Tag Archives: Casey Lartigue Jr.

2015-07-01 Korea is doomed (in 2750)–Korea Times

“Koreans to Become Extinct by 2750” was the eye-popping headline about a simulation commissioned by the National Assembly of South Korea. The National Assembly Research Service forecast that, based on current trends, South Korea’s population of 50 million would shrink to 10 million by 2136 and become extinct by 2750.

Methodological questions aside, my first thought when I read the story: 2749 is going to be one helluva year on the Korean peninsula.

If you enjoy clips of Korean politicians fighting over parliamentary procedures, then imagine the glorious fisticuffs and flying kicks over who allowed Koreans to go extinct. The handful of Koreans remaining will protest against the other half of Koreans remaining. The “chattering class” (today’s Netizens) of conspiracy theorists will connect-the-dots to the USA or Japan.

I’d have my popcorn ready, singing an updated version of Prince’s “1999” song: “2-7-4-9, Party Over, Oops, Out of Time!” We will miss the 2749 show, but we have had front row seats to yet another sneak preview.

In case you hadn’t heard, the MERS virus hit South Korea. Numerous schools, businesses, events, and celebrations got shut down, canceled or toned down. It changed Korea, at least for a few weeks. I even had to wait in line at public restrooms for the chance to wash my hands. It seemed that the Doomsday Clock had hit midnight in Korea. Forget 2750 ― it seemed that Koreans wouldn’t make it out of 2015.

In Korea, you first fix the blame, then the problem. The first question: Who was to blame for MERS threatening to annihilate Koreans 735 years ahead of the simulation’s schedule? The second, after it became clear that MERS was not going to annihilate Koreans prematurely: Who was responsible for scaring everyone into thinking Korean life was coming to an end in 2015?

Of course, the president got blamed for allowing the virus in. The rulers here always get blamed. I’ve heard that, historically, Koreans even blamed kings for droughts. Former president Kim Young-sam was said to be “bad luck” because of tragedies that struck during his administration (primarily, collapses of the Sampoong Department Store and Seongsu Grand Bridge).

A Korea Times staff editorial suggested that the president “needs to stay around the anti-MERS headquarters.” To do what? In the movie version, the president would dramatically walk in, issue stern commands while brow-beating workers caught napping or smoking, and look really presidential as the proper solemn soundtrack music played in the background.

Some Korean politicians, used to taking credit for the sun coming up, may be tempted to explain that they lack control over the weather or viruses. It must be easier to bow for the cameras and ask for forgiveness.

In the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of news, we must be frightened into following the latest updates, our “social homework” so we can be part of scuttlebutt at school, the office and Social Media. In the book “The News,” Alain de Botton notes that people can feel relevant by following the news. We may struggle to get people we know to take us seriously, but we can Tweet how the world ought to be.

Climate change experts, doomsday cults, and others make predictions about when the world will come to an end. Centuries ago, the Mayans supposedly chose December 21, 2012, which was turned into a popular movie. (Parenthetically, if the world had ended four days before Christmas, it would have been a relief for those of us who hate last-minute holiday shopping).

Reporters and politicians can’t operate at room temperature, there is always catastrophe around a corner humanity avoids turning at the last moment. De Botton writes: “A bad avian flu may disrupt international travel and defeat known drugs for a while, but research laboratories will eventually understand and contain it.”

Then came beautiful headlines backing de Botton’s stoicism: “No MERS deaths for two days,” then “No new MERS cases reported.” How often do we get such “no dogs bit men today” stories?

About three dozen people in Korea have succumbed to MERS. It would seem that Koreans were going extinct if the media reported with as much gusto about a typical day in Korea as it has about MERS: almost 200 die of cancer, almost 20 die in automobile accidents, about 40 commit suicide, about four are victims of homicide, and about 60 rapes are reported. I was wrong when I predicted that there would be suicide notes citing MERS.

But de Botton was and is right, the media can’t help but try to scare us. We should take precautions, yes, but also avoid being “easily seduced into panic.” To encourage 28th century Koreans, I will print this column along with articles about MERS to include in a time capsule to be opened in Korea in the year 2749.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul. He can be reached at:  CJL@post.harvard.edu

Korea Times link

casey_lartigue_jr profile photo to upload


Get your own column (The Korea Times, 2015-05-20)

One reason I am suspicious of job references and calling someone’s previous employers: Who checks the references of those giving references?

If supervisors and colleagues I have worked with ever had a meeting, expect a chaotic scene demonstrating the difference between a job and a career. Some would give such loving testimonials that I would know what pancakes must feel like when syrup gets poured on top: So sweet!

But that love fest would get interrupted by others rudely saying: “Wait, I thought we were here to talk about Casey Lartigue, Jr. That’s the laziest man I’ve ever hired.”

I’ve had jobs where I warned colleagues not to be standing near the door the moment I was no longer obligated to be at the office. “Don’t make me knock you down at quitting time,” I would say, with the mindset of a bruising football player about to score a game-winning touchdown. On the other hand, I have worked so late at the office that I have gotten locked in the building by security guards.

What gives? I think it is the often-stated difference between a job and a career. When people ask me what is my job, these days I say: “My work is freedom.”

I thought about this back in 2007 when I was co-host of “The Casey Lartigue Show” on The Power, a black political talk network on XM Radio. “Drive-by callers” often wanted to tell me how to run my show. Then I heard the perfect response one day by another host in response to his own drive-by callers: “Get your own damned show.”

As he would tell such callers, in essence: “This is my show, my work for three decades, I decide the content. If you don’t like it, you should go through the process of setting up your own show, convince someone to take a risk on you, and attract an audience.”

Harsh, but I reflected on the difference between jobs, careers, and “my work.” I am now getting prepared to speak at Harvard University (May 24) and Korea University (May 30). It will be my third speech at Harvard University, but this time is special because it is based on my own “work.”

In March 2003, I spoke at the first “Alumni of Color” conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. My topic was the Washington D.C. voucher program that I was a leading advocate of and activist for during 2002-04. I wasn’t the main person, but I had a key role as a researcher carrying both a briefcase and a protest sign, combining my research expertise with my activism. It was the beginning of my career, but it didn’t yet feel like my “work.”

My speech in April 2003 at Harvard University Law School was about the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. I was pleased to speak at Harvard for a second time, but I had no connection with NCLB. It felt like winning an Employee of the Month award at a job that I didn’t care about.

My third speech at Harvard, four days from now, will be at an “Innovation Symposium” being hosted by the Harvard University Extension School Alumni Association. I will be discussing my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors.

It is, as that talk show host might have said, my own “work.” It feels like a step beyond a career. We didn’t benchmark other projects, we created it based on what we heard from North Korean refugees as well as our own observations. No one knows more about it than my co-director and I do. I have gone through the process of creating my own project, convinced people to take a risk on me, and attracted allies.

I still have “drive-by experts” who want me to do what they want. I recently received a Facebook message from a black American advising me to return to America to help black Americans, rather than helping North Korean refugees. He didn’t specify the “work” he was doing that might attract me.

I blocked his account. Even obsessed critics have suggestions, but that’s like searching for a $20 bill you dropped in a sewer. Neither is worth the time, effort or drama.

My “work” is not for everyone, and that’s fine. The same with my column. Many columnists resemble radio callers pontificating with simple solutions about things they have no control over, such as advising the U.S. to pull troops out of South Korea or to sign a peace treaty with North Korea immediately. I often like to talk about “my work” in this column.

When I get comments from drive-by readers, I tell them: “Write a letter to the editor.” When they persist, I tell them, “Get your own damned column.”

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu

Original Korea Times link

2015-05-20 Get your own column upload

2015-04-21 I hate “Somebody” (The Korea Times)

No matter how long your to-do list may be, there is someone with an even longer one: “Somebody.” With the amount of work waiting for him or her, I don’t blame “Somebody” for hiding.

Whenever there is a problem, many people want Somebody to do something about it. Somebody needs to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, help the farmers, educate even the uninterested, pay $15 an hour to all, etc. Somebody never quite does assigned tasks. Unlike Big Foot getting spotted walking around lakes and forests, there aren’t any grainy photos of Somebody slacking off.

While Somebody is the would-be-fix-it-all-savior, there is a different figure causing trouble: “Society.” Whereas Somebody usually needs to do something, society gets blamed for causing trouble.

Society allows bad things to happen and doesn’t care; Somebody gets called to fix Society’s problems. I am starting to suspect this is a tag-team, like an arsonist partnering with a fire-fighter.

As part of Society, you are also to blame. You can’t say you were taking a nap or working overtime when Society caused climate change, homelessness or got teenage girls pregnant. You are guilty ― and Somebody needs to do something about that, too.

A collection of Somebodies called on to fix problems are politicians, although the government’s track record at solving problems is spotty, at best. Entrepreneurs who solve problems never quite live up to the dreamy Somebody who will one day cheerfully fix things for free.

I even occasionally get identified as somebody who can fix problems, but it is usually by people who, after praising what I do, will suggest I am still not doing enough.

For example, when South Koreans learn about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors, I am often asked why I don’t provide similar opportunities for South Koreans. I am getting kinder and gentler as I age, so I’ve stopped telling such questioners that I’m not stopping them from doing what they’ve asked. Instead, I give them suggestions based on my own experience.

First, I recommend that they join the volunteer group Korea International Volunteers. It was founded by James Kim, I was the founding assistant organizer. He’s one of those good guys who always puts aside time to help others in need, such as organizing volunteers to serve hot meals to homeless people and to tutor low-income children at orphanages and community centers in South Korea. That’s a great starting point for getting involved.

Second, I tell them about HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Through English). Edward M. Robinson is the V.P. of Operations/Project Director, I’m the International Adviser. HOPE offers free tutoring for low-income children and also arranges special events. If you are looking for someone to host a Christmas, birthday or Halloween party, then contact Eddie, he was a professional party planner in the USA and has hosted some great events for children here in South Korea. HOPE is always seeking volunteers and donors, so it is possible to help build up a local organization providing free tutoring for South Korean youngsters.

Then, the big finale: I surprise questioners by informing them that my volunteer Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project already includes South Koreans. The focus of TNKR is on the more than 150 North Korean refugees who have come through the project so far, but we have also connected almost 20 South Koreans (who work at North Korean related NGOs or volunteer in some other way) with free English tutors.

I suppose that I should take it as a compliment that people gently complain at me, for a few reasons. One, they flatter me, as 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of Monday-morning quarterbacks in his day: “They compliment me in assuming that I should perform greater deeds than themselves.” Two, they apparently believe my volunteer project is so valuable that more people should benefit from it. Three, instead of pushing the government to do what my project does, they point to me, an American, with a small-scale volunteer project, as somebody who can get things done.

I have been saying it for years at staff and planning meetings: I hate Somebody. I learned long ago to eliminate Somebody from my activities, because Somebody turns out to be “Nobody” when it is time to move from idea to action.

After informing questioners about those activities as ways of helping South Koreans, I invite them to start their own projects. I promise to help my questioners if they get started.

I have yet to have any takers. Stealing a line from Rev. Jesse Jackson, I tell them, “You are Somebody!” You can get things done, you don’t need to wait for the President or me. But I am starting to suspect that “Somebody” in their minds means “Somebody Else.”

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu.


Creative People Say “no.” (The Korea Times, April 8, 2015)

Creative people say ‘no’


By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

When people ask which living or dead famous person I would most like to meet, my response is “no one.”

After getting over the shock of being alive again, someone like George Washington might be disappointed to learn he first has to chat with a lot of people (including the FBI, conspiracy theorists, doctors). You may want to interview him, but he may have other things on his mind after being resurrected after two centuries.

Sitting down with you, he’d probably be more interested in investigating your clothes, laptop, mobile phone, the TV on the wall, and not want to explain 18th century America to you. “Sir, I’ve been dead for 216 years. The 18th century was really boring. Perhaps you should talk to a history teacher? Today I’m going surfing, swing dancing, karaoke all night, then taking a cruise around the world.”

Assuming there is no crime against killing someone who has already been dead for decades, my one exception would be to bring back Kim Il-sung.

Korean friends who see photos of me with Korean superstars such as Psy and Kim Yuna say I missed a great chance when they learn that I asked only one question: “Could we take a photo together?” They still think I failed when I tell them that I also mentioned one other thing to the world-famous figure skater: We share the same birthday. She responded, “That’s nice.” That’s when I asked for the photo, concluding the conversation had already lasted long enough for her.

I am not even particularly interested in meeting people that I admire, such as my favorite writers. They are writers, they want to write. One of my favorites, who I met back in 1999, recently published a book about intellectuals with about 1,500 footnotes ― I doubt many came from conversations with fans. Chatting with me, he’d probably be watching the time, thinking about a book he’s been reading or an unfinished chapter in his next book.

Even if I asked what I considered to be thought-provoking questions, he’d probably cut me off: ”Thankfully, I (or my editor) skipped that,” or, ”That’s irrelevant. Did you actually read my book? Waiter, check please.”

My favorite singer is Prince. I have been listening to his music for more than three decades. A friend of mine used to call my iPod a ”Princepod” because I had so many Prince songs on it. Prince would probably be bored listening to me praising his music. He is always making new music, that’s what he has been doing for four decades, so how much time would he want to spend chit-chatting with me about music that he has already moved on from?

People want to meet them, but most accomplished people probably want to spend their time focused on their craft. In the essay “Creative People Say ‘No,'”Author Kevin Ashton writes about a Hungarian psychology professor who wrote to 275 creators asking them to be interviewed for a proposed book. A third of them said no, citing a lack of time. A third, probably busy, never responded.

Creative and accomplished people are often too busy to share their time, unless doing so benefits them. Management writer Peter Drucker wrote: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours ― productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

It goes against the flow of the times ― people who focus on their own work get characterized as narcissistic. The Hungarian psychology professor was informed by the secretary of novelist Saul Bellow: Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s “studies.”‘

Secretary to music composer Gyorgy Ligeti wrote to the professor: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study.

This is not meant to be criticism of famous or accomplished people. They probably want to spend their time on the things that made them famous or accomplished in the first place. Meeting me would interrupt them.

I’m not famous, but I’ve also got my own work to do, which is a good reason to ignore critics without constructive advice. I can take a break from my own work to read something from one of my favorite writers with Prince’s music on in the background.

The writer is Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.





Korea Times link


Casey Lartigue: An Advocate for Freedom (Nubian Drifter, August 2014)


Eyes on the Prize: 61st anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Join Freedom Factory for a speech by and roundtable discussion with Casey Lartigue Jr. on the 61st anniversary of the May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The monumental Supreme Court decision struck down legalized segregation in America’s public schools–and challenged the entire system of Jim Crow that was ingrained in American law.

Lartigue, co-editor of the book “Educational freedom in Urban America : Brown v. Board after half a century,” will give a Powerpoint presentation with video clips and photos mixed in with analysis about the lead up to the Brown decision.

school segregation

Donations requested, all proceeds for the event will be donated to the Teach North Korean Refugees project.

-Bank account: (Woori Bank) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: TNKR
http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/2014/11/donate-to-teach-north-korean-refugees/ (for other options to donate)

We have seats for 10 people, so it should an intimate event, with plenty of time for questions, clarifications, challenges.

* * *

By the way, yes, I know media people like anniversary dates with round numbers (10, 25, 50,100), but I gave this speech last year, and an earlier version of it in 2004.


2011 August–Wow, was I busy…

I realize that many people who see me deeply involved in North Korean refugee issues can’t imagine that I have ever done anything else, like I fell off the back of a potato truck one day and woke up wanting to help NK refugees. Well, where were you during 2011-12?

* I was the MC and organizer for Seoul-based events hosting politicians and academics from Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and the United States.
* I was the MC and co-organizer of a conference on the Korea-EU free trade agreement one week after the agreement went into effect in July 2011.
* I was a featured speaker at conferences in Shanghai, Colorado, Virginia and was a VIP guest at a conference in Malaysia. Colorado in April 2012 was particularly great, I led a three hour seminar with American politicians and political activists.
* I became a regular guest on a radio show based in China.
* After I became the Director for International Relations at the Center for Free Enterprise, it went from being unranked in the Global Think Tank Rankings to being ranked in three different categories in the 2012 evaluation of global think tanks.

CFE placed 16th in the category of “Top 45 Think Tanks in China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea.” Among think-tanks outside of the United States of America, CFE went from unranked to 78th.

CFE went from unranked to 106th in the world out of 1,647 nominated think tanks and a total of 6,603 think tanks around the world. Among 35 think tanks in South Korea, the CFE ranked fourth behind the Korea Development Institute, Asan Institute, and Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. Going from unranked to number 4 was incredible.

My colleagues said it was because of one man: Casey Lartigue. (Okay, okay, but Casey also thanked the CEO who took a chance on him, as well as the team members who did the real heavy lifting.)

I loved the many events, but the one that was particularly satisfying was hosting professor Aristides Hatzis from the University of Athens. He gave a major address in downtown Seoul in August 2011 about the failure of welfare populism in Greece. He was interviewed by numerous Korean print, radio and TV outlets, and was invited to address members of the National Assembly. He was favorably mentioned in President Lee Myung-bak’s address to the nation that month. It was a worldwind couple of days that Prof. Hatzis and Yulie Foka-Kavalieraki were here.

That was a non-stop busy time for me, kind of like now, except that I was talking about economic freedom. I already had my eye on North Korea, but had no idea what to do about it. About a month after hosting Prof. Hatzis, I hosted a policy forum with Prof. Andrei Lankov. I was looking for clues about how to get involved with NK issues, and figured I would find a way by listening to him.

I wasn’t even sure it made sense to consider North Korea as part of my “International Relations” job. But I had gotten to know some North Korean refugees, and as I began to learn about the horrors of NK, my focus began to drift from speaking, writing, and organizing events focused on economic freedom, to trying to do something effective about North Korean refugees.

I didn’t join Facebook until July 2012, these photos were taken in August 2011. Before I joined Facebook, people would ask me if I was going to post the photos on Facebook. I was asking then, “Why would I do anything like? What’s the point of Facebook?”

Anyway, except for possibly gaining a few pounds and a different focus, I’m the same guy I was then…

1 Hatzis (1)
I was the MC and organizer of this conference featured Aristides Hatzis of the University of Athens.
1 Hatzis (2)
Prof. Aristides Hatzis of the University of Athens.
1 Hatzis (3)
Interviewed on TBS 101.3 radio. Actually, I declined, I don’t know much about Greece, but the producers/staff insisted, so I joined, but didn’t say much and deflected the questions to Prof. Aristides Hatzis. My role had been to make sure he got to the station on time…
1 Hatzis (4)
We had a nice time at TBS eFM 101.3, then took some photos after the interview.
1 Hatzis (6)
with Eun Hee Cho, then deputy mayor of Seoul.
2 (2)
I was the MC and organizer of the August 9, 2011 forum featuring Prof. Aristides Hatzis of the University of Athens.

2 (0)  Continue reading 2011 August–Wow, was I busy…

2015-03-27 “Well done is better than well said.”

What makes Teach North Korean Refugees great? Well, many things! But lately, it is that it isn’t just Casey and Eunkoo doing everything. These days, I see messages with volunteers talking to each other about ideas, then the next thing I know, I get something in my email asking me to look at what they have done.

150784_618328631644469_1753818773293518865_nYes, it just happened! Karissa Bryant, one of our volunteers who came to us in January, jumped in immediately coaching some of our Track 2 Ambassadors. She also made it clear that she wanted to help us with other things.

She and Suzanne Atwill Stewart are working on documentation that will organize TNKR. They take my words, type it up, then like magic, we are more organized. It was instructive to me to see what they focused on, so it lets me know what I will focus on at future sessions. So it will make me a better co-director by seeing what they have done, and adjusting my approach to upcoming orientations.

1897870_618328978311101_2988367224489865052_nThanks, Suzanne Atwill Stewart and Karissa Bryant. As I often say, the TNKR volunteers are making me look so organized and professional.^^

In one of my stump speeches, I talk about how to be a good volunteer. We have people who not only come up wtih ideas, but they get them done. As I recently saw in the Kakao profile of one of our refugees, “Better well done than well said.”

Although I am cynical, so these days, “Even halfway done is better than well said.”



2015-03-29 Visiting Kyla’s TNKR tutoring session

1 (1)After another busy week of sucking the marrow out of life, this morning I slowed down to attend one of the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) study sessions. These are always delightful, but this one was extra special because Kyla Hoggard has been tutoring one of the refugees weekly for five months.

Some of the matches fall apart shortly the first week because someone realizes they have forgotten something in his or her schedule. Others have big changes in their lives Some teachers just don’t have enough interesting material to teach one person for months or they get bored with one another. So 5 months of weekly tutoring is quite an accomplishment.

Kyla (left) introducing herself at TNKR English Matching session in October 2014. TNKR co-directors Casey Lartigue (center) and Lee Eunkoo (right).

Kyla makes the trip from Suwon to downtown Seoul by 11 a.m. every Sunday, so clearly she is committed to tutoring in TNKR.

It is also a learning experience for me to see how the classes are conducting, advice that I can give to other tutors and refugees in order to make TNKR stronger.

TNKR October 2014 English Matching session
TNKR October 2014 English Matching session

* * *
Oh, and I have been directly connected by another refugee who wants to join TNKR.