Stalin’s Soviet Union to Mao’s China, from Ceauşescu’s Romania to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, all these regimes had the same trappings: the statues looming over every town square, the portraits hung in every office, the wristwatches with the dictator’s face on the dial.

– Universal healthcare sounds great, assuming that you have doctors who are willing to doctor, machines to do diagnoses and treatments, and enough drugs for painkilling and antibiotics:

For all its shortcomings, North Korea’s public health system provided the public with better care than they’d had in pre-Communist times. The right to “universal free medical service … to improve working people’s health” was in fact written into the North Korean constitution. Dr. Kim was proud to be a part of the health-care system and gratified by the service she provided her patients. But by the early 1990s, the deficiencies in the system became more pronounced. Much of the medical equipment was obsolete and broken down, with spare parts impossible to obtain since the factories in the Communist-bloc countries where they were manufactured were by now privatized. The pharmaceutical factory in Chongjin curtailed its production due to a lack of supplies and electricity. There was little money to import pharmaceuticals from abroad. The bag that Dr. Kim carried on her rounds had gotten progressively lighter until she had nothing inside but her stethoscope. All she could do for patients was write prescriptions and hope that they had a connection in China or Japan, or a stash of money to buy the drugs on the black market.

– The constant, ridiculous brainwashing.  I know we complain about toddlers being brainwashed by the TV or fast food ads and somesuch, but DUDE:

Whether they were studying math, science, reading, music, or art, the children were taught to revere the leadership and hate the enemy. For example, a first-grade math book contained the following questions: “Eight boys and nine girls are singing anthems in praise of Kim Il-sung. How many children are singing in total?” “A girl is acting as a messenger to our patriotic troops during the war against the Japanese occupation. She carries messages in a basket containing five apples, but is stopped by a Japanese soldier at a checkpoint. He steals two of her apples. How many are left?” “Three soldiers from the Korean People’s Army killed thirty American soldiers. How many American soldiers were killed by each of them if they all killed an equal number of enemy soldiers?”

– Even in totalitarian Communist hell, the free market works when given a chance:

THOUSANDS OF MIDDLE-AGED women were doing much the same thing as Mrs. Song. They were self-employed. They ran no workshops or stores; they didn’t dare to set up the kiosks that were so ubiquitous in Russia during the time of perestroika. They knew nothing of business other than what they had been taught—all private endeavor was egoistic. But out of hunger and desperation, they were reinventing the concept of a free-market economy, which required unlearning a lifetime of propaganda. They had figured out that there was value in bartering skills; young people with more endurance could make the hike into the distant mountains to get the firewood that Mrs. Song couldn’t reach and trade it for her cookies. If you owned a ladder, you could collect copper wire from the electric lines (no danger of electrocution anymore) and sell it for food. If you had the key to an abandoned factory, you could dismantle the machines, the windows, and the flooring to put to new use. [snip]

During the 1990s, even as the death grip of famine tightened around Chongjin, strangely, more and more food appeared at the markets. Cabbages, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, and potatoes were for sale. The vegetables came from secret gardens that dotted the mountains in the countryside. Farmers had discovered their best chance of survival was to dig their own plot into the slopes, even on land that in the past they had thought too steep to cultivate. Attention was lavished on the private plots, the vegetables in rows as perfectly even as typewriter keys, the beans and squash tied to stakes and trellises, while the collective farms were slovenly with neglect.

In summary, I found Nothing to Envy a very readable, interesting, sad and illuminating book.  I’ll leave you with this last quote:

Dr. Kim staggered up the riverbank. Her legs were numb, encased in frozen trousers. She made her way through the woods until the first light of dawn illuminated the outskirts of a small village. She didn’t want to sit down and rest—she feared succumbing to hypothermia—but she knew she didn’t have the strength to go much farther. She would have to take a chance on the kindness of the local residents. Dr. Kim looked down a dirt road that led to farmhouses. Most of them had walls around them with metal gates. She tried one; it turned out to be unlocked. She pushed it open and peered inside. On the ground she saw a small metal bowl with food. She looked closer—it was rice, white rice, mixed with scraps of meat. Dr. Kim couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a bowl of pure white rice. What was a bowl of rice doing there, just sitting out on the ground? She figured it out just before she heard the dog’s bark. Up until that moment, a part of her had hoped that China would be just as poor as North Korea. She still wanted to believe that her country was the best place in the world. The beliefs she had cherished for a lifetime would be vindicated. But now she couldn’t deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.

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John Williams and the Pops!

Posted by Lissa on May 18, 2010

This is how I spent Friday night:

Oh, it was fabulous! For the Close Encounters and the Superman pieces, they lowered a movie screen and played a montage during the music.  It was like being in a movie studio; it was absolutely awesome.

Even if they DID include all the Batmans in the Superman mash-up.

All of them.  Including the one that never happened.

Oh well, we forgive you, John Williams.

P.S. It rained so hard on the way to the T station that we gave up on walking and swam home.

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My new go-to cookie!

Posted by Lissa on May 17, 2010

Move over, peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookies, Mama’s got a brand-new bag!

These petite tartlets are quick, easy to make, and popular at home, the shelter, my office, and dinner parties.  You can find the recipe here.

Happy Monday!

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Facebook Foibles

Posted by Lissa on May 14, 2010

This has been making the rounds on Facebook* —

While you SCREAM at your woman, there’s a man wishing he could talk softly in her ear. While you HUMILIATE, OFFEND and INSULT her, there’s a man flirting with her and reminding her how wonderful she is. While you HURT your woman, there’s a man wishing he could make love to her. While you make your woman CRY, there’s a man stealing smiles from her. Post this on your wall if you’re against Domestic Violence

Um.  Okay.  I’m against Domestic Violence, but

1) Despite what this message seems to think, I don’t have a woman.

2) Don’t hit your girl because someone else wants to screw her?  Huh?

3) What if there isn’t another man who wants her?  Is it then okay to scream/hit/hurt etc.?

How about this version instead?

” . . .while you HURT your woman, she’s estimating your body weight and calculating how much poison to put in your porridge tomorrow morning.”

I like it 🙂

Happy Friday!

*FYI, I gave up on my LookingForLissa Facebook account and only maintain the one under my real identity.  It got too confusing living double Facebook lives!

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Guilt.

Posted by Lissa on May 13, 2010

No, I don’t mean a guilty conscience, or white guilt.  I mean fiscal guilt.

I have a lovely white raincoat that I bought recently and wore to a college graduation.  I received many compliments on it.  My standard response?  “Thanks!  It was on sale!”  Or “Thanks! It was only $___!”

I’ve bought some new shoes recently; both on the Kitty Den budget (my other black heels wore out) and on my allowance funds (didn’t need them, just WANTED them, and they were WICKED on sale).  I’ve received compliments on them.  My standard response?  “Thanks!  They were wicked cheap at Macy’s!”

Why can’t I calmly accept compliments on my apparel or belongings?  Why do I feel the need to reflexively defend myself against a nonexistent charge that I spent too much money?

Mike and I are pretty lucky right now; we both have good jobs, and we don’t yet have kids.  (Except Rajah, and while he’s a little piggy we regulate his diet pretty well so he doesn’t eat us out of house and home.  Also, he’s healthy, so we don’t have ridiculous vet bills with which to contend.)  Still, we eat dinner at home at least five days a week, usually more.  I shop and cook every week according to what’s on sale at the grocery store.  We both make lunches to bring to work.  We have designated allowance funds that let us indulge our whims to a certain extent, and no more.

We’re fiscally prudent because it’s silly not to be.

Why, then, do I feel guilty?

Why do I reflexively feel the need to defend myself about new purchases?

P.S. Turns out I”m very used to 3.5″ heels.  4″ takes a bit of getting used to.

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Workout Mix Wednesday *UPDATED*

Posted by Lissa on May 12, 2010

Good morning all! My computer is apparently as sleepy as I was, seeing as how it’s frozen Firefox twice so far. I’ll update this post later with this week’s songs, but I gotta run off to the gym now!

UPDATE: Poof!  Mike wasn’t kidding, the second week is noticeably harder than the first week.  Week 1 was almost like a gimme — perhaps because I haven’t *actually* just been sitting on my couch — while Week 2 made me puff.  Add that to the fact that I haven’t worked out since Friday and I fought a stitch in my side with every running segment.  On the upside, I increased the running segment speed to 8:34 miles, with the last segment going at a 8:00 mile pace.  Week by week, that’s how we’ll get it done!  

Five more songs for you to run away with:

  1. Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants – such a silly little song!  Ahh, the 80s . . . (Didn’t these guys also do Triangle Man?  I distinctly remember that cartoon.)
    [apologies for any repeats — I don’t have access to my song log right now]
  2. Say It Right by Nelly Furtado
  3. Lady Marmalade from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack (a movie I have never seen; anyone particularly love it or hate it?)
  4. Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf
  5. Still Frame by Trapt

Happy Exercising!

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Like diving headfirst into a bucket of spit.

Posted by Lissa on May 11, 2010

While innocently walking home yesterday, I encountered these idiots on the corner.  They were handing out fliers about the Glass-Steagall Act and — of course — had their mind-blowingly stupid Obama-Hitler signs.

NEWSFLASH: OBAMA IS NOT HITLER, YOU DUMB F***S.  YOU CRAP ON THE MEMORY OF SIX MILLION JEWS (AND HOMOSEXUALS AND GYPSIES AND THE DISABLED, AMONG OTHERS) WHEN YOU SAY THAT HE IS.

I ran by like my ass was on fire — I was afraid of catching cooties.

Or mind herpes.

But then I felt a little bad.  Wouldn’t one of their fliers have made some excellent blog-fodder?  After all, CVS isn’t too far away.  I could have picked up a set of latex gloves.

But, hey, I was almost at the T stop, and I didn’t feel like back-tracking, and — hey look!  A squirrel!

Still.  I had nothing queued up for a post today, and since I was too squeamish to interact with the LaRouche idiots, I decided to surf around his PAC website a little and see what was what.

In summary (no links; you can go play in the slime yourself, if you want more details):

  • Did you know the British empire was still running wild?  Yeah, me neither.  But LaRouche knows better than we do:
    ” “This amendment is the most serious threat to the British Empire running loose on this planet today,” LaRouche said May 6. “The bill must be fully supported, without quibble. If you don’t support this, it means you don’t care about civilization.” ”
    I would tell you about the amendment and how much I care about civilization only I’m too busy laughing hysterically in between vomits.
  • Obama = Hitler idiocy:
    “No American patriot contemplates the prospect of impeaching the President of the United States lightly. Thus, despite the fact that President Barack Obama has for months been openly proposing and campaigning for a health care policy which is modeled directly on that of the Hitler regime, and which will lead, if implemented, to the kinds of genocidal results for which that regime, and many of its adherents, were condemned for Crimes Against Humanity after World War II, patriot Lyndon LaRouche has refrained up to this time from calling for him to be impeached.”
    Good God on a tap-dancing pony, y’all.  Here I thought we were worried about health care costs and availability and employers dumping their plans and the government meddling in our lives; it turns out we should be worried BECAUSE NOW THAT THERE’S GOVERNMENT HEALTHCARE WE’RE GOING TO KILL ALL THE JEWS AND THE ELDERLY AND THE DISABLED.  WTF?!?!?!?!?!
  • He’s ready to fix our economy!  Yay!
    “The time has come for the nations of the world to make a dramatic shift in economic policy: away from the fraudulent, or more rightly stated, evil, monetarist system, that currently threatens to plunge our entire civilization into a prolonged, planetary-wide “new dark age”. If we wish to survive, we must reverse the policies of de-industrialization, of killing domestic agriculture, of abandoning essential infrastructure and, most importantly, of the destruction of our NASA-led science programs.”

    That’s right.  In order to avoid a new dark age, NASA must live.  Jeez, he really LOVED that Armageddon movie, huh?  I mean, I’m no Ben Affleck fan, but no matter how many times I have to hear “I don’t wanna miss a thing” I *still* don’t think it’s going to end modern times!  Make me die inside? Yes.  Bring on another dark age? No.
  • And as for their “Green Fascism” page — I’m so sorry, y’all, but I just didn’t make it farther than the opening logo:

    I laughed so hard that I scared the cat and startled my husband. FEAR THE ZOMBIE PANDA!!!!!!!!

So there you go.  You now know everything you need to know about the douchebags with the Obama-Hitler signs.

You’re welcome.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bathe.

In bleach.

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Movie Review: Iron Man 2

Posted by Lissa on May 10, 2010

Short review: It was fun!

Longer review (no spoilers): It was a cute, entertaining movie.  I think I liked the first one better, but isn’t that usually the case with sequels?  A few points:

  • I love Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.  He does a fabulous job of playing the arrogant genius billionaire who decided to be a hero.  And cheers to his script writers!  I wonder if he has as much fun doing his lines as we do watching them?
  • Lines = script.  Not cocaine.  This time.
  • More fight scenes please!  If you expect me to shell out money for the Blu-Ray in a couple months then you’ve got to give me incentives.
  • Scarlett Johansson is just so very pretty.  Really.  I’m surprised they didn’t do more fight scenes using her character, but I guess that goes along with the “I want more fight scenes!” complaint.  She made Gwyneth Paltrow look washed out and pale.  Which surprises no one.
  • Mickey Rourke was awesome. Such a sympathetic badass villain evil guy.  I *loved* the way he played his character.  Awesome!

So, there are things I wished they’d done differently, but it was a fun movie and worth the $8.00 matinee price.

Oh, and if you’re on the fence — you get to see ScarJo unzip to her bra.

If, y’know, that appeals to you. 😉

Happy Monday!

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Friiiiiiiiiday! (And not a day too soon!) *Update with gun video*

Posted by Lissa on May 7, 2010

For some reason I was convinced that yesterday was Friday.

At the same time, I *knew* it was Thursday.

My yesterday was therefore a combination of weekend optimism and doleful disappointment.

Let your hair down – it’s Friday! (For real this time!!)

UPDATE: Oops, I forgot!  I’ve been saving this one for Friday!  In case you were wondering — I can’t do this.

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And this is why the MSM sucks.

Posted by Lissa on May 6, 2010

A gentle reminder, lest you have forgotten:

This post notes that at first the “out liberals” (those not in the closet, like Matthews) first tried to blame the Times Square bomb on the “right-wing.”

Now that it’s known, as could easily have been guessed, to have been an Islamized immigrant, they have a new slam against the “right-wing” — that we will indulge in an orgy of racist retribution for the act.

That’s beautiful. They can’t lose. First we’re blamed for doing it in the first place. If that doesn’t pan out, there’s always Plan B — blame us for an overreaction to the event and claim that that overreaction is in fact worse than the crime that provoked it.

An overreaction, incidentally, that never actually comes. Even after 9/11, there were only three or four acts of documented anti-Muslim violence in the entire 300-million-strong country.

Plan A: The right did it.

Plan B: Okay, the right didn’t do it, per se, but now the right is going to go on a murderous racist crime-spree in reaction to it.

Every time. Ev-er-y time.

Oh, and Mayor Bloomberg?  Blow it out your ass.

“If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that. Homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something. It could be anything,” he said.

Let’s say it all together:  “ONLY A VERY, VERY, VERY TINY PERCENTAGE OF MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS.  THE VAST MAJORITY OF MUSLIMS ARE LAW-ABIDING FOLKS WHO JUST WANT TO LIVE THEIR LIVES, THE SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE.”  Okay?

That being said —

Of course, whackjob murderers are whackjob murderers, no matter which God they claim to worship.  Scott Roeder appears to be Christian, as do the Hutaree fruitcakes.

So let’s compromise.  I will refrain from assuming the perpetrator of any new terrorist incident is a Muslim; you, MSM, will stop assuming it was those nasty right-wing tea-baggers.

Okay?

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