Everyone talks of censorship, not of those sick and dying inside North Korea

It is typical for people around me to pick my brain on matters of regional politics in Northeast Asia, especially when North Korea is in the news cycle. I’ve never backed-down from the impossible task of trying to guess what the DPRK is up to, but in this case, I’ve declined to offer much in terms of an opinion.

My hesitation stems from the fact that the whole debate about “The Interview” being pulled from theatres and how Sony Pictures Entertainment has effectively censored free expression is the typical individualistic argument I would expect from North America. Having to explain to everyone that censorship shouldn’t really be the heart of this issue requires a Korean history lesson too lengthy to package into a response for a friend’s casual inquiry about this particular news item. But here goes…

It’s ironic that, especially at a time of heightened public awareness on the issue of bullying, that the entire world seems to be doing just that on a macro-level with respect to North Korea. Yes, their track record on human rights is atrocious; their behaviour towards the rest of the world continuously bellicose and their system of government (if we could even call it that) is long past its expiry date. Decades of diplomacy seems to have made little to no progress, and while diplomats undertake further study of how to breakthrough in North Korea, the general populace sits back offering little more than racist jokes and a few laughs, thanks to the free expression demonstrated by such films as “Team America: World Police” and the more recent, now-scrapped film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

It is difficult to find someone who can intelligently discuss North Korea. Most of the stuff I hear when the subject is brought up is about the Kim’s poor taste in clothing or hair styles. That joke, much like the suffering of the North Korean people, has long passed its best before date. People ask me for my opinion on Korean issues because of my interest in its political dynamic. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but having focused on this in my studies and having been “on the ground” — which includes a few footsteps inside the world’s most brutal country — gives me a bit more credibility than a lot of the fools talking about Kim Jong-un’s fashion statement.

Does pulling “The Interview” set a precedent? Does it start a sort of censorship on creative expression? Perhaps. Another film starring Steve Carrell has been shelved and a planned re-release of Team America in some US theatres has been scrapped.

Going back to my point about bullying: seems like North Korea has had enough of Hollywood defining them and they took a stand. The Sony hack seems to demonstrate that North Korea has the ability to do some damage, and Hollywood has now backed-down. It might be a while before someone sells the idea of killing a North Korean leader in film again, which makes sense to me, given that no mainstream studio executive would ever touch a film whose plot suggests the killing of a living US president, let alone a sitting commander-in-chief.

North Korea is a disturbed country ruled by a paranoid elite whose only day-to-day concern is their grip on power. A film which suggests the assassination of Kim Jong-un, regardless of whether it is cloaked in comedy, serves to only advantage the leadership in North Korea, who have played this as an act of aggression by “American imperialists”. It also kills any diplomatic progress (if any has been made through back-channels) with a new leader in North Korea who seems to be distancing himself from his father’s militaristic rule. I wrote a few weeks ago that Kim Jong-un seems more interested in the state of the North Korean economy than his role as head of the military, which is something positive in a part of the world so riddled with negative news. 

In summary, I couldn’t care less if this is censorship. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure it’s no different than others like it, containing the same kinds of Asian stereotypes and the overheard jokes about North Korea. While everyone in the world seems to be so consumed with the idea that Sony pulling the movie starts a trend toward censorship, my opinion is thus:

What about the people of North Korea? All of them, from the ones starving to death near the Yalu River or those rotting in the mines of prison camps.

For those of you who cry about this movie being shelved, you can still go check out a movie this Christmas day. You’ll still have your pick of film, and you may even luck out with the concession stands being open. Get yourself a pepsi and a popcorn — at least you’ll get to do that. The average North Korean person doesn’t even know what popcorn and pepsi is, and they’re probably more hungry than you are.

Adrian Hong, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, said it best:

The day will soon come when North Koreans are finally free, and liberated concentration camp survivors will have to learn that the world was more interested in the oddities of the oppressors than the torment of the oppressed.

You can read his take here.

While racial divide exists, police shootings stem primarily from Second Amendment

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. December 1, 2014

You can’t help but feel for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, now in the throes of a massive community divide. The killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in August rocked the city, and now, the police officer, Darren Wilson, responsible for the killing will not answer for it through any kind of justice.

A makeshift memorial to Michael Brown, the unarmed teen that was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. (Flickr user peoplesworld)

A makeshift memorial to Michael Brown, the unarmed teen that was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. (Flickr user peoplesworld)

I’m not qualified to offer a legal opinion on the grand jury decision on November 24 to not indict Officer Wilson, but will simply state that there are many notable flaws in the process.

There is no question that Ferguson suffers from a racial inequality, and while many believe that the killing of Brown was racially motivated, there seems to be a surprising lack of interest in perhaps the single-greatest reason Officer Wilson open fired on an unarmed teen. It’s the very same reason that prompts police to use lethal force throughout the United States.

The United States of America is the only jurisdiction in the world which provides a constitutionally protected right to all of its citizens to possess and use a firearm. The gun control debate is a decades-long fight between lobbyists and Congress, yet it seems to be ironically absent from any discussion of events in Ferguson.

Yes, it’s true that Brown was unarmed at the time he was killed. However, some need to place themselves in the shoes of Officer Wilson, patrolling the streets of a city that has protections for gun owners and gun rights entrenched in its constitutional law.

The debate would be over if it had been revealed that the deceased teen was in fact carrying a weapon. The fact that he was unarmed makes his death more tragic. On the flip side, the tragedy for Officer Wilson here is that he also needed to protect himself not only against the threat of bodily harm (as was heard in testimony before the grand jury) but also against the very real possibility that this teenager might have a gun in his possession.

The Second Amendment is responsible for the tragedy in Ferguson as well as countless other shootings across the United States. Those who profess their rights as gun owners do so by failing to accept the spirit by which the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was established. The Hobbesian worldview and the revolutionary nature of the American founders is evidence that the Second Amendment’s spirit was meant only for ensuring the freedom of its people from a tyrannical government.

There is absolutely no difference, with the exception of creed and skin colour, between those people who bastardize the spirit of the Second Amendment and those who bastardize the Islamic faith to rationalize the killing of innocent people around the world. It’s also ironic that those most critical and fearful of the Islamic extremists, to the point of being racist about it, are those same people so passionate about their constitutional arguments permitting them to “bear arms.”

In towns and cities across America, there is still the existence of racial disparity. The racial dynamic must not be overlooked, but the greatest flaw is the one that is least discussed in the case of Ferguson; that the right to firearms compels those in law enforcement to second-guess any situation they face, from the pettiest to the most serious crimes.

I was recently asked about the status of my book, which for the moment remains tentatively titled “The Other President”, and realized that I have not provided an update since September 28th.

The first draft was returned to me from editing and work began on the 2nd draft in early October. While the idea was to get it done quickly, new content has been added into a format that makes the book, well, better. This means that the new draft is somewhat bigger than the first, and while all of the same information is contained within the new draft, the storytelling was enhanced.

It was my hope to send this back to editing in November, but there are a few writing issues that have caused some delays. Chief among those is an internal debate about the contents of a new “Chapter 6″ which discusses a controversial personal issue. The delay revolves around the quality of the writing; not of the integrity of the content.

This will no doubt cause an overall delay in getting the book into the hands of eager readers. Hopefully everyone will also understand my excitement at getting this story out there, but I also want to make sure I get this done right. A lot of time has been invested into this project, and I expect nothing less than the highest quality writing from myself.

As for timeline, I hope to have this sent back to editing in December, and I think such a goal is quite reasonable, since the new draft is 90 per cent complete. I’ll provide another update once new developments arise.