N. Korea calls woman S. Korean president “a mouth that licks the stinking crotch” of the U.S. Does Gloria Steinem care?

Trending on Facebook today is news I wish I could ignore (I am really busy with a writing project), but I can’t. Gloria Steinem and a group of international activists visited Pyongyang, North Korea, and then crossed the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea by bus. They were demonstrating for peace. But as it happens, I am writing an essay about my encounters with North Korea over the years I was a correspondent in the Russian Far East and visited the North Korean border several times, in Russia, China, and South Korea.

As the peace activists’ website explains, they intended to “call for an end to the Korean War and for a new beginning for a reunified Korea.” It goes on:

We will hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul where we can listen to Korean women and share our experiences and ideas of mobilizing women to bring an end to violent conflict…

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division into two separate states by Cold War powers, which precipitated the 1950-53 Korean War. After nearly 4 million people were killed, mostly Korean civilians, fighting was halted when North Korea, China, and the United States representing the UN Command signed a ceasefire agreement. They promised within three months to sign a peace treaty; over 60 years later, we’re still waiting.

As Steinem and her group crossed the border into South Korea, “the reception was more frosty as around 500 conservative protesters greeted the WomenCrossDMZ group with placards telling them to ‘go to hell,’ ‘get out’ or go back to North Korea,” Reuters reports.

Sigh. Those kooky right wingers: militarists and warmongers, all of them. Who could be opposed to peace? And they are probably all sexists, too—opposing Steinem because of her feminism, right?

Well, for one thing, the peace activists might consider that there is a reason the world is still waiting for a treaty. North Korea refuses to recognize the government of South Korea.

More immediately, the regime’s treatment of women surely ranks among the worst in the world. Joshua Stanton points out in the blog One Free Korea that Pyongyang referred to South Korea’s woman president, Park Geun Hye in sexist terms: “N. Korea calls S. Korea’s president a skirt-lifting, crotch-licking whore, just as Gloria Steinem arrives in Pyongyang.” He adds: Continue reading

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Wisconsin, or Putin’s Russia?

The National Review has a powerful story that illustrates the government’s frightening use of tactics out of Putin’s Russia, at least if you’re a conservative living in Wisconsin. Rather than wait until I have time to comment on it, I’m just going to note it here and possibly update later. The piece begins:


Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking.

She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram.

She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door.

“I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic.

“I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”

She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee.

“I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”

They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off.

The neighbors started to come outside, curious at the commotion, and all the while the police searched her house, making a mess, and — according to Cindy — leaving her “dead mother’s belongings strewn across the basement floor in a most disrespectful way.”

Then they left, carrying with them only a cellphone and a laptop.

Continue reading


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‘The Red Corner’ wins novel award

My novel manuscript, The Red Corner, recently won the Hackney Literary Award, a $5,000 prize for an unpublished novel. Below is an excerpt that ran in The Great Lakes ReviewIt is set at a party at the lakeside mansion of a Russian mobster in suburban Chicago. (Also check out the opening chapters, an earlier version of which originally ran in Narrative magazine, here.)


By Russell Working


The day of Garik’s party, a warm front blew in, and Darya Vanderkloot’s sore throat disappeared. It was eighty-six along Lake Michigan, and most of staff of the Cherry Orchard Russian Deli & Productery worked in their shirt sleeves as they loaded the van with cases of wine, plastic bins of food, and coolers of salad, lox, deviled eggs, frozen pelmeni, cakes, sirloin. Like the others, Darya, wore her catering uniform: a white shirt, black bow tie, and baggy pants with a hound’s-tooth check pattern, but she kept an eye on Alexei. He cut a debonair figure, like a young celebrity chief, until he shrugged on a hoodie, despite the warm weather, and shouldered his backpack, transforming himself into a freebooter on a boarding raid. Everyone worked briskly, cheerful about the change in routine, but Alexei’s scowl kept the others at bay. He brushed right past Darya without hearing her hello.

“Hey, you!” she said.

He looked perplexed. “Oh, hi.”

“You all right?”

“Never better,” he said, then went back inside for another load.

They were catering a party for a new customer named Igor “Garik” Voskresensky, who had just shown up in the Cherry Orchard a few weeks ago. Eleven years ago, in Vladivostok, he had assassinated Alexei’s father, who was running for governor. Alexei had witnessed the murder as a child, and he immediately recognized the hit man. But now he was eighteen, and the disguise of adulthood held, while Garik had no idea who he was. Alexei and Darya had not been close, but he had chosen to confide in her for some reason. The boy was a loner, an amateur boxer and astronomy buff, and maybe he had no one else to talk to. Continue reading

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An Open Letter to the Lab Mouse, Presumably Deceased, Upon Whose Back Scientists First Grew a Human-Looking Ear

earmouseNote: Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency has a section called “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond.” Many of these are amusing, some less so. But after I read a few, the Muse descended, and, aflame with divine inspiration—the gods whispering in my hearing aids—I wrote my own epistle. In a puzzling lapse in taste, McSweeney’s rejected my letter. Bums! They’re wrong!

Or are they? Since “Open Letters to [Etc.]” is a feature that is unique to McSweeney’s, as far as I know, I can’t shop this around at other publications and prove that editor C— (not his real name) made a grave mistake. Instead, I offer my multitudinous readership a chance to vote on whether, inexplicably, this famous publication blew it. (They did.) Here’s the letter to the earmouse:

Dear Little Friend:

True, we have never met, but I hope you’ll forgive the familiarity, up there in your nest of shavings in that great cage in the sky, where you certainly now reside, the average lifespan of a mouse being only two years.  But as you nibble your eternal supply of unsalted sunflower seeds, I feel as if I could lean over and confide in that human-looking ear on your back.  You would listen.  You’d care.  I say this not merely because you won worldwide sympathy as a hairless rodent who, without signing any consent forms, was caused by scientists to grow a wrestling coach’s cauliflower ear on its back.  The thing is (and I will admit this is selfish), I keep hoping someone will grow a new set of ears for me on some mouse’s back, and I can get rid of my hearing aids. Continue reading


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The War of the Werewolves and the Minotaurs


Illegal dogfights. Mafia assassinations. And a goodfella who wanted to kill me because I wore a blue shirt to a mob boss’s funeral. My essay, “The War of the Werewolves and the Minotaurs,” offers a glimpse of the mafia in Vladivostok, Russia, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I lived there. The piece appears in the latest edition of Spolia, edited by Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin. Here’s the opening. 


Kill the Clown

Every day at the Vladivostok News, an English-language newspaper I used to edit in the Russian Far East, we would pull up our chairs and discuss the headlines in the local dailies. Sometimes they merited a follow; sometimes—as when papers defended the governor against the “provocations” and “bullying” of foreign reporters such as me—they did not.

One week early in July 1997, the big news was the investigation of the assassination of a reputed mob boss named Anatoly Kovalyov outside the Royal Park Casino, which was close to our home and boasted a Swedish chef named Micke, whose bacon and scallop salad was particularly recommended. At 1:15 a.m. one Monday, a brawl broke out amid the slots and roulette wheels. Men threw roundhouses and crashed into tables as faun-legged girls in miniskirts shrieked and danced out of the way. Possibly the fight was staged; at any rate it drew the entire security cohort into the room, the media later reported. Guards in blue camouflage and bulletproof vests stormed in to break it up, even the guys who scanned you for weapons on your way in, leaving nobody up front. Kovalyov and his entourage reckoned it was time to clear out. Continue reading

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Life in These United States

I (at coffehouse bakery that’s not Starbucks): They making you guys talk about race here, too?


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Uncut pages, background music, crying babies on trains, robust circus ladies hanging by their teeth: Nabokov’s hates

From a newly surfaced Israeli interview with Nabokov. Things he hates, whom he sides with in the Middle East, and his thoughts on exile. “America, my adopted country, is the closest thing to my idea of home”: He wrote this from Switzerland.

What is boring for you? What is most amusing for you?

Let me tell you instead what I hate: Background music, canned music, piped-in music, portable music, next-room music, inflicted music of any kind.

Primitivism in art: “abstract” daubs, symbolic bleak little plays, junk sculpture, “avant-garde” verse, and other crude banalities. Clubs, unions, fraternities, etc. (In the course of these last twenty-five years I must have turned down some twenty offers of glamorous membership).

Oppression. I am ready to accept any regime – Socialistic, Royalistic, Janitorial, – provided mind and body are free.

The touch of satin.

Circuses–especially animal acts and robust ladies hanging by their teeth in the air. The four doctors: Dr. Freud. Dr. Schweitzer, Dr. Zhivago and Dr. Castro.

Causes, demonstrations, processions. “Concise” dictionaries, “abridged” manuals. Journalistic clichés: “The moment of truth,” for example, or the execrable “dialogue.”

Stupid, inimical things: the spectacles case that gets lost; the clothes-hanger that topples down in the closet; the wrong pocket. Folding an umbrella, not finding its secret button. Uncut pages, knots in shoelaces. The prickly aura of one’s face after skipping one’s morning shave. Babies in trains. The act of falling asleep.

What do you think of the situation in the Middle East?

There exist several subjects in which I have expert knowledge: certain groups of butterflies, Pushkin, the art of chess problems, translation from and into English, Russian and French, word-play, novels, insomnia, and immortality. But among those subjects, politics is not represented. I can only reply to your question about the Near East in a very amateur way: I fervently favor total friendship between America and Israel and am emotionally inclined to take Israel’s side in all political matters.

Read it all here.

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