I’m Registered for the 2012 Penticton BC Long Distance Triathlon

Assuming I’m alive and well, I will wade into Lake Okanagon around 6:45 a.m. on August 26th, 2012.

It’s only taken me about fifteen years to commit to going crazy long—2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile “run”. My brother, who calls it Ironman Canada, did it when he was in his early 40s. Me at 50, figure that’s a fair fight.

Why now when I haven’t been racing at any distance? A perfect storm of cognitive slippage, turning 50, watching my friends race all summer, getting stronger on the bike, and reflecting on the GalPal’s health struggles.

I’m more anxious than excited because it’s the most I’ve ever asked of my bod. The training is going to require unprecedented self-discipline and I’m going to suffer big time on race day. I’ve already lost some sleep with jarring images of the swim start and “running” for four hours plus in 90 degree weather after 112 miles in the saddle.

If it’s 90+ degrees on the run like it was this year, my brother’s family record of 11:45 is probably safe. I know he’ll be rooting for me. . . to blow up early in the run.

Can’t wait to embrace the triathlon subculture I’m so enamored with. I love the World Triathlon Corporation’s single-minded bidness focus so I’ve decided to rent myself out to the highest bidder. That’s right, I’m officially for sale. NASCAR has nothing on me. I’ve already been contacted by representatives from AAPL, Coca-Cola, and Tide. I’ll wear their logos, or if the price is right, have them permanently tattooed on the body part of their choice.

I’m going to use that revenue flow to hire a coach who I will pay more than two-thirds of the world’s people earn. Also, don’t tell the GalPal, but I’ll be tapping our retirement accounts to buy lots of very expensive bike equipment, shaving grams as I go. Hyperbaric chambers aren’t cheap either.

And rest assured, I’ll embrace the narcissism that often seems endemic to the sport. That means I’ll be posting pillions of pictures of myself getting fitter and fitter and blogging about all of my training details until every last reader’s eyes glaze over. And even though my brother looked roided up in 2002, I’ve decided to race clean, again in an effort to level the playing field.

Just kidding. My primary goal is to put in the necessary work without letting it take over my life. More easily written than done I suppose. Appropriately starting on April 1, just under five months of prep. Eight week build, followed by eleven weeks of high volume, and a ten day taper.

Ron Byrnes has agreed to coach me. And with the goal of not letting it take over my life, I don’t intend on blogging much about my prep. If all goes well, I will toe the line in the best shape of my life and then race smartly, meaning steadily.

Can I put in the work without breaking down or losing balance, survive the swim start, avoid tacks on Maclean Creek, run slowly all afternoon instead of walking, go sub 11:45, and get home without cramping up uncontrollably and driving off the road?

Stay tuned sports fans.

2011 Black Diamond Half Iron Race Report

With apologies to Lorne, swim-bike-run posts today and Friday. We return to regular programming Monday, October 3rd.

Like Brett Farvah, came out of retirement to compete in the Black Diamond Half Iron last Saturday. The weather was ideal, calm, partially sunny, 60’s-lower 70’s.

Only my second half iron—1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run. Finished in 5:13+ in 2006 after cycling too hard for my fitness and unraveling on the run. Took me five years to recover.

The deets—30:42 swim, 3:12 T1, 2:42:54 bike, 1:52 T2, 1:40:09 run, 4:58:49. One of the athletic accomplishments I’m most proud of along with extricating myself from the top of my roof after getting spread eagled putting on Christmas lights and scoring five goals in a sophomore water polo game against Western High in Cypress, CA back in the typewriter era.

Chillin' pre-race

Heaven help me if Chip Schooler ever sees this playlist!

Went in with modest swim volume and three short runs off the bike. Hadn’t ran 13.1 in ages either. On the other hand, my cycling was really solid all summer, I’ve strengthened my core, and I’ve been churning out 30 mile running weeks. Despite being fit, I was nervous about going out too fast and then unraveling again. So the plan was to stay within myself, cruise/bilateral breathe throughout the swim, keep the cadence high on the bike, and run conservatively from start to finish.

The fog just waiting for the start gun

Fog rolled in right as we were starting the swim. It was a two loop .6 mile diamond shaped course so the buoys were closer together than normal, but the fog got so thick it was hard to see them. I was sighting off the arms of a guy in front of me in a sleeveless wetsuit. Felt like I zigged and zagged a bit inside and outside the buoy-line which gives me a sponsorship idea.

The other problem with the swim was I couldn’t dial it back after going hard for the first 150 yards to get into some open water. I didn’t bilateral breathe once and swam harder than I had intended. Theme of the day. Decent time/start.

The bike course was nice, wide shoulders, smooth pavement, rolling. Just over 2k’ in elevation. And it was the cleanest race I’ve ever seen. A couple out and backs, two loop course so lots of opportunities to see others, and not one instance of drafting. With my road bike, pseudo-aero bars, and non-race wheels, I was outgunned in the hardware department, but I put up an admirable fight. I also road differently, like the roadie I am, standing on the climbs, coasting in a crouch on the descents, only aero maybe half of the time. Everyone else seemed like they were aero all the time, always seated, pedaling downhill, perfect spike-free wattage charts no doubt. My wattage chart would probably resemble that of a major earthquake.

Late in the ride, going pretty hard at over 20mph, I felt a wee bit of lactic acid forming. Internal dialogue. “How are you planning to run after this?” Again, couldn’t get out of my mod-hard groove. “We’ll, we’ll know whether we rode too hard by the two mile mark of the run.”

The run was on rural roads with a couple of out and backs, one ran twice. I liked it because again you could see where you were relative to the other competitors. Right out of T2, I exited stage left into a PortaPit. I’ve watched televised college football games that took less time than that whiz.

Once I started running in earnest, a 25 year old passed me like I was standing still. I figured that was a good sign that I hadn’t started too fast. Shortly afterwards, he cramped up and stopped. Eventually he recovered and later passed me, ultimately finishing about a minute ahead of me. Youthful exuberance, terrible pacing. Only dude to pass me during the run (because the burners outcycled me)*. I was cruising, thinking I was running my planned 8:00/minute miles, but my splits were crazy fast–7/7:20ish. What the hell? I had my legs and the turnover was there. I began picking off people, looking past the person in front of me to the one in front of them and then pulling them back. Only once got out of my comfort zone when I didn’t realize the road had kicked up a few degrees.

I was cruising so comfortably I was pre-writing this blog post in my head, not racing per se, just running within myself, not chasing people, just watching them come back to me. Then everything changed at mile 8. I decided my 7:20’s were suicidal and decided to sit on a guy I ran up on until mile 10. “Use him to slow down,” I told myself. Just about then, my hammies seized up as they often do when I ask too much from them. Did the straight legged walk a bit, managed to work it out enough to slowly jog to the aid station, downed some electrolyte drink, and then eased back into running. Too strong of a performance to succumb to walking. Now 43 (his age as noted on his right calf) was at least 100 meters up on me. Both hammies were on the edge, but I tentatively pressed on.

Between mile posts 10 and 11, I came back up on 43 and now 46 who he was sitting on. Pass or rest for the final two miles? I decided not to adjust my pace and made the pass. 43 said something like “Didn’t know if you were cramped up for good” and I assured both of them I was on the edge and my hammies could go at any minute especially on the downhills. Didn’t know if one or both would come with me, but neither was able to. Finished steadily over the last mile of trail around the lake. I was pleasantly surprised by my run and the day more generally.

Walked straight to the beach, stripped down to the bike shorts, and disappeared into the cold lake. Nothing speeds recovery like that. Well, besides a Big Tom’s chocolate shake.

* Except for John Brewer (47) of Kirkland. Check out his splits for a chuckle. I went to the race director to get a print out of the results so the mean lady guarding the age group awards would give me mine. Tangent—if I had known it was another very hokey (made in China) medal with nothing imprinted on it and not the cool clear/plexiglass engraved plaques for the winners, I wouldn’t have bothered. Anyways, I watched the Race Director spend fifteen minutes trying to explain to JB that he cut the course. He was incredulous. The Race Director drew a detailed map of the course and went over it and over it. Then afterwards his friend said “Yeah, I should have seen you here (pointing to an out and back on the hand drawn map) and I never did.” I would have been more direct than the Race Director. “You were 102nd in the swim, 78th in the bike, but somehow rallied to run the fifth fastest run split of the day?! Any relation to Rosie Ruiz?!”

The Politics of Travel

The North Korean dictatorship now sees tourists on cruises as the best way to generate some foreign currency with which they can keep buying western luxury goods for themselves. Fifty-four pictures here.

Do the mostly Chinese tourists have no conscience? Don’t they realize they’re propping up the most heinous dictatorship in the world?

Easy to rip them I suppose, harder to reflect on the ways our travels sometimes negatively impact the people and cultures we visit.

When teaching and living in Ethiopia, I took what I thought at the time was an excellent picture that captured the harsh reality of poverty in the developing world. It was of two young girls who had hiked up to the top of the hills north of the capital city, Addis Ababa, with a huge thicket of wood branches on their tiny arched backs. Technically it was National Geo-like, and even more impressive after the excellent matting and framing job. After having it hanging in our home for quite a few years, the haunting, absent look on the girls’ faces started to trouble me. Despite being someone who values my privacy, I hadn’t asked for their permission. I raised my camera with my fancy zoom lens, pointed it right at them, and snapped.

There was no reciprocity in our interaction, no balance. I’ve since taken it down and use it as a discussion starter when teaching about cultural globalization.

I have other similarly unflattering travel stories. We don’t like to think about, let alone tell those stories though, opting instead for innocuous ones as if our travels are apolitical.

Our travel negatively impacts the physical environment; our physical presence inevitably changes the cultural environment; and our loding, dining, and recreational decision making tends to create distant economic winners and local losers.

To mitigate our negative impact, maybe we should travel less often, over shorter distances. And when we do travel far afield, we should strive to do so as global citizens, not amoral global tourists like the damn Chinese on the North Korean cruises.

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

The wife recently asked me to take the Jung/Myers Briggs personality test available here. Probably wanted to find out what’s wrong with me. It was relatively pain free and the results mostly jived with my sense of self. Take it and tell me what you think of the results.

I’m an INFJ or “Idealist Counselor”. Here are some excerpts from the “Idealist Counselor” description:

Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. Although they are happy working at jobs (such as writing) that require solitude and close attention, Counselors do quite well with individuals or groups of people, provided that the personal interactions are not superficial, and that they find some quiet, private time every now and then to recharge their batteries. Counselors are both kind and positive in their handling of others; they are great listeners and seem naturally interested in helping people with their personal problems. Not usually visible leaders, Counselors prefer to work intensely with those close to them, especially on a one-to-one basis, quietly exerting their influence behind the scenes.

Except for the fact that I could be a much more patient listener, that’s accurate to the point of almost creepy. Helps explain why I prefer small dinner get-togethers to large cocktail parties and why I loathe self-promoters. There’s more.

Counselors are scarce, little more than three percent of the population, and can be hard to get to know, since they tend not to share their innermost thoughts or their powerful emotional reactions except with their loved ones. They are highly private people, with an unusually rich, complicated inner life. Friends or colleagues who have known them for years may find sides emerging which come as a surprise. Not that Counselors are flighty or scattered; they value their integrity a great deal, but they have mysterious, intricately woven personalities which sometimes puzzle even them.

Isn’t blogging going against the Counselor grain? Not necessarily. I share thoughts and emotions, but not my innermost thoughts or most powerful emotional reactions. I’ll probably peel more layers off over time, but never get to the core in this format at least.

Counselors tend to work effectively in organizations. They value staff harmony and make every effort to help an organization run smoothly and pleasantly. They understand and use human systems creatively, and are good at consulting and cooperating with others. As employees or employers, Counselors are concerned with people’s feelings and are able to act as a barometer of the feelings within the organization.

That explains in part why I’ve been in a professional funk. My workplace has lacked harmony for quite awhile. Outnumbered by those who think people’s feelings are unimportant, I’ve thrown in the towel on trying to help things run smoothly and pleasantly.

Blessed with vivid imaginations, Counselors are often seen as the most poetical of all the types, and in fact they use a lot of poetic imagery in their everyday language. Their great talent for language-both written and spoken-is usually directed toward communicating with people in a personalized way. Counselors are highly intuitive and can recognize another’s emotions or intentions – good or evil – even before that person is aware of them. Counselors themselves can seldom tell how they came to read others’ feelings so keenly. This extreme sensitivity to others could very well be the basis of the Counselor’s remarkable ability to experience a whole array of psychic phenomena.

Psychic phenomena strikes me as over the top. And do you think they purposely write all the descriptions as positively as possible so that everyone feels better about themselves? And you gotta love the examples of other Counselors—Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Goodall. Nice company to keep. I’m a confident writer and speaker, but as clearly demonstrated in Wednesday’s “Fall” post, I’m anything but poetic. And when it comes to others’ feelings, my antenna do seem more finely tuned than most.

For example, I picking up on things right now. You think I’ve been a bit self-absorbed in this post and I’ve gone on too long. Points well taken.

Genuine Social Progress—The Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

From Margot Adler on National Public Radio:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is no more. The policy barred openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from serving in the military.

As to what really propelled the change: changes in attitudes in the country as a whole, shifting attitudes among top military brass, gay activism, legal action and the increasing needs of a military waging several wars.

In Adler’s story, Sue Fulton, a West Pointer and former Army Captain, cut to the chase:

When we’re at war what matters is: Do you have my back? Are you supporting me down range? All of this other nonsense about who is waiting for you back home, or what the color of your skin is, or who you worship, those things don’t matter when you’re down range, when you are under fire. It comes down to do you have the character and the ability to have my back. Gays and lesbians have proven throughout this conflict that they do.

In twenty-five to fifty years, we’ll look at the last few decades of anti-gay posturing and policy in the same way we do Jim Crow-based racial segregation today.

SAT Reading, Writing Scores Hit Low

Based on the newsfeed, last week was a downer.

A record high one of six people are living below the $22,000 family of four poverty level. Tampa right wing nutters cheered the thought of an uninsured patient dying. Recently hired Detroit auto workers are paid one-half of their fellow assembly-liners’ wages. The University of California will raise tuition 16% a year indefinitely. The Palin kids were (allegedly) stuck with burnt mac and cheese (formatting guide—italics—quotes, underlined—tongue in cheek sarcasm). And then the week ended with the rare Seahawks-Mariners double zero*.

In keeping with the spirit of the week, Stephanie Banchero of the WSJ wrote:

SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2011 fell in all three subject areas, and the average reading and writing scores were the lowest ever recorded.

The results. . . revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college.

The report on the SAT comes on the heels of results from the ACT college-entrance exam that suggested only 25% of high-school graduates who took that exam were ready for college. 

The average reading score dropped to 497 from 500 points in 2010, on a 200-to-800-point scale. That is the lowest score since 1972, when the College Board began calculating the average scores of individual graduating classes. The writing score dipped to 489, down from 491 last year. Writing scores have gone down almost every year since the exam was first given in 2006. 

College Board officials offer two take-aways from the data (as reported by Banchero):

1) The declining scores can be attributed, in part, to a larger and more diverse test-taking population. As more students aim for college and sit for the exam, scores decline. Ten years ago, 8% of test takers were Latino, compared with 15% in 2011. For black students, the percentage jumped to 13%, compared with 9% in 2001. A growing percentage of students also grew up speaking a language other than English, and more than one-fifth of this year’s test takers were poor enough to receive a waiver to take the exam for free.

2) Students who took a core curriculum, defined as four years of English and three or more of math, natural science and social science, did much better. Still, only 49% of them posted a score high enough to be considered college-ready, compared with 30% of students who didn’t take a core. College Board officials noted that the reading scores have been declining most dramatically for students who took less than a core curriculum.

Banchero wraps up her story with Kent Williamson’s hypothesis for why reading and writing scores are declining. Williamson, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, suspects declining scores are based upon a narrowing of how reading is taught. “In many schools, especially those most impoverished, reading programs are not about building cognitive abilities or a love of reading,” he said. “They are built around rote learning of language, and I think we are seeing the results of that.” 

Unscientific as it may be, Williamson’s postulate resonates with me. Too few students are engaged by their teachers’ methods and their required, too often scripted, course material.

I’ll take the baton from Williamson and offer another unscientific hypothesis. Declining scores are proof that opinion leaders’ and policy makers’ single-minded focus on global economic competition isn’t the least bit motivating to K-12 students. That focus has created a debilitating disconnect. I’ll elaborate sometime soon.

In the meantime, here’s hoping for a more upbeat news week.

* I like our chances for setting the rarely reported “same city on Sundays consecutive quarters and innings goose egg” record.

We Need Smaller and Larger Classes

I’m never quite sure how the head high school swim coach will use me, his ace volunteer assistant, until I show up on the deck each afternoon. Lately, he’s been giving me the burners probably because I’m less skilled teaching new swimmers.

Yesterday though, while the rest of the team rotated through four different stroke clinics he gave me two neophytes. Yikes, over an hour, what am I going to do after suggesting one or two things? I surprised myself. The girls and I connected, they made huge strides in what they were struggling with, and the time flew. I listened to them talk about what they were finding most difficult—always being really tired even in the middle of short sets. Then I watched them swim and diagnosed the problem—short, choppy, way too fast arm and leg action coupled with three and four stroke breathing. One asked, “How do I keep from hyperventilating?”

I told them there were four speeds—easy, steady, mod-hard, and hard, and they were spending all their time swimming mod-hard and hard. I got them to slow everything down, stretch things out, and breath more often. Slowing their arms and legs down and breathing more often felt odd to them, but they were thrilled to swim 50 yards without being winded. We also did flip turns and fine tuned race starts which included a lesson on how to wear goggles and tuck their chins so that their goggles don’t come off. They were very appreciative of my help and left practice more excited about the remainder of the season.

Crazily, we have forty-six swimmers, and most days, just four lanes. Those swimmers would have never got the individual attention they needed if I wasn’t volunteering. Working with them so closely reminded me how little imagination secondary school administrators and teachers have when it comes to class size. Irrespective of teachers’ methods and assessment practices, it’s as if 30ish students per class is mandated somewhere in the Old Testament. Thirty students is probably the optimal size for not really getting to know students individually and not using teaching resources as efficiently as possible.

The best elementary teachers solve the class size conundrum on their own. They brilliantly use learning centers to create more personalized learning environments. Their students are constantly moving from working independently, to working at small group learning centers, to whole class instruction.

In secondary schools, 30 students is sometimes too many. Like at swim practice yesterday, sometimes a teacher needs to listen to individual students, carefully assess what they already know and are able to do, thoughtfully diagnosis what they need to truly learn the necessary content and skills, observe, provide feedback, and repeat.

Ours is an outstanding public high school, yet after four years, Nineteen said she didn’t do much writing, and when she did, only one teacher ever provided specific feedback. Writing intensive classes, whether in English or Advanced Placement History, should be capped somewhere south of 30 so that teachers are able to assign papers, read them closely, and provide specific feedback on strengths and next steps.

And sometimes 30 is too few. Obviously, in order to have some classes with 16 or 18 students, there have to be others with 45 or 50. In ninth grade, Sixteen had math sixth period. She’d literally take a test, come home fifteen minutes later, log onto the school website, and announce her grade. Why should a teacher who slides bubbled-up Scantron sheets through a machine on the way to bball practice in less than 60 seconds be assigned the same number of students as the writing teacher who should be carefully marking three and four page essays on a regular basis?

If one’s lecturing, teaching discrete factual information, showing a PowerPoint about the digestive system for instance, and then using multiple choice exams, does it really matter if there are 30 or 60 or 75 students in the “audience”?

Granted, it’s tough to differentiate for 2,000 adolescents at a time in buildings that typically assume standard class sizes. But that doesn’t mean we’re destined to always have 30 students per class, or that each class has to be 55 minutes in length, or that all fifteen year olds are in the same classes does it?

Serena Williams, Teachers’ Strikes, Personal Experience

Midway during her US Open Final match against Sam Stosur, Serena yelled “Come on!” while hitting a blistering forehand winner. Points are supposed to be replayed following accidental yelps, but since this one was clearly intentional, the line judge followed the rules and awarded the point to Stosur. Stosur went on to upset Williams who unraveled and yelled “You’re out of control,” and “Really, don’t even look at me,” and my personal favorite, “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” Williams was fined $2k on Monday which I’m sure will inspire her to take a long hard look at her insides (sarcasm).

On Monday on ESPN2 two analysts debated the line judge’s decision—Jemelle Hill, a youngish, always thoughtful African-American female sportwriter, and Skip Bayless, a pasty white*, cocksure, middle aged male who is almost always the debate aggressor. The exchange was interesting viewing because Hill focused exclusively on William’s gender, never referencing her ethnicity. In essence, she argued that since MacEnroe’s epic outbursts (hilarious picturing Mac wrapping up one of those with “and you’re just unattractive inside”) men have gotten away with far, far worse on court behavior. She added that Andy Roddick’s US Open outbursts were at least as bad as Williams. Bayless wasn’t buying it insisting it was a pattern with Williams and that she got what she deserved and should be banned from next year’s Open. What? Hill kept coming back to the obvious double standard, and surprisingly, to Bayless’s credit, he conceded the point at the end of the segment.

Hill was far more insightful and persuasive than Bayless, because, I’m assuming, she has direct, first-hand experience with gender and race-based double standards in her professional life. She knows it as soon as she sees it. I wish the moderator had asked Jemelle if she thought Serena’s race also impacted the public’s (and Bayless’s) stronger negative reaction to her outburst. But I digress.

Tacoma, Washington teachers are on strike. Among the issues, the district wants greater flexibility in moving teachers from program to program and school to school to better meet the needs of struggling students. Teachers want continuity and are fearful of one superintendent or one principal arbitrarily moving them from year to year. I hope I’m wrong, but given the stagnant economy, high unemployment rate, and growing antipathy for public unions, I predict the teachers will struggle to win the community’s support.

Also, only a very small percentage of the public has direct, first-hand experience with the challenges of public school teaching. Just as Bayless struggled to see a gender double standard in professional tennis, the public can’t see things from the teachers’ vantage point. I empathize with the teachers. Few people, even if they freely chose to enter the profession, would passively and indefinitely accept their modest (and reduced) pay, their increasing class sizes, and their district and schools’ top-down management.

I hope the public union vitriol is tempered, the conflicts can be resolved, and the strike is short for the students and families it will definitely inconvenience.

* Just as African-Americans are able to use the “N” word, I can use the “PW” phrase because I am PW.

It Could Be Far, Far Worse

For the most part, I’m grateful for the numerous blessings in my life including my health; my wife; my daughters; my mom, siblings and extended family; my personal freedom and civil rights; my work; access to excellent films and literature; the Pacific Northwest, and a surplus of Honey Bunches of Oats.

But I get frustrated with myself for not being as appreciative as I should all the time. Sometimes, when sitting in faculty meetings, or in traffic, or for hours at the doctor’s office, I can even begin to feel sorry for myself.

The ancient Stoics had a strategy for being joyful, negative visualization. Negative visualization entails taking a few minutes out of one’s enjoyment of life a few times each day or week to think about how all the most positive things in one’s life could be taken away. What if a loved one were to suddenly die? What would my life be like without my wife? Without a daughter? Without my mother? What if I was severely injured and couldn’t swim, cycle, or run? What if we lost all our life savings through disastrous decision making or an unprecedented financial meltdown?

All of those questions combined pale in comparison to one I’ve been batting around this past week: what if I lived in North Korea?

I’m fascinated by North Korea partly because I briefly lived in 1990 Marxist Ethiopia, partly because the curtain around it is drawn so incredibly tight, and partly because of Bradley K. Martin’s lengthy, riveting history of 20th Century Korea, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.

Yesterday, I finished another genius work titled Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. One hundred eighty five, five star customer reviews on Amazon, not bad. Demick, a former LA Times correspondent based in Seoul, tells the story of six North Koreans she got to know after they defected first to China, then South Korea. She introduces each character when things are, as always in North Korea, extremely repressive, and then they endure the mid 90’s collapse of the already pitiful economy and the famine that killed somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the population, including some of their parents, siblings, and young students.

It’s going to take awhile to shake this book. Actually, I hope I never do. In fact, the next time I look in the frig and wonder what to make given the paucity of pickings, I hope I’ll remember that some North Koreans are picking individual kernels of corn and grains of rice from animal waste and then eating them or climbing trees to cut off and then eat the soft underside of the bark. The next time the internet is down, I hope I remember that in North Korea there is no internet. And the next time my government demonstrates its fallibility, I hope I remember that in North Korea government officials burn unopened letters in the winter for warmth.

Those references just scratch the surface of how evil the Kim dictatorship is and how utterly brutal life is in North Korea. My vote for the worst address in the world. I’m surprised more North Koreans don’t attempt to escape across the Tumen River. And the frustrating thing is the world seems content not to do anything probably because they threaten to unleash their military might on Japan and South Korea. That “can’t do anything” mindset is much tougher to accept given Demick’s storytelling. We are at best selective humanitarians.

Thank you Deborah Demick for the disorienting stories and the reminder that life is far, far worse in North Korea than people as privileged as myself can ever fully grasp.