Saturday, February 15, 2014

Downtime

My apologies (to my tens of thousands of paying readers) for not writing more often in this blog. You know how life catches up with you: two deaths in the family, nine days without water (harsh winter), car accident. The contours of life that disrupt an otherwise smooth coast to the grave.

I'm still keeping up on North Korea news (Rodman's out of rehab and drinking again; people are still analyzing Uncle Jang's death; DPRK agreed to family reunions and then reneged at the last minute, etc.) and will have something to post here soon. For the time being, permit me to engage in a little meta-talk.

I had to go back through all the old entries and labels and remove the hyphenation from all the North Korean names. While these names have been transliterated from hangul to English, and they don't use hyphens, the predominant editorial convention seems to hold that North Korean names are never hyphenated (Kim Jong Eun) and South Korean names are (Park Geun-Hye). Perhaps the only reason for this is to immediately distinguish which nation a Korean-named person is from? I have no idea, but I want to enforce this as a standard in my writing, along with the consistent spelling I've opted for.

Not so long ago, I knew very little about North Korea, but today's Internet makes it very easy for a beginner to rush into this realm of knowledge and learn a lot very quickly. The first myth I broke through in my studies was that very little was known about the "hermit kingdom." This is absolutely untrue, and for this reason I will always use quotes around that two-word phrase. From Google Maps to the abundance of defector testimony, we actually know quite a lot about Pyongyang, the countryside no one's permitted to see, and the death camps whose existence DPRK resolutely denies.

Social media, as well, enables a zero-credentialed joe like me to follow—and occasionally reach out to—the scholars and analysts who put out great information daily, hourly. Unfortunately, I note that there are certain characteristics to the experts and students, and you never know what you're going to get from them until you collide with them. They jockey to collect the best and most information about DPRK, and they insist their intel is better than that of others. They accept some data, reject others, dwell on it and polish it off with a political bias, and then they go to war over whose interpretation is best. And in this war, the castles are references and documentation but the only weapon is condescension.

I don't enjoy this at all. I simply want to learn, and I would like my polite, respectful inquiries either answered or ignored, rather than used as opportunity for personal attack. At times I feel like they're all operating under the premise that there's a prize to be had (airtime on TV, a book deal, a cash purse), a premise of which I've not been informed, so I don't understand why the need for dominance and esteem drives every conversation. But maybe that's just group dynamics, present in any arena of specialization.

Except homebrewing. Those guys genuinely love to support and encourage each other, making it a unique and anomalous community.

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