The LA Times ‘Does’ North Korea Again

Yes, it’s all karaoke and an amazingly commerce-free tourist experience in North Korea.

The LA Times – which was last caught fellating the brutal fascist dictatorship of North Korea in March of 2005 – hits its knees again today.

Pyongyang, North Korea — THERE’S not a lot to do when you’re a closely watched visitor in North Korea except hit the karaoke at day’s end, so we’re at it again.

From the sound of it, most North Korean karaoke falls into two categories. Soupy ballads about national glory, superior leadership, glorious workers. And hard-driving martial tunes urging citizens to think as one and pick up a bayonet. Rounding out the experience are video clips of goose-stepping soldiers and ozone-piercing missiles.

“It’s amazing to see streets without any commerce in Asia,” says Peter Tasker, a Tokyo-based private investor on the magical mystery tour. “It’s not always what you see that’s striking, but what you don’t see.”

The throwback nature of the entire experience is part of the attraction for many visitors. In a world of look-alike malls and identical Starbucks from Rome to Redondo Beach, there’s a refreshing lack of sameness about it, if you don’t stop to think about the suffering, hunger and deprivation underpinning the system.

One noticeable change from a visit in 2005 is the government’s apparent effort to skim more hard currency from foreign tourists. Most museums and monuments now offer souvenir shops, and a foreigners-only department store in Pyongyang has been expanded.

The problem is, there’s still hardly anything worth buying. A typical stand might feature books on the teachings of Kim Il Sung, some green and pink embroidery of dancing children, bottles of the local firewater known as soju, cans of peas and boxes of hemorrhage restorative herbal medicine. At one point while buying some apples, I try bargaining – de rigueur in most of Asia – to gauge the reaction, an affront that draws looks of shock and embarrassment.

[emphasis added]

Look that side reference to suffering, etc. – that’s called ‘throat-clearing’.

What’s amazing about North Korea is that you can get a vacation from the ‘world of look-alike malls and identical Starbucks from Rome to Redondo Beach‘ and enjoy the ‘refreshing lack of sameness about it

And the good news is that if you share the local’s diet, you’ll lose that unsightly tummy as well…

I’m dying to know what the editorial thought process behind these two articles really was. Maybe I’ll ping Kevin Roderick and ask.

36 thoughts on “The LA Times ‘Does’ North Korea Again”

  1. We always knew the LATimes was short on actual international reporting, why does this irrelevant puff piece suprise you?

    My favorite passage:

    Tucked among the endless monuments, however, are also rare, touching glimpses of humanity among North Korea’s long-suffering people: children laughing with abandon, young lovers canoodling in a pocket park, a tired farmer stopping for a smoke.

  2. Y’know AL: maybe you ought to let US know what “thought processes” lie behind this fetishistic animus that most rightwing bloggers seem to have over the L.A. Times and anything it prints about North Korea.

    I followed the link and read over Mark Magnier’s piece – twice – and it is, to put it politely, something of stretch to describe this article as any sort of “fellating”. Mr. Magnier’s description of the DPRK left me with the pretty clear impression that NK is a dull, poor, backward thought-controlled police-state with a government/social system run as a sort of paranoid psycho-cult. Oh yeah, and did I mention excruciatingly dull? And that tourists, whatever their provenance, are getting a good deal less for their vacation bucks than most other locations on the planet.

    Yet you (and Gabriel above), seem to seize on the fact that he tossed in a couple of “human-interest” sentences in his column as “evidence” of ….
    well, of what, exactly? Sympathy for North Korea’s regime? Support for it? Whitewashing of its faults? Do you believe that each and every article written about the DPRK must have virulent denunciation of the Kim regime inserted into each and every paragraph to avoid being tarred as “propaganda”? Or only those printed in the Los Angeles Times?

  3. I only read your excerpts, A.L., but I’m not offended by them. This piece sounds a lot more realistic than the one interviewing a “businessman” (whom everyone, including the reporter, knew was a government agent) talking about how great North Korea was. Because Barbara Demick didn’t tell people he had to be a government agent (something she later admitted she knew), that article was a travesty. This one just seems to give a picture of what it’s like for the average traveler, and doesn’t forget about the suffering.

  4. Now you have done it, AL. That’s two strikes: dissing the North Korean Peoples Paradise, and the LA Slimes. Next you will probably turn your Reichwing bile on Fidel or Hugo.

    Coming soon to the Slimes: Ahmadinejad Does Dachau.

  5. Yeah, I kind of agree with Patterico and Jay C. This article wasn’t a fellatio, AL. It was just a run-of-the-mill hand job for Kim. Must be the layoffs.

    Here’s hoping the next round of layoffs confines the Times’ zoo travelogues to ones the ASPCA wouldn’t put in the category: Burn down and rebuild as salt storage facility.

  6. Jay C, give AL a break. He can’t help it.

    When the rightwing mothership beams its talking points to its drones – they, being rightwing drones – follow their marching orders.

    Character assassination and slander of media personalities and organizations that dare to speak out negatively about the righwing’s dear leader are SOP for the drones.

    It’s not that AL has an opportunity for independent thought and thus elects to write such nitpicking drivel. The chip implant effectively short circuits chemical/electrical activity in the portion of the brain where that type of thinking occurs.

  7. By the discordant tenor of your comment vis-a-vis AL’s post, avedis, I get the impression that it is you who can’t help himself.

    Seriously, do you even know what your fingers typed?

  8. Actually, avedis, I was somewhat surprised at seeing the reflexive LATimes-bashing/”NoKo propaganda” meme pop up here, since AL usually _doesn’t_ steno out lame talking-points like this. Especially because of the rather selective citations from the actual article.
    As Patterico notes, there _may_ have been some valid criticism of Barabara Demick’s 2005 _LAT_ piece (although, IMHO, nowhere near the hysterical “apologist!” “commie-propagandizer!” rants common in the starboard blogosphere) – but Mark Magnier’s article was, as far as I read, way less ambiguous.
    And also; my comment should NOT be read as any “defense” of the _Times_: for the (basically) sole newspaper in the second-largest city in the country to be the second-rate rag it is is something of a journalistic mystery. I may be spoiled by years-long readership of the _New York Times_, but my own attitude (and I grew up in L.A.) is best summed up by H. L. Mencken’s immortal epigram:

    _”I asked the porter for a newspaper, but the poor man brought me the_ Los Angeles Times _instead!”_

  9. Gosh, avedis – how is it that every committed progressive I deal with goes with the ‘mind control’ meme instead of actually engaging the points – oh, wait…

    In seriousness this is completely shameful. I haven’t been online enough to go look at Patrick’s piece (but will). More later when I get a chance (just flew NYC – LA so want to get some non-computer home time).

    A.L.

  10. I can tell you exactly what the problem is Jay C.

    It’s the same one Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedy’s parodied in “Holiday in Cambodia” … i.e. the rich, clueless liberals in search of authenticity. It’s like Drew Barrymore exclaiming on how she went to the bathroom on all fours in the woods “like an animal. It was awesome.”

    The article is how about “authentic” North Korea is because it’s too poor to attract even Starbucks. And therein lies the tale.

    Nearly all Liberals being rich and members of the leisure class wants the rest of the world to be poor to amusing museums of “colorful” people performing “authentic” folkways and so on. Meanwhile those of us non-Liberal, i.e. those who work for a living, would prefer that poor people become less so. Because we can empathize. Recalling when we were poor, or feared it.

    I would rather the whole world have a Starbucks on every corner. Because it would mean the whole world is rich enough to afford $3 lattes. Liberals would rather the world remain poor and “colorful.” Particularly the LAT, Liberal central.

    Don’t forget to pack a wife.

  11. Armed Liberal: a request. Could you try to keep it clean?

    I read the LA Times piece. I don’t think it justified what you said. And even if it had, you could have made your point more politely.

    If you are going into competition with the Ace of Spades now, you have no chance: he will beat you on both talent and experience. So why try? ;)

  12. … rare, touching glimpses of humanity among North Korea’s long-suffering people: children laughing with abandon, young lovers canoodling in a pocket park, a tired farmer stopping for a smoke.

    That’s a strange thing to write. Is it rare for a Korean to display “humanity”, or is it rare for Mark Magnier to see children laughing?

    This is pretty feeble and unreflective stuff. I much prefer the official PRNK disinformation of the earlier article. And I very much prefer P.J. O’Rourke in the Koreas.

    This stuff isn’t even up to Walter Duranty standards. I wish Magnier had drank some of that Soju, which is basically grain alcohol and formaldehyde, because if he’s this uninteresting when he’s sober he ought to try it the other way.

  13. Dusty and Patterico –

    I think we’ve all become jaded to this stuff.

    30 years ago, I clearly remember my mother flying into an absolute rage over a Newsweek obituary of Mao, which was basically a bouquet. He was a great leader, blah blah blah. No mention of the greatest mass murder in history, a Holocaust times ten.

    There was a time when serious journalists would have scoffed at people who went to Nazi Germany and burbled over how low the unemployment was, and how pretty all the girls were. The reporting from Stalinist Russia was outrageous even to many people on the left.

    We’ve gotten overly used to the fact that a lot of people just don’t give a damn. Or worse. I wonder if A.L. recalls his friend Kevin Drum’s declaration that he didn’t want to criticize fascist Iran, because criticism supposedly contributes to a “war mentality”.

    Hell, I guess my mother has a war mentality.

  14. Glen nails the issue here. I don’t know if AL used the rhetoric he did in order to shake up this sort of tacit acceptance of whitewash when applied to horrific Stalinist states, but IMO it’s more than time that people recovered their awareness of how often this occurs, and the long-term effect it has on (lack of) good moral judgements.

  15. David, I apologize…that’s kind of how I actually talk when I’m not watching my speech and I usually do a pass of filtering when I write – and didn’t in this case.

    I’ll see if I can forget to do that (filter) less often…

    A.L.

  16. Agreed. Glen nails it.

    For the critics, imagine if you would that the writer was taking the same tone in describing the Gitmo prison camp. Compare the choices that the writer has made in tone with those editorializing about Guantanomo Bay. Would you find it then objectionable? How many that criticize AL for being over the top, would insist that the writer was soft pedalling torture, brutality, incarceration and authoritarianism if the article was written about Gitmo?

    And yet, by every objective standard, North Korea is a far more horrific place than Gitmo. The entire country is one huge prison camp and every one in it is a moment away from being subjected to torture that makes the worst harshest authorized interogations carried out at gitmo look like a High School PE class.

    I have long written about the disproportion of outrage. People keep insisting that I get outraged about this or that. People keep insisting that their outrage at this that or the other makes them morally superior. Frankly, I think being outraged is way overrated as a virtue because being outraged doesn’t get a dang thing done. But, if you are going to be outraged, I can only take that outrage seriously if it is proportionate. Disporportionate outrage, where the flaws in one thing are accentuated to the point that any balance or good is smeared over, while in another thing any flaws or moral failings are shrugged at as unworthy of moral outrage, is not only silly, but it is highly dangerous. It distorts your perception of the world. It gives you false perspective. Sort pedalled peices like this about one of the world’s worst totalitarians states encourage that sort of distortion.

    Now, the thing is, I can always get self-styled liberals to agree with me on this. That is, I can always get them to agree that my perceptions are dangerously askew because I’m not nearly critical enough of the United States. On the other hand, I’ve never once got them to consider whether thier own outrage is disproportionate. Instead, I get alot of responces along the lines of ‘because I love my country so, I expect moral perfection from it’. Which is fine and sounds good and all, but if that’s your responce to my claim that you’ve a double standard, don’t expect me to take you very seriously.

  17. You should never compare Gitmo to North Korea, because as you all know the US should never indulge in anything remotely resembling the horrors of Gitmo.

  18. My God, the ironies laden in these comments. I count 31 paragraphs in the LA Times piece. A few are neutral description of events during a tour, the vast majority describe a dreary, oppressive life or a transparent sham by the gov’t. TWO–count them, two, paragraphs have content that, if you are able to ignore the obvious irony on the part of the writer (note the “writer”, not the LA Times, itself—I guess in order to avoid being portrayed as “liberal,” the LA Times should edit it’s travel writers with a heavier hand) might possibly be taken as being complimentary toward some aspects of North Korea. But even that, upon the slightest examination, proves to be otherwise.

    The first is merely a remark and explanation of why some tourists find the place worth visiting. The 2nd is a remark that some North Koreans (i.e., the people whose sufferings we are supposed to be so upset about) are actually capable of humanity. Note, however, that in this case, these “glimpses” of “humanity” are described by the writer as “rare.”

    And this is described as the LA Times blowing NK’s dictator! And most jump in with agreement! And then celebrim writes about perspective!

    AL, how can you possibly with a straight face or in good conscience write “Yes, it’s all karaoke and an amazingly commerce-free tourist experience in North Korea.” Did you even read the article you linked to? It was about an overly-controlled sham “tourist” experience and the difficulties of seeing the realities beyond what the NK gov’t wants you to see. Do you having any idea of what irony is. Do you think the writer actually enjoyed the karaoke? or thought it was an authentic experience? Did you leave reading with the impression that the writer thought the lack of commerce in NK was good thing?

    I’ve rarely seen such a distortion of intent through selective quotes.

  19. celebrim,

    You wrote in #18, “And yet, by every objective standard, North Korea is a far more horrific place than Gitmo.”

    I’m curious about these objective standards: what are they? how did you come across them? How did someone come up with a set of objective standards that could measure or compare an internment camp AND a nation? Is there an objective method for selecting which objective standards to use. How would you decide to rate, say, ability to go home to wife vs. full stomach; or watch children grow up vs. free copy of Koran; Carribean breezes vs. Saturday night baseball on neighbors old black & white tv.

  20. mark, you’re kidding, right?

    Let’s go to the well-known right wing front group, “Human Rights Watch”:http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/16/nkorea15944.htm

    ‘China hopes to see the DPRK [North Korea], our neighbor, enjoy economic and social progress with its people living happily,” said Qin Gang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, at a recent press briefing. Qin’s aspirations for North Korea sound like those of many others who wish to alleviate the suffering of some of the world’s most brutalized people.

    But it is hard to see how China’s behavior has done much to secure improvements for ordinary North Koreans. In fact, China actively contributes to the misery of North Koreans by arresting and forcibly repatriating the tens or hundreds of thousands of them – no one knows how many for sure – who live in hiding in China. In North Korea they face abuse, mistreatment, torture, incarceration and sometimes even death. These include women, some with children, who are in de facto marriages with Chinese men.

    Upon return, North Koreans are punished under a penal code that defines leaving without permission an act of treason. Yet China continues to routinely repatriate the North Koreans it finds, saying their plight is a “domestic matter” for North Korea. This is in clear contravention of Beijing’s duty as a party to the Refugee Convention and Protocol; people who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home are not to be repatriated. Chinese leaders also refuse to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border area.

    The North Korean government ranks among the world’s most repressive, and it respects hardly any basic human rights. Pyongyang denies its citizens the freedoms of information, association, religion, organized political opposition and labor activism. The regime arrests and tortures them arbitrarily and runs large-scale prison camps for those who are accused of having committed a political offense.

    In late March, the World Food Program’s Pyongyang office warned of yet another severe food shortage in the country, noting crop damage from flooding last summer. North Korea’s chronic food shortage, which in the 1990s deteriorated to a famine that killed an estimated one million people, along with the government’s severe repression against its citizens, drove thousands of North Koreans across the border into China.

    …the title of the piece, in a wonderful bit of irony is “Grotesque Indifference” – which perfectly sums up the attitude of the piece’s author and of many of the merry souls commenting here.

    Ignoring evil at that level is simply vile, and calls into question the moral compass and judgment of those who do it. The fact that many on my team – the left – who profess to care about human rights seem to willingly wave their hands and ignore this is more than a little distressing to me.

    A.L.

  21. A nice rant, AL: or rather, a good find: getting HRW to rant for you! – but you still seem to ducking the basic question – mine in comments #s 2 and 9; Patterico’s in #3, David Blue’s in #12; Mark’s in #20. Just why did you characterize Mark Magnier’s North Korea piece as a form of “fellatio” (of the regime) by the LA Times? I went back and read it again, and, as Mark noted, there is nothing in it which is particularly approving or laudatory of the country OR its government (or of the “tourist experience” in the DPRK in general).

    Is it that Magnier’s column doesn’t rise to your specified/preferred level of denunciatory outrage? If so, what IS that level (inquiring minds would like to know!)? Are there some “politically correct” standards of disapprobation you think should be applied to any and all reportage out of NoKo?

    You are quite right that “ignoring evil” is a bad thing: it’s just that evidence of said “grotesque indifference” to conditions in North Korea is pretty thin in the LAT article linked to: and even less, btw, in the comments this post has drawn. If your piece had drawn a barrage of defenses of the Kim regime, or apologies for it, I could understand the lecture about one’s “moral compass”. But given that no one here (myself included) seems to view the DPRK as anything but a sort of Hell-on-Earth, why even mention it?

  22. Why? Because to have walked through Belsen in 1944 and noted the concerts, the “children happily singing” or the “carefully tended gardens” with giving a side note to the unmitigated evil of the place may in fact be technically accurate reporting – possibly the weren’t burning people that day – but is, as I put it, vile.

    And the willingness to cover one’s nose to hide the stench of the dead while commenting on the charm of a Starbucks-free existence seems, sadly all to common in the world of the modern tourist.

    I find my sense of smell a little to sensitive to make that work for me.

    And before you suggest that Guantanamo or Abu Ghreib are as bad as North Korea – no they’re not. We put people in jail when they are caught doing things like that. In North Korea, they get extra rations.

    A.L.

  23. I think mark has already established his bona fides as a postmodern moral relativist on other threads. I think the argument goes something like this:

    There is no objective, transcultural morality by which one can adjudicate the actions of any particular culture. Morality is solely internal to each culture. We in the West may have a cultural tendency to dislike torture, deliberate starvation, arbitrary imprisonment, and political assassination of ordinary citizens but that is purely internal to our culture, and we have no right to impose it on anyone else’s.

    Other cultures are perfectly free to prefer putting people through wood-chippers to keeping people awake for long periods of time; to prefer arbitrary arrest and imprisonment in horrid, unsanitary conditions to being captured in a war by the enemy and put in relatively comfortable climate-controlled cells; to prefer deliberate starvation of prisoners to keeping prisoners relatively well fed (in some cases probably better fed than they were before their capture).

    Therefore, Celebrim’s comments were the worst sort of ethnocentrism, an attempt to apply Western standards of morality to a non-Western culture to which they obviously do not apply.

    It is, unfortunately, a rather common sort of argument in academia these days. Or rather, it is not argued directly that torture etc are ok if another culture thinks they are, but that is the inescapable conclusion of the relativist arguments that are presented.

  24. A.L., & Fred,

    You are SO missing the point, I can’t help but wonder if the miss is deliberate.

    Fred, in no way am I defending the NK regime. I’m simply saying this:

    I read the travel article AL referenced. The article paints a clear picture of NK as a very oppressive, dreary place as seen from a gov’t run tour. The NK gov’t DOES run these tours and some people DO take them, so the article in a travel section is not wholly out of place.

    There’s no ignoring of NK’s evil going on here. Not in my comments, not in the LA Times travel article, nowhere…except,it seems, In A.L.’s mind. A.L. conveneinently (or deliberately) steps over the fact that the whole lack-of-Starbucks theme (about 5% of the article) was an attempt to understand why some people would be attracted to such a dismal place. It was a single reference to offer some tiny silver lining to an enormous black cloud. The reference to lovers & birds, etc., also a tiny single reference, made clear that despite the hell they live in N. Koreans retain some sense of humanity.

    A.L. is now calling the acknowledgement of NK evil a “side note.” I think that’s just plain wrong. The entire premise of the article is based upon the knowledge that NK is THE most oppresive regime on earth. It doesn’t make sense any other way. This is another example of seeking villians where none exist.

    And how in heaven or on earth, Fred can possible read anything into my post suggesting a defense of NK is way way beyond me. Another example of fantasy.

    For the record, AL & Fred. I hereby deplore the regimes of North Korea, Burma, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Congo, Chad, Sudan, Central African Republic, Kyrszigstan, Palestine, Israel, Eygpt and the organizations of ETA, Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, IRA, Hezbolah, Hamas.

    Fred, celebrim’s “objective standards” were not in reference to morality but to conditions. My post was in reply to that and it, too, was about conditions, not morality.

    Fred, acknowleging a cultural basis for morality does not preclude anyone from making moral judgements. I don’t know why you persist in that flawed thinking.

  25. One-Armed Liberal said: “The fact that many on my team – the left – who profess to care about human rights seem to willingly wave their hands and ignore this is more than a little distressing to me.”

    Many? Name 5.

  26. A.L., I don’ believe I have. If I deplore murder, rape, incst, larceny, extortion, homelessness, blackmail, perjury, binga, bad philosophy, and heavy metal, would you assume that I think incst and perjury are morally equivalent? Are there no degrees of deploring or denunciation. Is everything always so black and white with you? so either/or? is there no room for nuance, gradation, maybes, doubts, unknowns?

  27. Interesting…doesn’t that devalue the term somewhat? Kind of like comparing parking meter maids to nazis.

    And that’s a kind of the issue I have with the article. There is this kind of bored disapproval which might equally apply to mass murder and a spoiled soy latte.

    To me there are bad things, problems, and things that are just flat vile or evil.

    When you conflate them all – as I think the author of the piece does, and as I think you did in your list – it’s really difficult to engage them, don’t you think?

    A.L.

  28. A.L., No I don’t. Not at all. I think a child is capable of making such basic dinstinctions. The English language has only so many words and so many ways of expressing dislike. I don’t like strawberry ice cream. I also don’t like Led Zepplin. I don’t like the religions right, either. I don’t like Larry King and I don’t like the KKK. If you want to make the claim that my disliking all those things places them all on the same level, go right ahead, but I think you’ll have a great deal of difficulty navigating through life with such absolutism. I can easily deplore both Israel and Zimbabwe. Once they pass the deplorable bar they can land at various distances from it. How about this A.L.?: I really really really really really deplore North Korea. I really really really deplore Iran. I really really really really reallly deplore Zimbabwe. I really deplore Chad. I really really deplore Sudan. I deplore Isreal. I really really deplore CAR. I deplore the Congo. I really really deplore China. I really reallly really really really deplore Burma. I really reallly really deplore Saudi Arabia. I really deplore Eypty. Do you find that more helpful?

  29. mark,

    Well then I must have misread you. But what exactly do you mean by objective “conditions”? Under what conditions could one make the judgement that North Korea is “worse” than Gitmo? And in what sense do you mean it isn’t worse? And why, once the word “worse” is used, does it not become a moral issue?

    As to your second point, a cultural basis for morality does indeed not prevent moral judgements, but only within cultures. Murder is wrong in my culture because mine doesn’t like it. It’s both hunky and dory in yours because yours has no problem with it. How and why can I judge your culture by the standards of mine? The flaw, I’m afraid is in your thinking. You’re trying to have it both ways, to be a moral relativist and yet to say that certain acts are just wrong, not wrong for you or wrong for me. I’m afraid it’s your thinking that’s muddled on this issue. Seems to me you have two choices:

    1. You can believe that there is an objective morality, whether it’s based on divine law (as in most religious traditions), natural law (in its Thomist or some other form), the evolutionary biology of our species (as in James Q. Wilson’s _The Moral Sense_) or perhaps has some other basis. Admittedly this position presents the problem of empirical verifiability, but it is not logically self-refuting and it allows one to condemn acts such as torture, honor killing, female circumcision etc. as wrong _in toto_ not just wrong in cultures that proscribe them.

    2. You can believe morality is relative to a culture, idividual, gender, race, what have you. This suffers the same logical fate as all relativism. It is self-refuting. If all moral statements are relative, then that statement is itself relative, therefore false if it’s true and true if it’s false. Or that statement is just true and not relatively true, in which case there is at least one absolute moral statement. Again, it’s true if it’s false and false if it’s true. This postion also leads inevitably to acceptance (which its proponents like to call “tolerance”) of the acts described above. You must either accept them or illegitimately apply a standard from one culture to another it does not fit.

  30. Fred,

    I never claimed NK was worse or better than Gitmo. I think it is a silly comparison. Hence my initial reply to this from celebrim: “And yet, by every objective standard, North Korea is a far more horrific place than Gitmo.” I assumed he was referring to the conditions under which people lived in either place, NOT the morality of either place…whatever that might mean.

    When I say something is moraly wrong I assume it is understood that I am saying that I believe it it to be moraly wrong. I am unaware of any authority to which an appeal can be made to certify one’s moral judgements as correct other than other people’s opinions.

    I feel no need to have my moral beliefs backed up by some invented authority such as God, “natural law,” or biology. To chose one authority over another is just another way of expressing an opinion. I believe in God, or I believe morality is derived from “natural law,” or I believe we can find a basis for morality in evolutionary biology. These are just more beliefs….opinions. Anyway you look at it, it comes down to an opinion on the part of the believer.

    Furthermore, I think it is fairly easy to demonstrate than one’s opinion about what is right and wrong is primarily (thought necessarily totally) derived from one’s culture. We are taught what is right and wrong by the society in which we are raised. Obviously, we believe that our version of morality is superior to those with which we do not agree. But ultimately there is no international judge who can certify our claims that our view of right and wrong is correct compared to, say, those of Fijians when they differ from ours.

    In the end, we do apply standards that don’t fit other cultures (by we, I mean people, not just americans). We condemn acts we find morally objectionable and, if we have the means, we stop them. In the end, I would say, might makes right in terms of what is actually allowed to occur. That doesn’t mean I accept the judgement of someone who is more powerful than me, but from a practical point of view, in so far as how conflicting views of morality are resolved that’s what happens. But as far as HOW we come to believe what believe, that is largely cultural and when we have to make judgements outside our culture we have no real choice but to rely on our own belief system. Understanding that my view of morality is largely a creation of my culture doesn’t weaken its impact on me or on my beliefs of what is right and what is wrong. I just don’t claim that they come from God or from natural law.

    Is that clear?

  31. I’d personally like to see the Rural trip, I imagine the quaintness there must really put Pyongyang to shame. God those cow-towers..

    Except– you know heh, A.L.– the whole article concerns itself with North Korean propaganda and the Cult of Kims.

    There’s a term for what you’re doing. It’s called “political correctness.” I see that now in knee-jerk circles, we can’t even mention the DPRK without inserting “totalitarian” and “gulags” for fear of being called, what is it.. useful-autocratic-philaters?

    The double standard is even more funny when we consider Korea’s Northern Neighbor and the relative lack of any concern there. “Totalitarianism”? Check. “Gulags”? Check. “Partially open markets in parts of the country”? Check! Sheesh, I mean whatever happened to the Great Yellow Per– I mean Red Dragon Rising?

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