Art, Book Reviews, Korea, Uncategorized

North Korean Art (Review)

Review of BG Muhn, North Korean Art: Paradoxical Realism (Seoul Selection, 2018), 80 pages   Americans, if they have seen anything of North Korean art, have probably caught glimpses of the propaganda posters that occasionally appear in newspaper photographs of North Korean street scenes. The more knowledgeable North Korea watcher might be familiar with the… Continue reading North Korean Art (Review)

Art, Human Rights

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Candide is the first and most amusing example of the powerlessness of positive thinking. In this 18th century novel by Voltaire, the naïf Candide suffers one misfortunate after another – kidnapping, torture, earthquake. Still he adheres to the philosophy of his mentor, Dr. Pangloss, who insists that all is for the best in this best… Continue reading The Best of All Possible Worlds?


The Politics of Paper

Appropriation is a tricky issue from a legal point of view. You can’t use someone’s name or image for commercial purposes, without his or her permission, or risk a lawsuit. You can’t use someone’s words without attribution or risk charges of plagiarism. You can’t sample another person’s music without running afoul of copyright law. But… Continue reading The Politics of Paper

Art, Plays

A Peek at Paper

A teacher and a student argue over a remark in class. Or was it a remark about class? Or was it really about race? Or gender? My new play Paper brings the explosive confrontations on campus around race, class, and gender onto the stage. Take Rashomon, add Mamet, mix in Black Lives Matter, and stand… Continue reading A Peek at Paper

Art, Books, Fiction

My Novel (Accidentally) Predicted Trump

It’s terrifying when your dystopian nightmares begin to come true. Donald Trump is consolidating a circle of extremist advisers. Hardline restrictions on immigration are going up, regulations on Wall Street are tumbling down, and ordinary Americans can no longer agree on simple truths, let alone politics. Abroad, Europe may be splintering, too, Asia looks volatile,… Continue reading My Novel (Accidentally) Predicted Trump


The Art of Detente

On a wall in Boston, artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo is taking a quiet but historic step forward in U.S.-Iranian relations. His fanciful mural on an air intake structure in Boston’s Dewey Square represents a first. Ghadyanloo, who has completed more than a hundred surrealistic murals in downtown Tehran, is the first Iranian artist to do work… Continue reading The Art of Detente


Iran: The Calligraphic Challenge

Mehdi Saeedi turns words into art. The Iranian graphic artist has transformed Farsi script into posters, paintings, and other works. He has taken a traditional form, calligraphy, and made something even more startling and beautiful from it. In Saeedi’s posters, a line of script turns into a bird, with an olive branch in its beak.… Continue reading Iran: The Calligraphic Challenge


The Music of Hopelessness

If foreign policy had a soundtrack, it would be the opposite of easy listening. Really, could anyone listen to a symphony of war and peace all the way through? In the first movement — devoted to death and destruction and played presto and fortissimo — the electric guitarists step to the front of the orchestra… Continue reading The Music of Hopelessness


Iraq’s Artifacts of Exile

In the initial aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, looters swept through the National Museum in Baghdad and carted off 15,000 items of incalculable value. Some of these items were destroyed in the attempt to spirit them away. Some disappeared into the vortex of the underground art market. Only half of the items were… Continue reading Iraq’s Artifacts of Exile


Wrestling with Wrestling Jerusalem

Solo shows are about journeys. The performer tells the story of how he or she navigated through an experience of life-altering importance. At the beginning of Wrestling Jerusalem, the new solo show that kicks off Mosaic Theater Company’s latest Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival in Washington, DC, playwright and performer Aaron Davidman makes… Continue reading Wrestling with Wrestling Jerusalem

Art, Asia

The Lacquer Box

My wife and I lived in Tokyo for three years. At the end of our time there, we threw a going away party for ourselves. “No gifts,” we told all our friends. Instead, they could bring something for the potluck meal. Oh, and they had to take something away with them. We were giving away… Continue reading The Lacquer Box



The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most dramatic events of the 20th century. It happened suddenly on the evening of November 9, 1989 when thousands of East Germans decided to take history into their own hands and pour over the border into the West. Although the Soviet Union wouldn’t disintegrate for… Continue reading Before/After


The Games of Our Lives

You are a customs official. It’s the early 1980s. You are living in a grim East European country. Your job is to check the documents of visitors, immigrants, and returning citizens. You need the job because times are tight, and several of your family members are sick. Every day the rules change regarding the paperwork… Continue reading The Games of Our Lives

Art, Plays

American Politics Needs More Drama

I like my politics the way I like my baseball. I prefer to wait for the highlights reel. Like baseball, political events in Washington, D.C. tend to be long and boring, punctuated by the occasional home run speech or graceful double-play legislative maneuver in Congress. Have you ever wondered why, when you turn on C-Span,… Continue reading American Politics Needs More Drama

Art, Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Uncategorized

Lucid Dreaming in Pancevo

Pancevo is a small Serbian city located just northeast of Belgrade. It has some lovely Habsburg architecture. There’s a thriving arts scene and a growing Chinese community. But this city of about 73,000 people is perhaps best known for the damage it sustained during the NATO bombing in 1999, when an industrial park containing an… Continue reading Lucid Dreaming in Pancevo

Art, Plays

Playing the Pundit

As a pundit, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable moments. I’ve been in front of the cameras and suddenly blanked on the name of a former South Korean president or the precise year when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Such embarrassing lapses, for a Korean expert at least, are comparable to forgetting your… Continue reading Playing the Pundit


First Look at The Pundit

“DC is just one big ladder. The higher you climb, the fewer people that can s**t on you.” John Feffer That’s Peter Peters, resident foreign policy expert at The Center, a Washington think tank that positions itself in the precise middle of the political spectrum, less out of principle than sheer political opportunism. Peters is… Continue reading First Look at The Pundit

Art, Human Rights

When Kony Met Daisey

Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. This aphorism, often attributed to humorist Mark Twain, seems to apply equally well to both theater and politics. Story, in these worlds of bright lights and monologues, is everything. Whether it’s a political campaign (Romney is a flip-flopper) or a successful Broadway play… Continue reading When Kony Met Daisey


On Being Fringe Performer John Feffer

John Feffer is a funny guy who is engaged in the somber business of writing and lecturing on foreign policy. But three years ago, he tried something new and stepped onto a Fringe stage with his original play, Krapp’s Last Power Point. He’s been back every year since. This year, he brings us The Bird.


Architects of Change

More than a decade ago, I sat down with the head of the academy of architecture in Pyongyang. The school was housed in a large, drafty building in the center of North Korea’s capital. Students were building models out of cardboard and wood. A few were in front of state-of-the-art desktops using the computer-aided design… Continue reading Architects of Change


Graphic Foreign Policy

Living in Japan in the late 1990s, I was struck by the sheer number and variety of manga or comic books. You could go to a manga store and find an entire aisle devoted to your particular genre: golf manga, comics about the Japanese yakuza (mafia), mecha that focus exclusively on giant robots. Name your… Continue reading Graphic Foreign Policy


Foreign Policy Goes Gaga

Lady Gaga and Alice Walker don’t have much in common. One dresses in red meat; the other doesn’t even eat the stuff. One writes lyrics like “I want your ugly, I want your disease, I want your everything as long as it’s free.” The other writes The Color Purple. But they are both cultural celebrities,… Continue reading Foreign Policy Goes Gaga


Art vs. State

In the vast exhibition hall of London’s Tate Modern, the installation looks from a distance like a huge patch of gravel. Perhaps it is the first stage of a construction site or the last stage of a demolition. Only when you come closer and crouch down can you identify the little objects. A discerning eye… Continue reading Art vs. State


My Backlogged Pages

The New York Times, June 12, 2010 In this age of Amazon recommendations and Kindle downloads, I still rely on the old-fashioned services of a book buyer. My personal book buyer has an uncanny ability to anticipate my tastes. He has introduced me to out-of-print novelists, obscure playwrights and classic philosophy tracts. I’ve enjoyed nearly all of… Continue reading My Backlogged Pages


Music Is Still the Weapon

On February 18, 1977, a thousand Nigerian soldiers surrounded the Kalakuta Republic and burned it to the ground. As republics go, Kalakuta wasn’t very large. Only 100 or so people lived there. But the immensely popular musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had created this compound, in the Nigerian capital of Lagos, as a joyful and democratic space… Continue reading Music Is Still the Weapon


The Art of Extraction

The teacher assembles a collection of chocolate-chip cookies and toothpicks. This is how the elementary school children are supposed to learn about the costs associated with coal mining. Each cookie is a mining property. The students each receive $19 in play money, which they use to buy these properties. They examine the cookies closely to… Continue reading The Art of Extraction