09 August 2017


Hartwells Locks, Rideau Canal
Photo by Tom Heyerdahl

What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand....

These words from U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson remind me of this ancient and totally misplaced trust in "messages," invoked whenever a leader can't explain the actual content or logic of a statement at face value.

A few years ago I examined the related use or misuse of the terms "mixed messages" and "mixed signals." At the time, we opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were told that our opposition gave our "enemies" mixed messages rather than the united message that would presumably shock and awe them into submission. Every major theme in this ephemeral cyber-world of blogging eventually cycles back, and so once again I'm looking at the wishful thinking about the messages our leaders are supposedly sending.

Of course the North Koreans are aware of the cluster of messages and subtexts represented by the U.S. president's "fire and fury" message and the commentaries of his associates in the U.S. government:
  • The threat itself: be afraid of our weapons
  • The possibility that it is all bluff and bluster, given the evident limited range of Trump's strategic imagination
  • The insult contained in Tillerson's commentary, that North Korea's leadership would not be able to decipher a calmer, more straightforward message
  • The possible challenge to call the U.S. bluff
  • The functional assumption that North Korea will respond with more wisdom and maturity than the U.S. side is exhibiting.
North Korea is a difficult case, no doubt. It's not easy to communicate with a leadership that seems so paranoid and defensive (however we understand the background to that stance). But the standard advice for communicating with "difficult people" is to say the same reasonable and true and sustainable thing over and over, patiently and clearly, no matter how provocative the other side's rhetoric might be. They're already perfectly aware of the resources available at your disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, and, most importantly, time. There is absolutely no need to goad them and thereby destabilize the situation and possibly lose the support of the rest of the world. And there is no need to fall back on "signals" and "messages" that are actually just transparent poses.

All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No', said Jesus. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37.)

Yesterday was Judy's and my 37th wedding anniversary. Instead of worrying about North Korea, we enjoyed time with our Ottawa relatives, including a wonderful walk around the campus of Carleton University, where I studied Russian back in the '70's. We also walked along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, whose ancient mechanical locks seem to work as well as ever.

Today we travel to Maine, retreating for some weeks to the village of Raymond (and its Internet-equipped library) before returning to Elektrostal.

A language we'll soon be learning (I hope): the language of transition.

Hiroshima: an anti-transfiguration.

An interview on a new Christian movement characterized by multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism.

Is Canada dealing with a new wave of refugees?

Controversial (?) Palestinian professor breaks his silence.

Meanwhile in Moscow ...

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