26 December 2011

Gulag of the Mind: Why North Koreans Cry for Kim Jong Il

Shows of mass sorrow for the leader's death, whether genuine or staged, show how this regime holds such unlikely power over a people who should hate them.

It doesn't really matter whether the thousands of North Koreans meant it when they wept openly, convulsively, and often convincingly in front of cameras over the death of Kim Jong Il. A New York Times article on the mass mournings suggested much of it was genuine, though many may have cried "as they think they should or because they are being watched," according to a South Korean analyst. Some writers dismissed the grieving as staged obedience, others saw it as an effect of "airtight propaganda."

The distinction is academic. Mourners who acted earnestly were shaking with grief for a man who had devastated their society several times over and made everyone who does not share his last name dramatically worse off. Those who played along, many of them so skillfully that even the most unconvincing acts seemed to rapidly become authentic, were surrendering
even their own emotions to the implicit commands of the state. Whether someone is aware that he is enslaved, not just in action but in thought, to a family that has done more harm to him them than any other individual or group in the world, he is still a slave.

North Koreans cry in front of the Statue of the Sun in Pyongyang / KCNA

P r o p o g a n d a

The power and totality of North Korean propaganda is so transformative that even the small number of people who are so disillusioned with their country that they risk their lives to escape will, once free, often continue to praise Kim Il Sung, the country's Soviet-installed founder and architect of its Orwellian police state. Last year, activists arranged a meeting between New Yorker writer Barbara Demick and a North Korean who had just escaped into China. Though the young woman had abandoned her home country, she could not leave a lifetime of propaganda behind so easily. On meeting Demick, she panicked: "evil Americans are our enemies," she said.
North Korea is saturated with state propaganda and little else. Outside radio signals are jammed, while radios blasting state messages are installed in every home and impossible to turn off. Fax machines and internet access are both illegal except for a small cadre of trusted elite. Computers must be registered with the police as if they were hunting rifles. Schools double as indoctrination centers; children are taught songs with titles like "We Have Nothing to Envy In the World" as soon as they can speak. Many towns in North Korea have no cars or little food beyond cornmeal, but every single one has a movie theater, where the 40 films produced every year by state-run studios depict the greatness of the Kim family and the awfulness of the outside world.

Expression is so limited that even certain colors are off-limits for personal use. Without exposure to any ideas or version of events from outside North Korea or even from fellow North Koreans not directly involved in disseminating propaganda, people have no reason to doubt the official version: they are living in the happiest, richest country on Earth, and they are constantly beset by an external threat that could end everything if they are not vigilant. The American threat is portrayed within North Korea as
ever-present and horrifying. Even if you have doubts about the Kim family's rule, surely they are preferable to the American monsters who, the murals and broadcasts remind North Koreans at every opportunity, will commit unspeakable crimes if the regime lets down its guard to, for example, address the 2009 currency devaluation crisis that saw most North Koreans lose all of their savings overnight.

L o y a l t y

The regime's most powerful instrument of control is not propaganda, however, but the loyalty, often unwitting, it has painstakingly engineered into every level of society. All citizens are divided into three classes -- the "core" of loyalists at the top, the middle half or "wavering" class," and the bottom "hostile" class -- and from there into 51 sub-classes. You are demoted at the slightest disloyalty (many are worked to death in camps for failing to prevent a relative from defecting) and may be promoted for service to the state, for example by informing on a neighbor or family member. Few things are too small or too basic to be held back as "privileges" for certain classes: enough cornmeal to feed your family, a rice cooker if you prosper in government, or perhaps just knowing you are less likely to be sent to the camps.

North Korea's forced labor camps sprawl over areas the size of Houston or Los Angeles and hold an estimated 200,000 prisoners, or one percent of the North Korean population, although no one can know for sure. Many are never told why they were arrested, though a common cause is having a relative who defects; some are born in the camps and will die there. Life in the camps is an exaggerated metaphor for life on the outside. People are imprisoned with their families but turned against one another by the relentless competition for food; informing is the surest form of currency. Inmates are told that their only allies are their jailers, who though brutal are the only reliable providers of food and shelter. If an inmate commits an offense, everyone associated with him is punished severely; so cooperation with fellow inmates is dangerous and uncertain, but cooperation with the guards is safe and profitable.

Much as members of North Korea's elite "core" are driven to cutthroat competition over fear of descending to the middle "wavering" class, and likewise members of the "wavering" class over fear of bring driven to the utterly destitute "hostile" class, even concentration camp inmates have something to lose. There is an underground prison beneath
at least one of the camps, where inmates are starved and tortured over petty offenses or to force confessions against family. When Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to ever escape from Camp 14, was dragged out of the underground prison to watch his mother and brother executed for attempting to escape, his response was not grief for his family or anger at his torture, but relief to be returning the camp. Back above ground, he continued informing on other inmates because it was the only life he knew.

S o c i a l   C o n s t r u c t

The prison guards probably think of themselves as the masters, but they could be called inmates themselves. Most are on the fringes of their own class, exiled to work at the remote camps rather than in Pyongyang. Resources at the camps are scarce and competition between guards is fierce. Like the inmates, they must turn against one another if they want to advance or even be certain of survival. Like most in this country, only the state has ever provided for them. Loyalty to friends and family is conditional in a way that the state's hand is not. The stories it tells them about Dear Leader's virtue and the outside threat he protects them from must resonate in a way that little else -- often, not even family allegiance -- could. To lose the state would be to lose everything, and Kim Jong Il was the state.

A scheme as massive and complicated as North Korea could not possibly function without the consent of most of its 25 million people. That's not to say that North Koreans support Kim Jong Il's regime or like watching his son take over. Their consent comes in the smaller, day-to-day ways that an authoritarian society functions: when a
farmer sends his grain to the state-run markets, when a member of the middle "wavering" class buys a jacket produced by slave laborers, when a child informs on her peer to get a few extra kernels of corn for her hungry siblings, when someone ambivalent about Kim Jong Il's rule cries at his death anyway. None of them are necessarily seeking to bolster the Kim regime. North Korean society has been so carefully engineered that simple survival can often require consenting to Kim's rule in the small, hourly ways that seem insignificant in isolation but, taken together, continue the regime's unlikely rule uninterrupted.

Max Fisher - Max Fisher is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits and writes for the International channel.

source: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/12/gulag-of-the-mind-why-north-koreans-cry-for-kim-jong-il/250419/

19 December 2011

Create Silence in God's House

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: "The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: 'Create silence! Bring people to silence!' The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!"

"Create silence!"  There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.

There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, "To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else." For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.

"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given." So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn’t all this asking us to still ourselves?

A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus’ birth:

"When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne" (Wis 18:14-15).

"Holy night, silent night!" So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: "If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father’s throne."

This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and "infant" means literally "one who doesn’t speak." The child Jesus would have cried – for air and drink and food – but he didn’t speak. "Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us." We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.

"Create silence!" How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.

And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us. "The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!" said the prophet Habakkuk.

Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, "the voice that speaks of peace"? Being together in this way can make us one – the Body of Christ – quite as effectively as words.

A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, "Two people talking stop forty people praying."

"Create silence!" I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be.

At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.

"Create silence!" It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! "The devil", said St Ambrose, "loves noise; Christ looks for silence."

Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.
Bishop of Aberdeen
7 December 2011

01 October 2011

From Psalm 18

Psalm 18 in Hebrew

1 I love thee, O LORD, my strength.

2 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me;

5 the cords of Sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
. . . . .

16 He reached from on high, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.

17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.

18 They came upon me in the day of my calamity; but the LORD was my stay.

19 He brought me forth into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

20 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.

21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

22 For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.

23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.

24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 With the loyal thou dost show thyself loyal; with the blameless man thou dost show thyself blameless;

26 with the pure thou dost show thyself pure; and with the crooked thou dost show thyself perverse.

27 For thou dost deliver a humble people; but the haughty eyes thou dost bring down.

28 Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.

29 Yea, by thee I can crush a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall.

30 This God--his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?

32 -- the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.

33 He made my feet like hinds' feet, and set me secure on the heights.

34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 Thou hast given me the shield of thy salvation, and thy right hand supported me, and thy help made me great.

36 Thou didst give a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.


14 August 2011

The Day I Resigned

- By Edwin Faust

The Soul's Flight - Janmot
In the last light of what had been a gray day, small buds, like tender promises, could be discerned on the tips of some branches, but most were still bare as they lifted their naked arms, as though in supplication, toward the blank slate of sky. I sat on a bench on the bike path, observing all this as day changed to dusk, for I had leisure for such a pastime. I had just retired. It would be more accurate to say I had just resigned, abruptly, impulsively, with a mix of anger, fear and exultation, but it was the exultation that filled me on that first evening of my new life.


For decades, I worked as a local news editor for a daily newspaper.  Whenever I was introduced to someone, the question was asked: “What do you do for a living?” My answer allowed the questioner to gauge my probable wealth, social status, education and whether he was in a superior or inferior position to me in any of these respects.  But it told him nothing about who I am.  And the fact is that after years of identifying myself by my job, I had come frequently to forget who I am.

All of us who get tangled in the toils of Mammon tend to forget who we are. We do certain things, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and we come to believe that what we do defines us.  Only with difficulty and on certain occasions can we separate our form from our function and see ourselves truly: as divinely created souls with a supernatural destiny.  God did not make actuarial agents or stock brokers or auto mechanics or computer programmers. He made men. The great cathedrals of commerce are not His dwelling place, nor did He design newsrooms or business offices or the thousand and one dreary enterprises that sap the energy and drain the joy from countless lives.  These instruments of degradation are our creations; our self-inflicted modes of tedium and torture.  But how can we escape? How long ought we to endure? Sometimes the situation can grow so dire that, at whatever worldly cost, we must summon the courage to walk away, or else risk forgetting the look of our own faces.
Tower of Babel - Bruegel

How many people do we see in these financially dolorous days who have spent a lifetime in some irksome occupation for the sake of building up their investment portfolios and IRAs and 401-Ks and real-estate holdings, only to see it all evaporate? With their money gone, their jobs gone, who are they now? Who do they see when they look in the mirror?

I am no longer a local news editor, nor was I ever one in the sense that such an occupation defined me.  Now, when I tell someone I am retired, the next usual question in about what I used to do for a living, and the old persona is again fixed upon me.  In the future, when asked what I do or used to do, I think I will answer: “Nothing important” or “Nothing worth talking about.” In this way my true face, however it may appear, will not be hidden behind the mask of my former profession.

I could, of course, simply answer the question about what I do by saying, “I am working out my salvation.” Such a response would doubtless obviate many tedious conversations.  If the questioner persisted, I could then talk about matters of genuine interest to me and we might come to know one another, rare occurrence in most social intercourse.  But the fact is, few people want to know who you are, or even who they are.  It is much simpler and safer to keep life humming along on a superficial plane, or so it seems.

Amid the voluminous rhetorical twaddle of American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, there appears a line that has become famous because it resonates with an enduring truth: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Recall that desperation comes from despair, which is the loss of hope. Hope in what? In God.  Men cannot be sustained by a hope that is not theological.

Thoreau recognized that there is implanted in the human soul by its Creator a desire for truth and beauty that makes the commercial and social round that circumscribes the lives of most men deeply unsatisfying.  He sought his escape by turning to nature. Yet, he only lived in his cabin in the woods for two years: just long enough to gather material for his book. If what he wrote were true, if contemplating the flora and fauna of the forest were sufficient for the human spirit, he would not have returned to the town, nor would he have bothered to write his book.  But nature is not sufficient for the human spirit.  Man can no more be sustained by nature than by artificial distractions. Perhaps that is why devout environmentalists are always seeking new causes and usually appear so intensely unhappy.  How can a Divinely created intellect rest content to expend its gifts on saving the piping plover or protecting the habitat of the gray tree frog?

05 August 2011

Tough Talk for Pastors

Robert Cardinal Sarah, Addressed Ordinands of the Community of St. Martin, June 25, 2011

Translation by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

. . . The priest is not a psychologist, nor a sociologist, nor an anthropologist, nor a politician. The priest should be exclusively a man of God, a saint or a man who aspires to sanctity, daily given to prayer, to thanksgiving and praise, and refusing to shine in the areas where other Christians have no need of him. He is destined to support and illuminate the souls of his brothers and sisters, to guide men to God and open to them the spiritual treasures of which they are terribly deprived today.

In effect, we live in a world where God is more and more absent and where we don’t know our values are and we don’t know our landmarks. We no longer have common moral reference points. We no longer know what is evil and what is good. There are a multitude of points of view. Today, we call white what we once called black, and vice versa. What is serious, and make no mistake about it, is the transformation of error into a rule of life. In this context, as priests, pastors and guides of the People of God, you should be continuously focused on being always loyal to the doctrine of Christ. It is necessary for you to constantly strive to acquire the sensitivity of conscience, the faithful respect for dogma and morality, which constitute the deposit of faith and the common patrimony of the Church of Christ.

21 February 2011

Hmong General's Burial is a Question of Honor

By Diana Marcum, reporting from Fresno, CA
Published by LA Times, 24 January 2011

The evening shadows have to fall just right. And the grave shouldn't be on a slope.

In traditional Hmong culture, the burial site matters for eternity, to the living and the dead and the spirit world that connects them.

So the old Hmong men — once young soldiers in a CIA-backed "secret" war in the jungles of Laos — light candles for Gen. Vang Pao, their leader in that war, and hope that he will be allowed to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

They fought a war on behalf of the Americans and lost everything: their land, their way of life, their country and the lives of tens of thousands of their people. This is what is left to them: hoping for a grave site on hallowed American military ground.

The question of Vang Pao's final resting place has become a reckoning of one of the most shadowy chapters of the Vietnam era and a coda to a strange legal case. Because Vang Pao did not directly serve in the U.S. military, it will take a waiver from the federal government for the man former CIA Director William Colby once called "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War" to be buried at Arlington — the same government that three and a half years ago arrested Vang Pao as a terrorist.

Several lawmakers, led by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), have asked for the waiver to be granted. An answer is expected this week.

Until Vang Pao's arrest, many former Hmong soldiers were invisible. In Fresno, home to one of the largest Hmong communities, they stayed within their own enclaves, depending on their children and grandchildren — and on the man they called General — to navigate the outside world for them.

In Laos, they were clan and village leaders of the Hmong, an ethnic minority who lived high up in cloud-shrouded mountains. They were Vang Pao's loyal, ferocious soldiers who attacked the Ho Chi Minh trail, the main artery between North and South Vietnam. They directed American planes where to bomb and rescued pilots downed in Laos.

"But in America, they feel like nothing. They are poor refugees" said Paula Vang, a spokeswoman for a Hmong veterans group. "Still, they are the General's soldiers and they fought for America. This gives them identity."

28 January 2011


by  D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D.

Courage, or fortitude, is one of that very special group of four virtues known as the cardinal virtues, the other three being prudence, justice, and temperance. They are called “cardinal” because of the foundational status they have with respect to all the other virtues. All the other virtues directly depend on them, and indeed are but more specialized exemplifications of one or another of them. The particular role played by the virtue of courage in the moral life, a very important one to be sure, is to enable us successfully to cope with the emotion of fear.

That fear can be a very powerful emotion goes without saying. So long as it is kept under the control of reason, it offers no problems; in fact, if properly controlled, it can actually be of positive benefit to us. Fear guided by reason is a fear that is directed toward something which is fully deserving of being feared. It is only when fear gains the ascendency in our lives, when fear itself, rather than reason, becomes the controlling factor, that we find ourselves in a very problematic state of affairs.

Stoning of St. Stephen

One of the direct and most troublesome effects of a fear which is in charge of our lives is that it inhibits, or even cancels completely, right action. Because of fear, we either hesitate to do, do half-heartedly, or simply fail to do, what it is our duty to do. We effectively abdicate our responsibility as moral agents. We succumb to moral cowardice. Now, none of us likes to be thought of as cowardly, and least of all do we want to think of ourselves as such, so what happens when fear becomes the controlling factor in our lives is that we become masters of rationalization. We manage to convince ourselves that what is clearly our duty is not really all that important; we anesthetize our sense of responsibility toward the tasks which go hand in hand with our state of life. Then the psychological games we play with ourselves become yet more complicated, for in order not to admit to ourselves how we are trafficking in rationalization, we distract ourselves, and attempt to distract others as well, by engaging in all sorts of busy-work which is in fact inconsequential, for it is activity which only serves as an escapist substitute for the activity we should be engaging in.

13 January 2011

"Thoughts on Prayer" - by Fulton Sheen

-  We do not pray in order that we may change God’s Will; we pray rather to change our own.

-  We do not pray that we may have good things; we pray rather that we may be good.

The perfect prayer is not one in which we tell God what we wish from Him, but rather one in which we ask God what He wishes from us.

Do not pray only in an emergency. The plea of strangers is never as effective as the plea of friends. Do not think of God only in times of distress or danger. Heaven is not a firehouse, and God does not put out all the fires.

Do not make all your prayers, prayers of petition. Where there is love we seek rather to give than receive. Such is the test of a real love of God.

When God does answer your prayers of petition, do you ever thank Him for His gift? You cannot always depend on prayers to be answered the way you want them answered, but you can always depend on God.

God, the loving Father, often denies us those things which in the end would prove harmful to us. Every boy wants a revolver at age four, and no father yet has granted that request. Why should we think God is less wise? Someday we will thank God not only for what He gave us, but also for that which He refused.

We should never pray for anything without at the same time submitting to God’s Will. Since God is good, petition is inseparable from resignation. When our will is one with God’s Will, then nothing can happen to us except what God wills; thus we will never be disappointed.

God will not supply every want; but He will supply every need. The trouble is that we want what we do not need.

Prayer is not the breaking down of the reluctance of God; it is rather the opening of the door. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The latch is on our side and not his. Prayer opens that door.

-  The perfect prayer is one in which we seek to identify our will with God’s will.

When you pray, do not do all the talking! Listen! Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening. If we keep pounding away with our hammers, how can the Divine Architect tell us how we ought to build?

If you are in the state of grace, God dwells in your heart. Hence, do not think of God being “way up there”; think of Him being on the inside. Because our body is a temple, we should try to keep God dwelling therein. This is the basic reason for purity.

-  It is really not so important what we say to God as it is what He says to us.

-  Prayer is not asking God to put Himself at our disposal.