I saw a picture of Senator Ted Kennedy recently that defined honesty for me in a single frame. I guess everyone knows that he has a brain tumor—and that brain tumors are often fatal. We are also aware that his life has been one of unfair family tragedies.
But in this one picture of Ted Kennedy, I saw an expression that reminded me how innocent each of us is at the core. Forget what you think of his politics, morality, or other individual and subjective metrics, Senator Kennedy is facing death, and his eyes reflected a quiet blend of fear and resolve—and what looked like a big measure of peace.
Just as the first cells in our embryos have a blueprint for what they are going to build, the ultimate experiences of this miraculous collection of life also has its own hidden trajectory. What determines whether this outcome is an early death or a long life?
We enter the world through a feat of choreographed engineering and complex evolutions to make choices (good and bad) that have an impact on the fate of our biological machine. I like to call this collection of outcomes and actions our unique “Life Curve.” The “Life Curve” houses the paths we can take as we move through the birth to death cycle with the ability to speed up and slow down based on factors we often do not understand.
Unfortunately given the scary nature of the unknown, almost none of us think about the hard-hitting impacts of these milestones. And none of the big institutions that surround us provide much guidance. Our health care system, which is the one place we turn to for help when things go wrong with our bodies, was not designed to provide it. If you are broken, it can fix you; and it can help you fight a variety of illnesses with near miraculous results. Our media outlets definitely do not provide it. Watch any show or commercial and you will be bombarded with misleading statements—with the blending of fact and fiction at near epidemic proportions.
When was the last time someone told you that your actions had the potential to shave 10 years from your life? The answer is probably never. If we did hear it we would probably not eat the foods we eat or expose our bodies to an untold number of social and chemical experiments to test how much abuse the cells of our bodies can take.
Superman may have been made of steel, but you and I are a mixture of carbon-based life that is organic and fragile. Heat our bodies to 110 degrees Fahrenheit long enough, for example, and it will die. Stop giving it water for a few days and it will die. Our bodies have a balance based on hundreds of millions of years of evolution, with a definition of what is acceptable and not that we barely understand.
In the end we are not physically immortal, or even Irish, Jewish or Black. Each of us is a very special human outcome of the forces of nature and contains a programmed quality to how long we will (or could) be around. As Ted Kennedy recently discovered, having a brain tumor is simply a harsh way of discovering just how fast things can change and that we are governed by basic rules of biology.
Want a wakeup call? Try having your doctor tell you the cancer you have is inoperable and without options. Cancer does not particularly care that you are one race or the other, rich or poor. And cancer does not discriminate based on age and does not wait for your permission to attack. It is perfectly comfortable setting its own calendar and agenda, which it has been doing for as long as we have had organized medicine.
A friend of mine told me once that the best time to plant a tree is today and twenty years ago. Like planting trees, today is the best possible time to start thinking about what it means to be alive, to be human, and to listen to one another. I bet Ted Kennedy could teach you a lesson on that timing. But I also bet that he knew a lot more than you and me about the mystery and beauty of living long before he got the news of his brain tumor.
This week marks the forty-eighth anniversary of the start of the Korean War, as well as the publication of my first book, which traces my experiences helping North Koreans escape their repressive country. On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea in hopes of absorbing the southern half of the peninsula into their Communist system. With the release date for my book quickly approaching, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon what happened in Korea fifty-eight years ago. Naturally, like everyone else, I immediately think of the two-and-a-half million people who died. But two additional thoughts also come to mind:
First, I think of my great uncle.
During the war, North Korean soldiers invaded Seoul and kidnapped eight engineers from a large electrical company. My great uncle was one of them. The soldiers took the engineers to a university auditorium. In front of a South Korean audience, they executed each of them one by one, until only my great uncle was left. The soldiers took him back to North Korea to help develop the country’s electrical system. We have not heard from my great uncle since. When I recently asked my grandmother to tell me more about her younger brother, she gave me a brief one-minute synopsis, then sighed deeply and said, “I really don’t want to think about it any more. I don’t like to talk about it, and on top of that I don’t really know that much. I don’t know what happened to him after he was kidnapped…. I don’t even have a picture of him.” For many years, I’ve hoped for the reunification of the two Koreas so that my great uncle could be freed and my grandmother could see her younger brother again.
Second, I think of how fortunate and blessed I am.
Recently, I was sitting in a Georgetown University classroom listening to an elderly North Korean defector give a talk. As a North Korean soldier who fought in the Korean War, he profusely apologized to the audience saying, “I would like to ask your forgiveness for having killed American soldiers.” Then he added, “From the onset of the war, it was clear that South Korean soldiers were like kindergarteners and North Korean soldiers were like college students. ... If there were to be a second Korean War, South Korea would lose. The day that U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea is the day that North Korea invades South Korea.”
At that moment, I was deeply moved as I thought to myself, “If the United States had not come to South Korea’s aid, I would currently be a North Korean communist.” I would have grown up in one of the worst famines in modern history. Even worse, I would have grown up under North Korean ideology and oppression. It is because of the U.S. involvement in the war that I have my freedom today.
A Free North Korea
The United States came to South Korea’s aid and helped the southern half retain its freedom. Yet, the north still lives completely enslaved. About six years ago, I decided I had to do my small part to change that. So, with a one-way ticket and two duffel bags, I set out for the China–North Korean border to do whatever I could to help North Korean refugees find freedom. Throughout my four years there, I met and interviewed hundreds of North Koreans. In Escaping North Korea, I tell their individual stories of victories in the midst of oppression, persecution, human trafficking, imprisonment, and torture. It’s my hope that this book will play a role in raising awareness about the world’s most repressive country and building hope that we will one day see a free North Korea.
Mike Kim is the author of Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country (Rowman & Littlefield).
Hillary Clinton's campaign for president started when she ran for senate. Though it wasn't the official start of her presidential campaign it was the moment when most Americans, and rhetorical scholars realized: "She's serious; she does want to run for office, and maybe she won't stop with the senate. Maybe she wants to be president." And of course, we all know, that yes, Hillary Clinton would like to be President of the United States.
Given America's very nervous relationship with women and power and the Hillary hating that has practically been a national pastime since Hillary Clinton became first lady, no one should have expected that her presidential bid, and all the images that a media obsessed nation could provide, would be less than provocative.
There has been non-stop commentary on Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid on the Internet, late night television and on the news and parody-news shows. Some was clearly sexist (The Facebook Group “Hillary stop running for President and make me a sandwich”); some that was cruel (Rush Limbaugh’s aging woman remark); Some that was hilariously funny (Saturday Night Live bits); and some that was serious and important (the nuances of her healthcare reform; her stance on the Iraq war; the economy). All the commentary forced us to think a lot about how we feel about women-- especially a former first lady that has been called “The Lady Macbeth of Little Rock”-- who makes a bid to be the leader of the free world. Everything from the necklines of her clothing (Cleavage-gate); and her laugh, (The Clinton Cackle); the Apple-computer commercial inspired homage; The (alleged) Cry; the post-S.C. primary where Bill Clinton compared Obama to Jesse Jackson; The Bosnia Trip Exaggeration; and the Political Cartoons (one most recently that had her searching for delegates on Mars). In a campaign season teeming with symbolism and imagery and firsts, there was no shortage of ways to interpret the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton. And it lives on, because everyone has You Tube immortality.
The day of Hillary Clinton’s presidential announcement arrived on January 20, 2007. Seated on a stylish sofa in a well appointed room, the former first lady and Senator of New York invited Americans to "have a conversation." She promised that her bid was serious and that she was "in to win." Well, we could have predicted that the tension between those wanting to support Hillary Clinton and those wanting to criticize
her would be intense.
Catalyst, a group that studies women’s economic advancement, notes the double bind of women leaders. In the report, the oldest stereotypes are revealed again in the newest research: “When women act in gender-consistent ways—that is, in a cooperative, relationship-focused manner—they are perceived as ‘too soft’ a leader….When women act in gender-inconsistent ways—that is, when they act authoritatively, show ambition, and focus on the task—they are viewed as “too tough.” …they might be acting leader-like, but not lady-like. Hillary Clinton had a tough job to counter the double bind of being a woman leader. Perhaps especially for one who was First Lady first.
We must not forget for a moment the historical significance of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She navigated a difficult gender terrain that directly confronted the challenges that women have faced in their bids for elective office. John McCain noted: “I have great respect for her tenacity and courage. The media often
overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received. As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach.” Barack Obama noted: “Senator Hillary Clinton has made history not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she is a leader who inspired millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.” Indeed, as the first woman in American history to compete so closely for the nomination for president, Hillary Clinton has come closer to shattering the glass ceiling than any woman before her, including Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Pat Schroeder, Elizabeth Dole and Carol Moseley Braun. And 18 million votes later she didn’t win the nomination, but what she won is a victory for women in America that extends far beyond one presidential cycle. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, by being seen and heard in their history making campaigns have likely inspired one of our children with her phrase: “See, you can be anything you want to be.” Sometimes not winning still offers a grand prize.
When you turn on the computer and browse the web, you are probably unaware that you are touching the most powerful piece of technology ever created by man. More than the rise of modern medicines, the understanding of how electricity works, or even how the printing press democratized knowledge, computers and the Internet are about to blend our world’s technological innovations in ways we never thought could happen.
This unique pairing of ideas is about to consume television, radio, the printing press, news reporters, and even the telephone; and they will have done it within the lifetime of all baby boomers, including me. But don’t credit any of us for building a grand strategy for making this happen or even having the vision of how big it could become.
As someone who has been developing computer technologies for about three decades, I have at least some appreciation for the combination of engineering brilliance, near violations of the laws of physics, and raw manufacturing prowess that are housed in the simple collection of wires and transistors we call a computer. Gordon Moore from Intel has even made this side of the information equation an almost gladiatorial contest: Can we eternally keep doubling the power of the computer every eighteen months?
As someone that grew up programming on a collection of IBM, CDC, and Univac computers, I also appreciate the elegance of the user interface styles we have evolved to help the non-engineer use and appreciate the power of logic and electronics.
But I am blown away by the explosion of the Internet.
Unlike the genius of the semiconductor designers (the least known and, I believe, smartest people in any industry known to man), whose technology I can pull out and tear apart, the Internet (and the web) is like stopping the wind with your toes. It is big, getting bigger each second, and seems to have no end in sight in terms of what it can do.
So how do you know when you are touching the edge of infinity? Guess what: the next time you log onto the web and browse through an indexing system like Google, you are entering the void. The amount of information the Internet contains today, and will be grabbing in the future, is unlimited and will range from how many people are walking down the street in your hometown at noon on Saturday to capturing all of the known genetic interactions of your genome with the prescription medications available to treat the common cold.
The funny thing is that this infinity is something we are all helping to create and use. As the next generation of producer-consumers of information (the “prosumers”), each of us is bringing our own lives and experiences into the world of the connected, for better or worse. We blog, make comments, and are the new generation journalist.
And who will be getting hurt by this growing black hole?
Get ready to see a new form of TV and radio—and bury the old broadcast model. Get ready to cancel your newspaper subscription. Finally, get ready to start seeing information and advertisement when you want them—and only those information nuggets that make sense to you. Why, for example, should you watch a commercial for feminine hygiene products when you are a sixty year old man? Guess what: you probably don’t want to, and the company selling the products probably doesn’t want to waste money getting their messages to you.
Like infinity, the new world of the Internet and information is not something you can easily describe. But you can bet that it will totally flip your world around in the next twenty years.
So who will lead this evolution? I would love to hear your ideas. . . .
Carey James Kriz is the author of The Patient Will See You Now (Rowman & Littlefield).