Letters for the week of December 24-30, 2003 

Not doing business with North Korea is the truly immoral position here. Why there are better reasons to oppose the Byron shooting range.

"Learning to Love the Axis of Evil," City of Warts, 12/3

The real morality issue
Thank you for highlighting the attempts of Alex Hahn, the local Korean businessman who seeks to contribute to the peace and welfare of North Koreans through business exchange. In fact, Koreans all over the world are extremely concerned about the welfare of North Koreans as they continue to face famine, economic sanctions, an allegedly brutal dictatorship, and the constant threat of war. It is refreshing to see coverage on this issue that does not entirely represent the perspectives of the Bush administration, as is most often the case in mainstream media.

However, I would like to challenge Chris Thompson's assertion that there is a "morality issue" in doing business with North Korea because of reports of the regime's human rights abuses. From the perspective of many Koreans, the most urgent and widespread human rights violation in North Korea is the violation of the people's right to eat. North Koreans continue to struggle through a severe food shortage that began in the mid-1990s, largely due to the decline of the North Korean economy after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the socialist trading bloc. In addition, successive years of droughts and floods decimated the North Korean harvest, resulting in a major humanitarian crisis. A functional economy would allow for North Koreans to feed themselves, the way they were able to in the past. Supporting this is morally upright regardless of what the nature of the government may be. Sadly, but predictably, the US continues to enforce economic sanctions on North Korea, blocking many of the country's recent efforts to rebuild its economy through legitimate trade. In my view, the true "morality issue" lies with those who support policies that prolong a humanitarian crisis.

Thompson also describes Mr. Hahn's business ventures as naive and in danger of being "suckered" by the North Korean government. In fact, there has been a tremendous increase in cultural and business exchange between South and North Koreans in recent years, particularly since the historical summit in 2000 for which the South Korean president won the Nobel Peace Prize. While these exchanges have sometimes been difficult, they have been successful enough to convince many observers that the North Korean leadership is far from the crazy, unreasonable despot as portrayed by the Bush administration. Even Madeleine Albright, after meeting with the North Korean President Kim Jong-Il in 2000, described him as "very decisive and practical and serious," and someone with whom the US could engage in negotiations.

Finally, Thompson's "expert in Korean affairs" belittles Mr. Hahn's effort for peace in Korea by labeling it a "fool's errand." As one of many disenfranchised communities in this country, attempts by Koreans to influence sociopolitical change may appear feeble and futile. However, for many Koreans, it is impossible to sit back and simply send winter clothing to North Korea, as advised by Mr. Expert. Peace in Korea, inextricably linked to reunification of the country, is deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Korean people and has become somewhat of a national spiritual quest. It is naive for anyone, even an "expert in Korean affairs," to think that Koreans will stop struggling until we achieve peace, justice, and sovereignty for our people.
Sam Shin, Oakland

"Home on the Range," Feature, 12/3

And the number one reason to oppose the shooting range ...
Your piece on the East Contra Costa gun club dispute was an interesting look at the suburban/rural tensions that accompany sprawl. But it overlooked the biggest reason why both the neighbors and patrons of the proposed shooting range should be worried: lead poisoning.

Outdoor shooting ranges put more lead into the environment than almost any other industry. According to a study by Environmental Working Group (EWG.org/pub/home/reports/poisonouspastime), in just two years a typical outdoor range can contaminate a five-acre site to the level of a Superfund toxic waste site. Dozens of cities across the country have been stuck with massive bills to clean up closed shooting ranges.

There is no known safe level of exposure to lead, whose effects include damage to the brain and central nervous system, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and anemia. The state Department of Health Services has found high levels of lead poisoning in firearm instructors, range employees and frequent shooters. Parents often put their own children at risk because they don't know that they're bringing lead residue from the shooting range home to their kids.

Yes, police carry guns in the line of duty, and some people enjoy hunting for their own meat. Neither justifies "recreationally" exposing your neighbors or family to a deadly poison.
Bill Walker, vice president/West Coast, Environmental Working Group, Oakland

"You Know, Like Orff," Music, 10/29

There are no second acts in American journalism
Regarding Darren Keast's review of Broadcast's HaHA Sound: I don't expect much from pop music writers (and I won't repeat the famous Zappa quote about them). But for Mr. Keast to treat Carl Orff, a composer whom just about anyone who's taken an Introduction to Music History class should have heard of, as if he's some kind of obscure, undiscovered European secret, is pretty silly. And the "early '60s (un)known Angry Man Era" may be news to him, but anybody who knows much of anything about theater or film is certainly familiar with it.

On the next page, Michael Alan Goldberg explains that, "In defiance of the old F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, Joe Strummer was well into his life's second act when a heart attack felled him." I believe the quote is "There are no second acts in American lives," and I'm pretty sure that Joe Strummer wasn't an American. You know, if I were going to use a quote in a published review, I'd probably at least Google it to see if I got it right. And if I were a competent editor, I'd definitely check it out.

What kind of illiterate rag is the Express turning into? I used to boast to my buddies that it had the best arts writing in the Bay Area, but you folks seem to be dumbing it down at a pretty good clip.

By the way, I'm also part of the large contingent who still thinks that your (now not very) new events coverage sucks. Yeah, yeah -- I know -- everything is available on your Web site.
Jay Cloidt, Oakland

"Must We Stand for This?" Cityside, 12/3

Students deserve more
Thank you for sharing our Oakland reality with the Express readers. I want to share the enclosed letter with you:


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