Thursday, May 31, 2012

Treadmill fail

If you're having a crappy day, just watch this and you might feel a little better. :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Good grief

Look what I stumbled upon today. Oh Trader Joe, you know the way to a girl's heart. (Now if you could only make these in dark chocolate...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Eagleman Stag

Every once in a while, there comes along a body of work so imaginative it makes you believe all things are possible. Watch this absolutely lovely stop-motion animation (winner of the 2011 BAFTA for Best Short Animation) and you'll know what I mean. UK filmmaker Mikey Please incorporates thousands of hand-made models across 115 sets to tell the story of Peter Eagleman, an entomologist obsessed with the concept of time. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Public breasts

LA-mom Jamie Lynne Grumet on the cover of this week's Time.

What do you think of this week's issue of Time magazine?  Supermodel-hot, skinny jeans-wearing mom breastfeeding her strapping, almost-4-year-old boy who's clearly old enough to pour himself a glass of milk. 

Natural? Freakish? Or perhaps a little of both?

I can't get over their expressions. 

Her's: "I am earth mother and you WISH you looked this good breastfeeding." 

His: "Aw yeah, SUCKA!"

Here's a take from the LA Times:

Time magazine breast-feeding cover provokes strong reaction

L.A. mom Jamie Lynne Grumet is shown breast-feeding her nearly 4-year-old son. The picture and story on attachment parenting marks anniversary of Dr. Barry Sears book.

A Time magazine cover with L.A. mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breast-feedingher strapping, almost 4-year-old son promises to be the head-snapping checkout-stand stopper of the season, based on the fevered reaction provoked by the magazine's pre-Mother's Daylanding.
Editors at the news magazine said they ran the provocative cover photo and a story on attachment parenting to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dr. Barry Sears book on the subject, which helped power the movement for moms to establish deeper, and more prolonged, physical bonds with their children.
Grumet, 26, explains in a Q&A article how she herself nursed until she was 6 years old. She said her mom was not a hippie but her dad was a UC Berkeley-trained nutritional scientist. His training informed the family's nursing imperative.
The newly famous mom regularly blogs about her parenting experiences (and posts to a Facebook page) at "" — an apparent reference to her youthful appearance. The blog appeared to have crashed Thursday under the weight of her new fame.
On the Facebook page, Grumet discusses a variety of topics, including the challenges of operating as a multi-racial family. An adopted son is black, while Grumet is white. One entry reads: "Being an adoptive transracal family we always knew we were going to face hardships other families will never have to deal with."
Grumet seemed surprised by her sudden fame: "Oh my gosh!" she posted on her Facebook page. "Aram and I are on the cover of @timemagazine." She is expected to appear on the "Today" show Friday.
Sears and other advocates of attachment parenting testify to its many physiological and psychological benefits, though Time's reporter on the story says there is no long-term study that proves the benefits. The program calls for not only nursing children well into their toddler years, but for toting young kids in slings, to be closer to their parents, and to encourage them to sleep in bed with mom and dad.
Reactions to the provocative photo of Grumet and son Aram ran the gamut. "How ridiculous can Time magazine get to prove a point?" wrote one woman on Twitter. The parenting blog expressed ambivalence: "Is it extreme to breast feed a 3-year-old? That depends on how you feel about extended breast feeding, of course. But one thing is for sure: it's totally, totally hot. Or gross and weird. Or both."
Rick Stengel, Time's managing editor, explaining the cover, told Forbes magazine, "To me, the whole point of a magazine cover is to get your attention. From the moment that we started talking about this story as a cover possibility, it was like I couldn't get out of the meetings. There was so much opinion and passion about it and discussion."
Among Grumet's comments to Time:
- "My mother breast-fed me until I was six years old until I self-weaned. Her encouragement to breast-feed is why we were so successful."
- "It's really warm. It's like embracing your mother, like a hug. You feel comforted, nurtured and really, really loved. I had so much self-confidence as a child, and I know it's from that. I never felt like she would ever leave me. I felt that security."
Grumet sounded, pre-publication anyway, like she was prepared for some flak.
But people have to realize this is biologically normal," she told the magazine. "It's not socially normal. The more people see it, the more it'll become normal in our culture. That's what I'm hoping. I want people to see it."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reigniting the Mommy Wars

We women have opinions -- and very strong, often polarizing ones -- about
our role as mothers. (Illustration: The New York Times)

I came across this interesting discussion on The New York Times "Room for Debate" home page. Looks like the Mommy Wars are in full swing again, thanks to recent books like Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and now French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter's latest read, The Conflict.

I remember all too well how these topics-- choosing career over staying at home (or vice versa), breastfeeding, co-sleeping, homeschooling, etc.-- ignite something primal in a woman. Several years ago, when I was a columnist at a small newspaper in Southern California, I wrote a few pieces about choosing to return to the workplace after my son turned one. The emails poured in. Some encouraging and thoughtful. Most nasty and down-right mean. 

Wow, I thought, I've really struck a nerve. 

We women have opinions-- and very strong, often polarizing ones-- about our role as mothers. It stems from the fact that we are passionate about our families and would do anything for our babies (it's that "Mama Bear" mentality). We are well-read on the subject of parenting and often tackle child-rearing with military precision. We see it as our God-given jobs to do the absolute best in raising the next generation.

But we are also overwhelmed with the task at hand, guilt-ridden, and just bone-tired.

Most moments in motherhood aren't glamorous. Smelling like poop and spit-up all day certainly don't make you feel sexy or accomplished. Tucking the kids in bed and calling that "quality time" because of a demanding career can make any woman feel like a crummy mommy. 

But the worst part is, women are quicker to judge each another than lift one another up. I learned this when I wrote those columns. I still feel it amongst my peers as the chatter continues to percolate ("Did you know so-and-so's parents basically raise her children?" "I can't believe she still lets her children sleep with her-- she must never have sex with her husband," "She went where for college? And now she's just staying at home?"). We can be so cruel. 

Ultimately, isn't feminism about choice? Isn't it what our foremothers fought for? The right to vote. The right to be heard? The right to have vigorous public discussions like this one? 

I enjoyed reading the sampling of opinions in this section. I appreciated the honesty and intentionality of these women. Let's put an end to the Mommy Wars and start extending the olive branch. After all, there's always room for debate, right?

The U.S. publication of “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” by the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter is getting a lot of attention in the press; indeed, it’s a book club feature on the Motherlode blog in The New York Times.
Is Badinter right? Has women’s obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism? In particular, has this trend of “attachment parenting” been bad for working moms?

Attachment Parenting Is Feminism

Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik, an actress, is currently starring in the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory."She is the author of "Beyond the Sling." She has a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
UPDATED MAY 1, 2012, 2:15 PM
Attachment parenting is an umbrella term coined by a pediatrician, William Sears, to describe a style of parenting that embraces the normal biology of pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding and bonding, all in the name of raising children who demonstrate the psychological classification of being securely attached. By definition, it eschews notions of perfection but instead seeks to educate women and families about the natural, organic and normal ways our bodies were made and how to best maximize the potential for securely attached children who live in harmony with parents who are not afraid to be imperfect.
The women who pioneered attachment-parenting support groups and publications are not competitive celebrity divas with nannies on the side.
The women who pioneered groups supportive of attachment-parenting, like La Leche League International, and started publications like Mothering are not competitive corporate-minded trendy celebrity divas toting secret nannies on the side, nor are they perfection-driven bored subjugated barefoot lonely women setting feminism back 200 years. They are educated, humble and devoted women who believe it is just as much a feminist choice to be a parent as it is to not be one.
Here are examples of what mothers who practice attachment parenting are concerned about. We care about what hormonal contraception does to your body and your brain. We research why doctors prescribe birth control to teenagers and adults who don't have a "regular" menstrual cycle. We object to routine inductions with pitocin and interventions during labor because of the risks to the mother and the baby. We believe that breast milk is biologically and nutritionally superior to anything formula manufacturers tell you is equal to it, and that sleeping next to your baby releases positive hormones that facilitate bonding. We have empowered ourselves and refuse to endure a male-centered obstetric history that has taken women’s bodies and molded them to their preferences for their convenience, their comfort and for their world view.
Now tell me how attachment parenting is inconsistent with feminism?

Working Moms Are Right to Be Realistic

Heather McDonald

Heather McDonald is a stand-up comedian, a series regular on "After Lately" and a writer and producer for "Chelsea Lately." She is the author of "You'll Never Blue Ball in This Town Again." She is on Twitter.
APRIL 30, 2012
Yes, women’s obsession with being the perfect mother, especially “attachment parenting,” has been bad for working mothers.
Being a mother is part of who you are, but it should not be all of who you are.
I will start by admitting a very dirty secret about myself as a mother. I gave birth to two sons and did not breastfeed either one of them. After trying with my first son, Drake, for three horrible days, I gave him a bottle of Similac formula, and seeing him suck it down was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. Two months after Drake was born I got an opportunity to work on a film that I’m sure I would have turned down if I had been breastfeeding, because it would have been impossible to do while pumping every two hours. And the bonus of bottles is that my husband did every 5 a.m. feeding for both of my boys.
When my younger son Brandon was only 18 months old I got an offer to write full time on the late-night TV show "Chelsea Lately." I was torn because he was still so little, but then a friend said to me, “In seven years he won’t even look up from his Xbox when you enter the room, and you’ll kick yourself for not taking this dream job.” That was great advice, and I’m pleased to say that on most days they do look up from their Xboxes when I enter a room. Also, if I had waited a few years, the job and the opportunities that have come with it would not have been possible.
Being a mother is part of who you are, but it should not be all of who you are. There is no parenting secret that ensures that your children will grow up and be successful adults. So why would you want to sacrifice your career, your financial security and oftentimes your happiness all in the name of motherhood? To me that is putting all your eggs in one basket, pun intended.
No, I did not breastfeed, make organic baby food or co-sleep with my children. I instead slept with their father, and I am still happily married to him today. Plus, believe it or not, neither of my formula-fed sons have ever had a fever, an earache or even been on antibiotics. In fact, my son Drake is the tallest kid on his baseball team and when asked by the other team moms what I was feeding him, I proudly said: “Cow’s milk and animal meat bought from a regular grocery store.”

Good Riddance to Feminism!

LaShaun Williams
LaShaun Williams is a columnist and blogger who writes about parenting and culture. She is on Twitter.
APRIL 30, 2012
Modern motherhood is complicated. Naturally we want to be caregivers and nurturers, but, socially, we also want to be professional powerhouses. And, the truth is we can have both — just not at the same time, as dedication to one often results in forgoing pieces of the other. Understandably, this is why working mothers generally experience feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
The damage that 'attachment parenting' is doing to feminism is a good thing.
And, for that, we can blame feminism — a movement that, while liberating women to follow their dreams, devalued marriage and the familial and societal benefits of homemaking and encouraged self-indulgence. It appears millennial moms have taken note, choosing to pattern themselves after their grandmothers rather than their baby boomer moms. A 2007 Pew Research survey showed a rising number of new mothers, 48 percent, consider full-time motherhood to be the ideal situation, while only 21 percent of working mothers believe working full time is ideal. One could presume the rise of “attachment parenting” is partially backlash from the children of Steinem-ites left for daycare and afterschool programs.
That is not to insinuate that all working mothers are bad mothers, but the present feminist climate pressures women to work. We should question why so many of us are working — single and married women alike. Is it because we bought the feminist lie that we don't need a husband? Is it because we want to prove to the world that we are worth something? Or is it to live in a ritzy neighborhood and drive an Audi Q7?
No mother is or will ever be perfect, but perhaps the damage that “attachment parenting” is doing to feminism is a good thing. Parts of feminism deserve to be re-examined, as they have marred some of what it means to be a woman. That is not to label this trend as the best method of parenting or demonize working moms, but to highlight its support of being a strong presence in your child’s life — which is everything. Toys, extravagant birthday parties and “success,” do not suffice as replacements for Mommy’s presence.
When we bring children into this world we also agree to sacrifice parts of ourselves. If anything the surge of June Cleaver 2.0s is a great reminder to career-driven mothers who may have forgotten that family comes first.

We Want Perfection, but Also Need Sleep

Erica Jong
Erica Jong is the author of 22 books, including "Fear of Flying.''
UPDATED MAY 1, 2012, 9:41 AM
Does progressive modern motherhood destroy women’s freedom? Is the young, ecologically savvy mother the enemy of her own advancement? Let’s first agree that there is no such thing as perfection in motherhood -- or in any human activity.
What Elisabeth Badinter is addressing in "The Conflict" is the urge to be a perfect mother. But it's a quixotic urge. If you are preparing organic baby food, breastfeeding on demand, washing cloth diapers and co-sleeping, there's little time for writing, filing, painting, data entry, making music, nursing, engaging in politics, teaching or appearing on TV to tell other women what to do.
We all parent the best we can. But only an affluent mom can afford co-sleeping, making pure food, using cloth diapers and being perfectly ecological.
We all parent the best we can. Being human, we’re ambivalent. We want perfection for our babies, but we also need sleep. Some of us enjoy breastfeeding; some of us don’t. Some of us can't nurse easily and are annoyed by La Leche's propaganda. Women are individuals in parenting, and why not?
Sadly, because of the enormous gap between rich and poor, some mothers can afford helpers, but many can't. Those who can would be kinder to refrain from criticizing other women. It's absurd to say that Ann Romney's life as a mom is similar to the life of a struggling mother with five sons. Some moms must work and can't afford help. They need day care or they won't earn money outside the home.
At certain historic moments, grandparents took on childrearing responsibilities. In many cultures, they still do. Chinese grandparents who are able to retire at 55 are seen all over Beijing bouncing grandbabies. In the United States, we can't afford to retire at 55.
How lovely to be affluent and hang out with your grandchildren, but many haven’t got this choice.
So let's look at the whole picture, not snapshots. An affluent mom who doesn’t need to earn can afford co-sleeping, making pure food, using cloth diapers and being perfectly ecological. Let’s admit that it takes resources.
As the zipless gran, I find it pleasant to write in the morning and see my grandchildren after 3 p.m.
I only wish all women could enjoy such a life.

Martyr Mothering Has Drawbacks

Pamela Druckerman
Pamela Druckerman is the author of "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting."
APRIL 30, 2012
American women face two powerful and contradictory desires. We’re supposed to be liberated and financially independent. But we also think we should center our lives around our kids. If we do that, our careers suffer.
French moms are onto something. They think it's unhealthy for mothers and children to spend all their time together.
To face down this dilemma, middle-class moms embrace guilt. We kind of love it. Guilt is the emotional tax we pay for going to work, having our highlights retouched or plopping our kids in front of the TV. If we feel guilty about these things, it allows us to do them. We’re not just being selfish. We’ve “paid” for our lapses.
Of course, guilt also saps the pleasure from these activities. Sociologists even have a name for free time that’s spent worrying: contaminated time. The hours that mothers actually spend with their children (up sharply since the 1960s) aren’t always pleasant either. We’ve become so afraid of damaging kids that we often don’t teach them basic social skills, such as not interrupting.
The French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter points out that, in general, French mothers haven’t succumbed to this spiral. They feel as overstretched and inadequate as we do, and absolutely recognize the temptation to feel guilty. But they don’t valorize this guilt. To the contrary, they consider it unhealthy and try to banish it.
French mothers don’t love their children any less. But the dogma of attachment parenting -- which helped plant the fear of bottles and babysitters in American mothers -- never took hold in France. French moms believe it’s unhealthy for mothers and children to spend all their time together, and that kids need a bit of distance to build autonomy and resilience. And as Badinter points out, what are mothers supposed to do once their kids are grown?
From what I’ve seen, Americans are starting to doubt whether martyr mothering is a good idea. For starters, it feels lousy. Then there’s the obvious paradox: Should we sacrifice all our pleasures for our daughters, only to have them do the same for their own kids in 20 years? And as the first generations of “teacup children” head off to college and try to hold down jobs, we’re wondering whether this new style of parenting is even good for kids.
We should listen to Madame Badinter’s message.

It’s About Parenting, Not ‘Mothering’

Annie Urban
Annie Urban blogs about parenting, feminism, social justice and the intersection among them at PhD in Parenting.
APRIL 30, 2012
Elisabeth Badinter argues that attachment parenting is “tethering women to the home and family to an extent not seen since the 1950s.” She calls it “voluntary servitude” and, like Erica Jong in her essay on the Madness of Motherhood, she worries that this obsession with perfect mothering amounts to a reversal of the progress her generation made. I appreciate the ground work of these second-wave feminists, but mothers in the third wave of feminism are charting a new path to equality.
Attachment parenting represents a third wave of feminism that charts a new path to equality.
Too often the discussion about women’s choices (stay at home, go back to work) ignores the role of fathers. To achieve meaningful equality, we need to push for a society that values fathers who strike a balance between their career and their family life too. Women shouldn’t have to be equally uninvolved parents to reach their goals; they should be able to ask their spouses to step up too.
Having children involves rewards and sacrifices that should be shared by both parents. I took some maternity leave and breastfed both of my children for more than two years. My husband washed the cloth diapers and took six years off of his career to stay home until our youngest was 3 years old.
For us, attachment parenting wasn’t about perfection. It was an investment in our relationship with our children, and it was the easiest way to parent. Who wants to get up to make a bottle at 2 a.m. after a hard day at work, when you can just roll over and flop out a breast? Who wants to lug a Pack N Play, stroller, high chair, bottles, Thermos, formula and more on a family vacation, when you can just pop the baby in a sling and go?
Attachment parenting can make it easier for a working mother to bond with her children when they are together, but it isn’t something she can do alone. It requires a partnership (at a minimum) and a village (ideally) that rejects traditional patriarchal models of motherhood and instead adopts a nuanced flexible approach to balancing work, family and community.
My generation of feminists certainly struggles with work-life balance. But my hope is that our struggles, and our victories, will pave the path for political and societal changes that allow our daughters to have both the career and the family that they want, and for our sons to do so too.

Let’s Not Pass Judgment

Maria Blois
Maria Blois is the author of "Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition."
UPDATED APRIL 30, 2012, 5:59 PM
I wrote a book about parenting after I had two children. Now I have five children, and I laugh when I am asked when I will write another book. I laugh because I feel like I know less now than I did in those early, heady days of new parenthood, when everything was possible and I felt like my choices were dictating the kind of children I would have.
Attachment parenting does not do anything to us; it is simply an ideology we can use.
Back then, I thought that if I made all the right choices, my babies would have it all. I embraced the principles of attachment parenting and experienced all the joys of peaceful, content children.
Then my fifth was critically ill. Although I was parenting the same way, he could not receive it the same way. He was miserable. He cried constantly, lost weight, refused to be held, comforted, refused to nurse. No matter what I did, he never responded the way I expected. This went on for months as he underwent test after test to find out what was wrong. We eventually found our way through his medical crisis, and he slowly began to get better and is now about to celebrate his first birthday.
But during this past year, it has been devastating to think that I couldn't be the kind of mother I wanted to be for him. Was I obsessed with being a “perfect mother” instead of the mother he needed? Was I judging myself more harshly because of parenting ideologies like attachment parenting? Was I using attachment parenting to grade myself instead of using it as a tool for being present for my child?
It seems to me that we are targeting the wrong culprit in this debate. Attachment parenting does not do anything to us, it does not “destroy feminism,” it is not “bad for working moms.” It is simply an ideology we can use within the context of our own life and priorities. Like any tool, it can be misused and wielded as a weapon of judgement.
Parenthood is humbling beyond measure. Let us be kind to one another.
(Illustration by Andre da Loba, The New York Times)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Escape From a North Korean Prison

Born in a forced labor camp, he knew nothing of the outside world. Then he breached the barbed wire

Shin Dong-hyuk was born into captivity and lived in a labor camp until just a few years ago. Now, having fled North Korea, he now lives in Seoul, broadcasting a weekly web show featuring other North Korean defectors. WSJ's Evan Ramstad reports.

On Jan. 2, 2005, 23-year-old Shin Dong-hyuk squirmed through an electric fence and escaped from Camp 14, a political prison camp in North Korea. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are estimated to be held in the country's political camps, and Mr. Shin is the only person known to have been born in a camp who has made his way to the West. (His father, Mr. Shin eventually learned, was a prisoner because two of his brothers had defected to the south during the Korean War. Mr. Shin's crime was being his father's son.) In this excerpt from "Escape From Camp 14," Blaine Harden details his unlikely escape.

In 1998, when Shin turned 16, he became an adult worker. His years of schooling to that point had only served as training for hard labor.

Many of his classmates were assigned to coal mines, where accidental death from cave-ins, explosions and gas poisonings was common. Shin was lucky—he was assigned to a pig farm, where 200 men and women raised about 800 pigs, along with goats, rabbits, chickens and a few cows. As a prisoner, Shin was not allowed to eat the meat of any livestock on the farm. But he and other prisoners could sometimes steal. The smell of roasting pork on the farm would alert guards, leading to beatings and weeks of half-rations, so they ate purloined pork raw.

In March 2003, Shin was transferred to the camp's garment factory, a crowded, chaotic, stressful work site where 2,000 women and 500 men made military uniforms. Meals were skimpy, hours were endless, and Shin was always hungry. There was pressure to snitch on fellow prisoners.

Author Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived. He talks with WSJ's John Bussey.

In the garment factory, the superintendent wanted Shin to inform on an important new prisoner. Park Yong Chul, short and stout, with a shock of white hair, had lived abroad. He knew senior people in the North Korean government. The superintendent ordered Shin to teach Park how to fix sewing machines and to become his friend. Shin was to report back on everything that Park said about his past, his politics and his family. "Park needs to confess," the superintendent said. "He's holding out on us."

In October 2004, Shin and Park began spending 14 hours a day together. Park paid polite attention to Shin's instructions on sewing machine maintenance. Just as politely, he avoided questions about his past. But after a few weeks, Park began to open up. He said he was raised in a large apartment in Pyongyang and had followed the privileged educational trajectory of North Korea's elites, studying in East Germany and the Soviet Union. He patiently attempted to explain what life was like outside Camp 14.

As they walked the factory floor, Park told Shin that the giant country next door was called China. Its people were rapidly getting rich. He said that in the south there was another Korea. In South Korea, he said, everyone was already rich. Park explained the concept of money. He told Shin about the existence of television and computers and mobile phones. He explained that the world was round.

Much of what Park talked about, especially at the beginning, was difficult for Shin to understand or care about. What delighted him—what he kept begging Park for—were stories about food and eating. These were the stories that kept Shin up at night fantasizing about a better life. Freedom, in Shin's mind, was just another word for grilled meat.

Intoxicated by what he heard, Shin made perhaps the first free decision of his life. He chose not to snitch. And he soon began thinking about escape.
Manchul Kim for The Wall Street Journal
Shin Dong-hyuk standing in front of a section of the Berlin Wall on display in Seoul, South Korea, on March 21.

Their plan was simple—and insanely optimistic. Shin would get them over the fence. Park would lead them to China, where his uncle would give them shelter, money and assistance in traveling on to South Korea.

Their chance came around New Year's Day, a rare holiday when machines in the factory went silent for two days. Shin learned in late December that on Jan. 2, his crew of sewing-machine repairmen and some of the seamstresses would be escorted to a mountain ridge on the eastern edge of the camp. There, they would spend the day trimming trees and stacking wood. He and Park agreed they would try their escape that day.

Early that morning, a foreman herded Shin, Park and about 25 other prisoners up the mountain. The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly on a heavy snow pack, but it was cold and the wind was blowing.

The firewood detail placed Shin and Park within a stone's throw of the fence that ran along the spine of the mountain. A guard tower rose from the fence line about a quarter mile to the north. Guards, walking two abreast, patrolled the perimeter of the fence. Shin noticed lengthy intervals between patrols.

At around 4 p.m., Shin and Park sidled toward the fence, trimming trees as they moved. No one seemed to notice.

Shin soon found himself facing the fence, which was about 10 feet high. The fence consisted of seven or eight strands of high-voltage barbed wire, spaced about a foot apart, strung between tall poles.

He and Park had told each other that if they could get through the fence without touching the wires, they would be fine. As to how they might be able to do that, they were not sure. Yet as the hour of the escape drew nearer, Shin surprised himself by not feeling afraid.

It was time. "Let's run!" he yelled.

Their plan had been for Shin to stay in the lead until they got clear of the fence, but he slipped and fell to his knees on the icy patrol trail.

Park was first to the fence. Falling to his knees, he shoved his arms, head and shoulders between the two lowest strands of wire. Seconds later, Shin saw sparks and smelled burning flesh.

Most electric fences built for security purposes repel trespassers with a painful but exceedingly brief pulse of current. Lethal electric fences, however, use a continuous current that can make a person lock on to the wire as voltage causes involuntary muscle contractions, paralysis and death.

Before Shin could get to his feet, Park had stopped moving. The weight of his body pulled down the bottom strand of wire, pinning it against the snowy ground and creating a small gap in the fence. Shin crawled over his friend's body, using it as a kind of insulating pad. As he squirmed through the fence, Shin could feel the current.

Shin was nearly through the fence when his lower legs slipped off Park's torso and came into direct contact, through the two pairs of pants he was wearing, with the bottom strand. Voltage from the wire caused severe burns from his ankles to his knees. But it would be a couple of hours before Shin noticed how badly he had been injured.

When he cleared the fence, he had no idea where to go. The only direction he could comprehend was down. He ran for about two hours, always heading downhill, until he entered a mountain valley. There were barns and scattered houses. He heard no alarms, no gunfire, no shouting. As far as he could tell, no one was chasing him.

As the adrenaline of flight began to ebb, Shin noticed that the legs of his pants were sticky. He rolled them up and saw blood oozing out of his legs. It was very cold, well below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. He had no coat.

Park had not told him where he might find China.
—From "Escape From Camp 14" by Blaine Harden, to be published Thursday by Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA). Copyright © 2012 by Blaine Harden.
Finding Mr. Shin
In 2008, I was a correspondent for the Washington Post, looking for a story about North Korea. I heard about Shin Dong-hyuk through the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and we met in Seoul. My first article about him skimmed the surface of his life, but over the next three years, during weeks of conversations in Seoul and the U.S., he allowed me to explore his past more fully.
North Korea denies the existence of the camps (although they are visible in satellite photos). At least 26 other eyewitnesses from the camps have made it to the free world. (Two escaped; the others were released before defecting through China.) Mr. Shin's story has been vetted and scrutinized by former camp prisoners and guards, as well as by South Korean lawyers and international human rights investigators. Scars on his back, legs and right hand corroborate his accounts of torture and escape.
—Blaine Harden