North Korea and Internet Access, Relationships and the External Pressures That Effect Them,Medical Controversy Regarding Rescuers at 9/11

The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea

    
Jason Reed/Reuters

A Department of Defense satellite image of the Korean Peninsula showing wide illuminated areas in South Korea and the relative darkness of the North.

October 23, 2006
Link by Link

The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea

By TOM ZELLER Jr.

THE tragically backward, sometimes absurdist hallmarks of North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, are well known. There is Mr. Kim’s Elton John eyeglasses and strangely whipped, cotton-candy hairdo. And there is the North Korean "No! Yeeesssss … No! O.K. Fear the tiger!" school of diplomacy.

A newer, more dangerous sort of North Korean eccentricity registered around 4.0 on the Richter scale earlier this month — a nuclear weapon test that has had the world’s major powers scrambling, right up through last week, to develop a policy script that would account for Mr. Kim’s new toy.

But whatever the threat — and however lush the celebrations broadcast on state-controlled television from the streets of Pyongyang in the days afterward — the stark realities of life in North Korea were perhaps most evident in a simple satellite image over the shoulder of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an Oct. 11 briefing. The image showed the two Koreas — North and South — photographed at night.

The South was illuminated from coast to coast, suggesting that not just lights, but that other, arguably more bedrock utility of the modern age — information — was pulsating through the population.

The North was black.

This is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cellphones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York ranked North Korea No. 1 — over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan — on its list of the "10 Most Censored Countries."

That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot.

At a time when much of the world takes for granted a fat and growing network of digitized human knowledge, art, history, thought and debate, it is easy to forget just how much is being denied the people who live under the veil of darkness revealed in that satellite photograph.

While other restrictive regimes have sought to find ways to limit the Internet — through filters and blocks and threats — North Korea has chosen to stay wholly off the grid.

Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. "It is by far the worst Internet black hole," he said.

That is not to say that North Korean officials are not aware of the Internet.

As far back as 2000, at the conclusion of a visit to Pyongyang, Madeleine K. Albright, then secretary of state, bid Mr. Kim to "pick up the telephone any time," to which the North Korean leader replied, "Please give me your e-mail address." That signaled to everyone that at least he, if not the average North Korean, was cybersavvy. (It is unclear if Ms. Albright obliged.)

These days, the designated North Korean domain suffix, ".kp" remains dormant, but several "official" North Korean sites can be found delivering sweet nothings about the country and its leader to the global conversation (an example: www.kcckp.net/en/) — although these are typically hosted on servers in China or Japan.

Mr. Kim, embracing the concept of "distance learning," has established the Kim Il-sung Open University Web site, www.ournation-school.com — aimed at educating the world on North Korea’s philosophy of "juche" or self-reliance. And the official North Korean news agency, at www.kcna.co.jp, provides tea leaves that are required reading for anyone following the great Quixote in the current nuclear crisis.

But to the extent that students and researchers at universities and a few other lucky souls have access to computers, these are linked only to each other — that is, to a nationwide, closely-monitored Intranet — according to the OpenNet Initiative, a human rights project linking researchers from the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Britain.

A handful of elites have access to the wider Web — via a pipeline through China — but this is almost certainly filtered, monitored and logged.

Some small "information technology stores" — crude cybercafes — have also cropped up. But these, too, connect only to the country’s closed network. According to The Daily NK, a pro-democracy news site based in South Korea, computer classes at one such store cost more than six months wages for the average North Korean (snipurl.com/DailyNK). The store, located in Chungjin, North Korea, has its own generator to keep the computers running if the power is cut, The Daily NK site said.

"It’s one thing for authoritarian regimes like China to try to blend the economic catalyst of access to the Internet with controls designed to sand off the rough edges, forcing citizens to make a little extra effort to see or create sensitive content," said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford.

The problem is much more vexing for North Korea, Professor Zittrain said, because its "comprehensive official fantasy worldview" must remain inviolate. "In such a situation, any information leakage from the outside world could be devastating," he said, "and Internet access for the citizenry would have to be so controlled as to be useless. It couldn’t even resemble the Internet as we know it."

But how long can North Korea’s leadership keep the country in the dark?

Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.

Of course, there are no polls indicating whether the average North Korean would prefer nuclear arms or Internet access (or food, or reliable power), but given Mr. Kim’s interest in weapons, it is a safe bet it would not matter.

"No doubt it’s harder to make nuclear warheads than to set up an Internet network," Mr. Pain said. "It’s all a question of priority."

 

Medical Views of 9/11’s Dust Show Big Gaps

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Joseph Jones, whose wife, Felicia Dunn-Jones, 42, a lawyer, worked near the twin towers, leaves flowers at the 9/11 memorial on Staten Island.

October 24, 2006

Medical Views of 9/11’s Dust Show Big Gaps

By ANTHONY DePALMA

In 2004, Kenneth R. Feinberg, special master of the federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, awarded $2.6 million to the family of a downtown office worker who died from a rare lung disease five months after fleeing from the dust cloud released when the twin towers fell. That decision made the worker, Felicia Dunn-Jones, a 42-year-old lawyer, the first official fatality of the dust, and one of only two deaths to be formally linked to the toxic air at ground zero.

The New York City medical examiner’s office, however, has refused to put her on its official list of 9/11 victims, saying that by its standards there was insufficient medical evidence to link her death to the dust.

Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s case shows how difficult it can be to prove a causal connection with any scientific certainty — and how even government agencies can disagree. With thousands of people now seeking compensation and treatment for dust exposure, the debate about the relationship between the toxic particles and disease will be a central issue in the flood of Sept. 11-related lawsuits. Health experts are starting to document the connections, but any firm conclusion is still years away.

Most of the suits involve workers who spent weeks and months on the pile at ground zero and say the city and other agencies failed to protect them from the toxic dust. Others involve residents who say they were made sick by dust that settled in their homes. Mrs. Dunn-Jones was among those downtown office workers caught in the initial fallout.

The question that arises in all these cases is straightforward: Can a link between the dust and disease be proved with scientific certainty? The answer is anything but simple.

"Certainty is a word we always dance around," said Joseph Graziano, associate dean for research at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. For him, searching for the cause of disease is like developing film. "At first you see a faint image of what the real picture is," Dr. Graziano said, "and then, over time, you see it with much more clarity. In these relatively early times, the image is still faint."

It can take decades to approach any degree of certainty. For instance, only after years of observation did doctors agree that there was a strong link between asbestos and diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma.

In legal cases, "a reasonable degree of medical certainty" is considered the gold standard in making a causal connection. Last week, a federal judge cleared the way for thousands of workers’ lawsuits to go to trial. When the cases are heard, any proof that does not meet that legal standard is likely to be challenged.

But outside the courtroom, scientists say, even a less rigorous link could be sufficient to warrant expanding the range of illnesses covered by treatment programs, and to serve as the basis for issuing cautions to people in high-risk groups. When the health effects are too new or the evidence is too vague for a strong link, lesser indicators like the concurrence of different studies have to be relied on.

For example, nearly every ground zero study shows that workers and residents exposed to the dust in the hours after the collapse have suffered the worst health problems. The consistency in that data has helped doctors monitor and treat people since Sept. 11.

And it may also help explain why Mrs. Dunn-Jones, a dynamic civil rights lawyer with the United States Department of Education, became so sick so quickly. As she was swallowed by a whirling dust plume filled with asbestos, benzene, dioxin and other hazards when the first tower fell, all she could do was cover her nose and mouth as she fled from her office one block north of the World Trade Center.

It was night by the time she got home to Staten Island. "She was in a state of shock," her husband, Joseph Jones, recalled. Her clothes were still dusty, but he didn’t pay much attention. "I was just so happy to see her," he said.

For the next few months, life returned to normal, until Mrs. Dunn-Jones developed a cough. In January 2002, the cough grew worse. On Feb. 10, she suddenly stopped breathing and died.

Mr. Jones, 54, an assistant manager at a Brooklyn pharmacy, was stunned. Then, when he received the official death certificate months later, he was shocked to see an unfamiliar word — sarcoidosis.

"Even though I was in the medical field, I had never heard of it," he said.

After reading several medical reports on sarcoidosis — including one by Dr. David J. Prezant, deputy chief medical officer of the New York Fire Department — Mr. Jones and his lawyer, Richard H. Bennett, wondered if Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s mysterious death could be linked to 9/11 dust because sarcoidosis, which produces microscopic lumps called granulomas, on vital organs, is often associated with exposure to environmental hazards.

They took the case to Mr. Feinberg and the victim compensation fund, which gave $7 billion to the families of those killed or injured on 9/11.

Mr. Feinberg initially expressed doubts about the claim and demanded to see definitive medical evidence linking Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s sarcoidosis to the dust.

Dr. Prezant, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was one of two experts who testified at a hearing conducted by Mr. Feinberg. In the first four years after 9/11, he found 20 cases of sarcoidosis in the Fire Department, a rate of 80 per 100,000 in the first year (with treatment, all are now stable), compared with a national rate of fewer than 6 per 100,000, according to the American Thoracic Society.

The other expert was Dr. Alan M. Fein, a clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. He, too, was skeptical at first, but he said he changed his mind after reviewing Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s medical record, including the autopsy report. "I’m comfortable saying her death was caused by exposure to the dust," Dr. Fein said in an interview.

In March 2004, Mr. Feinberg agreed, making Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s death the only dust-related fatality recognized by the fund. Only one other death has been formally linked to the dust: In April, a New Jersey coroner determined that James Zadroga, 34, a New York City police detective, had died of a disease similar to sarcoidosis, also caused by his exposure to ground zero dust.

Mr. Jones welcomed the settlement from the victim compensation fund, and believes that his wife was a 9/11 victim as surely as if she had died in the towers. He sent Mr. Feinberg’s decision to the city’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, and asked that his wife be put on the official list so that her name could be read on Sept. 11. Dr. Hirsch refused, a spokeswoman said, because the available evidence did not prove the connection "with a reasonable degree of medical certainty"— the highest medical standard generally used in legal cases.

Mr. Feinberg’s decision had been based on a different standard: a preponderance of medical evidence.

That was proof enough for the Staten Island Memorial Commission, which has engraved Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s name on the bone-white memorial on the island’s north shore.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, who has fought to get medical care for 9/11 victims, said the contradictory conclusions about Mrs. Dunn-Jones’s death underscored the importance of deciding who has the final say on causal links. "They should be medical decisions, not political ones," she said, suggesting that city officials may have a conflict of interest in making such determinations since the city is a defendant in the ground zero workers’ lawsuits.

She has introduced a bill to reopen the federal compensation fund to people whose illnesses became known after the original eligibility period ended in 2003.

In the effort to collect definitive data, Dr. John Howard, the federal government’s 9/11 health coordinator, recently circulated a draft set of autopsy protocols that directs pathologists to use a standard of proof that establishes both biological plausibility and unequivocal evidence of a causal connection to the dust. But doctors and elected officials have said those standards are so restrictive that almost no death could be linked to the dust for years to come. A spokesman for Dr. Howard said the guidelines were being refined.

In another effort, the Mount Sinai Medical Center, which has screened thousands of ground zero workers, has begun a long-term study of the incidence of diseases to identify any rates that exceed national averages.

"Right now we’re in the process of confirming every case of interstitial lung disease, every cancer, every sarcoidosis that has been reported to us by responders in their visits," said Dr. Jeanne M. Stellman, director of the public health program at Columbia University, is leading the data collection project.

"We are actively trying to determine whether Detective Zadroga and Mrs. Dunn-Jones are alone," she said. "And we are trying to find a way to do this that is scientifically correct while also being responsive to the needs and fears of the communities involved."

 

When a Relationship Carries the Weight of History

David Chelsea
 
October 22, 2006
Modern Love

When a Relationship Carries the Weight of History

By LAUREN FOX

I USED to have an imaginary Jewish boyfriend. I dreamed him up several years ago. He was a nice guy named Jeff who was a lawyer for the A.C.L.U., played classical guitar and wanted to have three kids. One year this imaginary Jewish boyfriend even accompanied me to Yom Kippur services, while my actual, Protestant-raised but nonbelieving Irish boyfriend stayed home and ate — this is true — a ham sandwich.

"What are you doing?" I asked my actual boyfriend over the phone, after I had returned home from temple.

"Eating a ham sandwich," he said. "And watching soccer. Want to come over?"

It was the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. I was supposed to be fasting and asking God for forgiveness. Instead I drove over to my boyfriend’s apartment, where I swallowed my guilt with the potato chips he shared with me.

I was raised Jewish, but in some fundamental way, it didn’t take. I wanted it to. I tried. When I lived in Minneapolis during my 20’s, I attended High Holy Day services at practically every synagogue in the area, hoping to find one that would speak to my heart, but I always left feeling empty, more confused than before I had gone.

All the talk of God bothered me. I was not sure if I believed, but even in the most liberal of synagogues, even on the weirdest left-wing fringe of Judaism, where you met in a basement and sang songs about ending world hunger, it seemed as if you couldn’t get around God if you wanted to be Jewish. God is everywhere! So I tried to uncover a latent faith in a higher power, but all I have ever found, deep down, at my spiritual core, is a well-developed sense of guilt and a craving for Ho Hos.

I suppose this is, in some part, how I ended up with an irreverent Irish atheist for a boyfriend. Andrew and I met when we were graduate teaching assistants at the University of Minnesota. He marched into my office one day, sat down at my desk and started chatting to me in a fake New Jersey accent — a ridiculously bad accent, attempted through the filter of his real (and much sexier) Dublin accent. I impressed him with my ability to write backward and forward at the same time.

For our first date, he took me to a reading at a St. Paul bookstore. In the middle of the hushed proceedings, he suddenly panicked that he had lost his wallet (he had not), and, in his frenzy to search his pockets, he tipped over backward in his chair.

We both started laughing so hard we were practically hyperventilating and had to leave the reading. We hurried out, hooting, as people shot disapproving glares our way. It was clearly the start of something special.

Around this time, I discovered a shoebox full of old letters in my parents’ basement. Dated from 1938 to 1941, they were letters that my great-grandmother, in Germany, had sent to my grandmother in America, who had fled with her husband and young daughter. I knew that my mother’s family had come from Germany — she speaks German as fluently as English — but I was never told much about our past. Like many Jewish immigrants whose families were decimated by the Holocaust, my relatives didn’t talk about it.

As I ran my fingers over the fragile onionskin paper and peered at the incomprehensible script, I knew right away that the letters I had found were the key to an important piece of my history. I set about having them translated, and I began writing about and researching my family: it became my master’s thesis and my fascination.

At first, I didn’t connect the things I was learning about my German Jewish family with the life I was living, a life whose emotional center was fast becoming my Irish boyfriend, a man from a country that claims all of 1,800 Jews, a man who once exclaimed happily, upon finding a box of matzos in my cupboard, "Oh, great, you bought crackers!"

But gradually, as the content of the letters emerged, I began to feel like I was being hit over the head by something heavy, sharp and unwieldy. It was History with a capital H.

August 11, 1938

I can’t put into words how much I miss you and the dear child. I have always imagined how she looked with her curly hair. I miss you all so much … but in spite of everything I would not wish that you were here. …

For today let me give you a thousand greetings and a thousand kisses from your oma who loves you more than anything in the world. Perhaps we will one day have the pleasure of being together again.

THEY wouldn’t have the pleasure. They died in Germany — my great-grandmother slowly, at age 61, of what I imagine was a broken heart; her husband a few months later, on a train to Auschwitz.

The letters permeated my life. The translation process was intimate and intense: my great-grandmother wrote in an archaic script that very few people could still read, but I found a professor at the university who could help. Every Friday I would go to his office with a few letters and a tape recorder, and he would translate, reading out loud. Later, I would transcribe the tapes.

My great-grandmother’s words echoed in my thoughts, nudging at the corners of my daily life. Sometimes I would come home and almost expect to see a letter from her in my mailbox. I was given the weight of this history, the fact of it, the burden. This was my family tree, cut off at the roots. It seemed like the only conclusion I could draw was the obvious one: I would need to find a Jewish husband, raise a Jewish family, to defy genocide in this small but significant way.

Andrew would never become Jewish — possibly because he grew up in Ireland in the 1970’s and 80’s, where the only sane response to religion was to disdain it altogether, or perhaps because of the specific contours of his kind but skeptical heart. It was a point of understanding between us that I would never ask him to convert. So he would have to be my sacrifice. My loss would be a small hole in my heart compared with the crater that took up space in the center of my family.

On one of our first dates, Andrew told me a story about cat-sitting for a professor while she was away, and of accidentally taking care of the wrong cats. He had been caring for the neighbor’s cats who had wandered in; the professor’s pets, he told me with a sheepish smile, actually had been trapped in the linen closet for two days.

From another man, on another occasion, this particular story might have been my reason for refusing a third date. From Andrew, it seemed like a brave and funny confession, his admission that he wasn’t perfect, but that he was willing to learn how to tend to things more carefully. I wanted to hear more.

My mother used to tell me, jokingly but also, I suspected, kind of seriously: "It’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one." But it’s not easy to fall in love at all. And now that I had, I didn’t want to give it up, even to the hungry mouth of History.

November 29, 1939

I live constantly in my thoughts with you, my dear ones. If only I could embrace all of you and hold you close to my heart. When will this happen?

ONE night, after the last of the letters had been translated and I was near the end of my project, I sat outside with some friends at an informal Sabbath gathering. Andrew was somewhere else that night, and again I wondered what my life would be like at such a ceremony with a Jewish boyfriend sitting next to me, echoing the blessing over the challah.

My friends and I were talking about love, about looking for it, finding it. Elana, who was single (and Jewish), announced with utter conviction that she would never be able to live with someone who wanted a Christmas tree in his house. Others nodded in agreement. I thought about how Andrew bought a tree every year, how he said that it reminded him of home, of the happy Christmases of his childhood in Dublin. Who was I to argue with a homesick immigrant’s private, complicated sorrows? But my friend had a point: a Christmas tree is the last lost battleground of the secular Jew.

I slipped into one of my familiar uncomfortable reveries: Andrew and I are sitting in the living room of a house, maybe ours, on some Christmas morning in the future, and I am watching our little girl tearing through presents, our little girl who may not even know what loss she inherits or what slips through her fingers as she tosses crumpled wrapping paper across the floor. I looked at Elana, envious of her certainty.

March 6, 1941

When yesterday morning the letter arrived with a sweet photo, I was no longer able to hold myself. I cried all day because of joy and also of sorrow.

Someone lighted the Sabbath candles and began the blessing: Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech haolam. The candles flickered in the warm wind. The words of the blessing were as intimate and as foreign to me as German, the language of my childhood that I never fully understood.

My life feels inextricable from this history. Yet letting go of Andrew couldn’t have defied genocide or undone sorrow. It would have only defied our love and undone the possibility of the happy life he and I now share with our little girl, in whom I try to instill both my history and my hope.

Lauren Fox lives in Milwaukee. Her first novel, "Still Life With Husband," will be published by Knopf in February.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: