Unpacking my invisible knapsack

Great post on privilege, and what it means to have it and not know it.

Surviving the Trump Era

invisible knapsackDuring the school year, I met with a group of educators regularly during lunch. We started a white cohort to discuss racism. And because we were brought together by the school that was our community, our first natural focus was on our students. We purchased Black Lives Matter t-shirts and pledged to wear them to school on Fridays to show our support. We discussed how we might be able to include more structured anti-bias curriculum. Sometimes we got sidetracked by other kinds of social injustices or just shared personal stories from marches, workshops, and our classrooms that were of interest to us all. But it wasn’t until the end of the year that we realized we hadn’t really talked about our own white privilege.

No doubt you’ve already read Peggy McIntosh’s now-classic piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” If you haven’t, you can read it on SEEDS’ web site

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Not All Defectors are Free: James Joseph Dresnok, Defector TO North Korea

Not All Defectors Are Free


The recent death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier has left the American public in a state of shock and sorrow, with many now discussing the dangers of traveling to what is arguably the world’s most repressive nation. At present, at least three detained American citizens are still in North Korean custody, and the reclusive nature of the country and regime means we can’t know the full extent to which the totalitarian state has their own citizens under the iron fist.

It’s then only natural that the free world celebrates the plight of defectors from the DPRK and countries like it. As members of a free society, we bask in the presence of prominent escapes, whether from the old Soviet bloc or Nazi Germany many decades back, by people who dared to flee tyranny for the beckoning freedom of Western liberal democracy. But what is to be made of the uncommon, but nonetheless noteworthy occasion that someone raised in the good fortune of the West defects towards a country that remains lacking in the good fortunes of democratic capitalism?

One of the most jarring examples of this would be the unusual case of James Joseph Dresnok, an American soldier in the Korean War turned defector to North Korea. For reasons that will probably remain somewhat unexplained, Dresnok defected in 1962, and thereby remained for the long haul. Mr. Dresnok, called “Jim” in some contexts, and curiously referred to by local friends as Arthur after playing a villain by the same name in a North Korean film, crossed the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea after facing being court-martialed for forgery. Dresnok had enlisted to go to Korea after his first wife had an affair with another man:


“I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life, everything. I was a finished. There’s only one place to go,” Dresnok said in an interview. “On August 15th, at noon in broad daylight when everybody was eating lunch, I hit the road. Yes I was afraid. Am I gonna live or die? And when I stepped into the minefield and I seen it with my own eyes, I started sweating. I crossed over, looking for my new life.”


At some level the rationale for the crossover is clear: a seemingly upstanding good citizen plays by the rules of his own country, he’s saddled with some unexpected setbacks and in a state of feeling left in the cold, he flees for the icy North Korean winds he perceives to be the antithesis of the society he believes has so thoroughly failed to compensate him. This is a tune we’ve seen played elsewhere in the world; one calls to mind the radicalization of people struggling to find identity in their immediate societal institutions and their actions explained in part by their failure to do so.

Despite Dresnok’s disenchantment with the United States and his defection across the DMZ, he showed some indication that he was not intent on staying in North Korea for the rest of his life. He, along with four other men attempted, unsuccessfully, to flee to the Soviet Union in 1966. The suggestion here is that even among the repressed nations of the world, there exist those which are relatively tolerable (so long as you keep quiet about politics, we can presume) and those which are manifestly miserable. A Soviet bloc citizen born in Czechoslovakia or Poland at the height of the Cold War years would probably have jumped at the chance to instead be in Moscow, where they could enjoy a better economy, escape brutal crackdowns such as that seen in the Prague Spring, and receive a better education. In the end, however, Dresnok remained in the DPRK, and by all accounts appeared to have attempted to make the best of a life in the least free nation on earth, even starring in a number of propaganda films overseen by the North Korean government. Dresnok was featured on 60 Minutes for his unusual situation and remained in Pyongyang until his reported death in 2016.

While attempted defection from the United States to the DPRK is not well appreciated by the North Korean government this day and age (just ask Matthew Todd Miller how it worked out for him), it can be reasonably assumed that the North Korean government made Dresnok relatively comfortable, if nothing more than for the sake of attempting to gain some sort of superficial moral upper hand against the United States. Countries unfriendly to the United States and to the West in general have a way of seizing on the opportunity to claim even a modicum of political superiority. This is precisely why Dresnok claimed to be well fed during the 1990’s famine, when large portions of the North Korean population had nothing to eat for themselves. It’s almost certain the DPRK’s regime instructed him to make such announcements.

In the end, did “Arthur” really gain a life of fulfillment beyond what he could have had in the United States? When he went AWOL, he escaped then imminent legal issues, caused by irresponsible personal decisions. He also averted, at least for the moment, facing up to the challenging questions of what led his marriage to fail. But ultimately, James Joseph Dresnok did not escape the societal limitations he believed to be eschewing when he risked life and limb to brave the less inviting side of the Korean Peninsula. And all said and done, Arthur spent the rest of his life in the clutches of a brutal dictatorship, perhaps better off than the average North Korean citizen, but scarcely better off than a coal miner in West Virginia. For the West Virginian coal miner remains free to defect in the first place, and one cannot overestimate the power that freedom will always have over any level of prestige that could ever be offered for its relinquishment.







Write Along with Me…

A post about documenting experiences I high recommend my followers read!

Ramblings by a Retired Nurse (in Sioux Falls, SD, USA)

IMG_7351The fun is yet to be! Come with me, in spirit, to the Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop & Retreat at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I’m getting ready to attend this retreat next week. And oh, what fun it is to prepare.

I want to remind you, as I’ve done before, that your words will pass away when you do, UNLESS, you’ve written them down, the most important reason for you to write some of your life story. Imagine how your grandchildren and all your descendants would love to read your words. What was it like to live during the early 2000s? Did we have toilets yet? Did we have TVs? Did we have smart phones?

If I could have a chat with my grandparents, three of whom died before I was born 75 years ago, I would ask related questions. What was life like when you were growing up?…

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Anyone else worried about Better Call Saul – Season 3?

I’m happy to say that the issues between Netflix and AMC for Season 2 have been resolved and that Season 2 is now available on the streaming site. However, as I remain tuned in faithfully to the third season, I’m beginning to feel as though things are fizzling, rather than heating up. The show is spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with mundane aspects of Jimmy/Saul’s life, such as picking up trash for community service and trying to pay for the commercial time he bought when he hadn’t anticipated getting suspended from practicing law for a year. Even the side plotline involving Mike, Hector, and Nacho seems to be dragging its feet.

Friends & family who watch the show, as well as myself, are starting to worry that too many people will lose interest and that Vince Gilligan will entertain the notion of cancellation. It could happen if they don’t tighten things up. There are only three episodes left of the current season, which was delayed multiple times for production reasons. That in itself is often a sign of creative difficulties, and three episodes won’t be enough to wrap up the many loose ends, not least of which pertain to the insufferable Chuck McGill’s pending insanity. If the show doesn’t get another season, we’ll be left completely in the dark.

So in that case, yes, I worry. I am not of the position that just because Better Call Saul is based on the Breaking Bad universe that it will find itself safe from the cutting block despite not delivering what we should so reasonably ask! I hope the writers know what they are doing!

If you watch 2016 backwards, it’s a very positive year.

Here’s why:

A demagogue resigns from the post of President-elect, giving way to a much better President. People become less divided and decide Americans should set aside their differences. Online trolling and harassment decreases, with people saying

“Hey, maybe it’s wrong to bully people on the internet, let’s go do something more constructive with this mountain of information we have on our fingertips.”

Scores of Americans reject isolationism and prejudice against immigrants, chanting at rallies: “Take down the wall! Take down the wall!” and the country’s attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants warms.

But there’s one big exception, one negative, the international community lifts its assertions that Israel is violating international law and says “Those settlements on Palestinian land?! Keep ’em comin’!”..it was Trump’s parting gift against Obama.

…2016 backwards.

Why I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions

They’re incredibly vacuous for a number of reasons:

  1. There’s no need for it to be January 1 in order for you to resolve to do something new. You can turn over a new leaf any day of the year. Why does it being on January 1 make it different from it being on May 12 or March 6?
  2. Nobody ever follows through with them. They’re usually too broad of plans. Most people don’t accomplish goals unless they narrow them down to easily and quickly attainable components. You don’t want to resolve for instance, that you will look like a fitness model by next year unless you can set a timetable by which you could say, lose 5 lbs.
  3. Talk is meaningless without action. People tend to feel very excited about starting a new year because they believe “this year will be my year”. They are hopeful that they will live a more fulfilling and prosperous life than the previous year. However, most people end up finishing the year in a similar state of affairs as the year prior (which can be a good thing compared with hard life changes, like what I underwent this year). It’s better in my opinion to keep quiet about self improvement plans and just do them. It makes you look and feel a whole lot more capable.
  4. It fills gyms up. Gyms are mostly scam operations unless you utilize weights or a swimming pool often. Most people incorporate getting more physically fit into their New Year’s resolutions because they want to feel healthier and more attractive to others. But most people also overestimate the frequency by which they will use their new gym. People who do this are contributing to the rising profit margins (and costs) of gyms without even using them. Not good. Or considerate.

Well, that’s about it. Happy 2017.

Internet shaming: online democracy or mob mentality?

The daily post on my political blog. Something you may like if you think internet shaming can be draconian.

Kapitalist Kitty

The New York Times seems to think it’s a concern, and I would say they have legitimate reason. With mob mentality on sites like YouTube and Reddit reaching unprecedented levels, a little taste of the wrong kind of exposure could mean irreparable damage to your internet image, and thus, your very reputation.

It would be one thing if the type of shaming the video refers to actually did reinforce helpful rather than harmful behavior, but in a world where comment ratings (and how they are perceived) lay subject to an easy internet vote, we have a very slippery slope underneath us. Hearsay and rumors have unlimited potential to ruin a person’s life before they’ve even had their metaphorical day in court.

This is what happened to Jennifer Connell, a woman whose nephew’s hi-jinks got her wrist broken. Nobody blamed the boy for it; these things happen with kids. But the…

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