Why Kim Jong Un build aquariums as his people starve.
Trained dolphins perform in a new Pyongyang aquarium. (KCNA)
When youthful dictator Kim Jong Un spent who knows how much money building and populating a state-of-the-art dolphin aquarium, opened to great fanfare in Pyongyang this week, it would certainly seem like another moment of madness and unhinged narcissism by a regime that is singularly talented at both. And, of course, it is crazy -- North Korea is in the middle of yet another food crisis, and whatever these highly trained animals and their specialized equipment cost probably could have kept some number of North Koreans fed, or perhaps rebuilt the thousands of shoddy homes destroyed in recent flooding.
But there's an internal logic to these obviously wasteful extravagances, a method to the Kim family madness that is both crueler and shrewder than it might seem. Far from silly, these dolphins -- who will likely live better lives than most North Koreans -- are of a piece with the regime's long-running propaganda campaign that is one of the most important pillars of its against-all-odds rule.
Back in the Cold War, when the Soviet Union generously bolstered its easternmost satellite, North Korea was wealthier than South Korea. As far as North Korean propaganda is concerned, their own steep economic decline and the South's amazing rise never happened. The dozens of state-produced films that attract wide audiences every year -- movie tickets are subsidized and there's little other available entertainment -- depict South Korea as a land of poverty and crime. Many North Koreans, as Barbara Demick reported in her excellent book on the country, gratefully believe that they live in relative wealth and that poor South Koreans are desperate to join them.
The other side of this propaganda worldview means playing up North Korea's wealth. For an outsider, this seems absurd: many North Koreans live in absolute poverty, the country's infrastructure is a disaster, and the country spends much of the year in darkness. But these quality-of-life measurements are measured in relative terms; however many homes or however much electricity the country produces, many North Koreans will have no way of knowing that they have less than most of other people.
High-quality dolphinariums and amusement parks, on the other hand -- the latter of which are, by all accounts, state of the art -- are absolute signs of wealth; you have them or you don't. If Kim is trying to reinforce North Koreans' impressions of their national prosperity, building the best possible luxury destinations is probably an effective way to do it.
North Korean propaganda (the other pillar of which is a sort of race-based nationalism) is surprisingly effective at engendering "a significant degree of mass support," B.R. Myers writes in The Cleanest Race, the definitive book on the subject. It's seen as a legitimate protector of the people and of North Korean greatness against a cruel and jealous outside world. That Kim could manage such an indulgence as a lavish dolphinarium despite sanctions would seem to drive this idea home.
That support might not always last, but if there's a major threat to the Kim regime, it's not market liberalization and it's not North Korean poverty, both Myers and a recent International Crisis Group report argue, neither of which seems to have caused them much trouble. It's the slow trickle of information that South Koreans are richer and happier than the propaganda has led them to believe. "This support cannot be sustained for long, because what the masses are taught -- especially in regard to South Korean public opinion -- is coming increasingly into conflict with what [North Koreans] know to be true," Myers writes.
The regime seems to know the threat and is working to stem the inflow of unapproved information. Police, as Blaine Harden reported in his biography of an escaped work camp prisoner, have taken to randomly shutting off power in apartment blocks, then raiding homes to search for unauthorized video CDs that might be stuck in peoples' players. Still, it's difficult to see how they could keep it up forever, and the Crisis Group report notes that defectors increasingly say that they wanted to leave on finally learning of the south's relative wealth and their own poverty.
So what happens when North Koreans figure out that their supposed prosperity is a lie? The Crisis Group predicts that the Kim family can hold out for "decades," with its near-monopoly on information still intact. But Myers more darkly predicts that the regime will replace the lost legitimacy by escalating its acts of random aggression, writing, "The more the North Korean economy loses its distinctiveness vis-a-vis its counterpart to the south, the more the DPRK must demonstrate its legitimacy through military means." It's almost enough to make you wish for more dolphins in Pyongyang.
A rock structure, built deep underground, is one of the earliest hominin constructions ever found.
In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through. They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).
A Brexit advocate says U.S. support for the EU fundamentally misreads what the institution has become.
With less than a month until British citizens vote on whether the U.K. should stay in or leave the European Union, Americans could be forgiven for being preoccupied with their ownpoliticaldramas. Still, President Obama conspicuously weighed in on the British debate in April, writing in The Daily Telegraph “with the candour of a friend” that the vote’s outcome would be “of deep interest to the United States.” Specifically: “The U.S. and the world need your outsized influence to continue—in Europe.”
British voters themselves aren’t so convinced. Polls currently show the “Remain” side in the lead, but the outcome is by no means assured. Advocates of continued U.K. membership in the 28-member political and economic bloc have argued that exiting the organization would severely damage the British economy; diminish the U.K.’s international influence; and destabilize a European continent already wracked by a refugee crisis and economic problems. Those advocating for a so-called Brexit—the “Leave” camp—argue that it would liberate the U.K. from onerous regulations devised and enforced by non-representative foreign bodies based in Brussels. (EU bodies set policy for member states on, among other things, trade, agriculture, and some fiscal matters; member states generally retain control over their own foreign and defense policies. Britain specifically has negotiated the ability to opt out of certain EU-wide policies, particularly on immigration and further political integration.) With its sovereignty thus restored, the U.K. would be better able to handle its own economic, immigration, and other challenges.
The day—a celebration of corporate conformity disguised as a celebration of individuality—helped to bring about the current dominance of “business casual.”
The New York Times ran a story Wednesday announcing “The End of the Office Dress Code.” The suit and its varied strains, the article argues—corporate uniforms that celebrate, well, corporate uniformity—are giving way to more individualized interpretations of “office attire.” As the writer Vanessa Friedman puts it, “We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life.”
It’s true. We live in a time in which our moguls dress in hoodies and t-shirts, and in which more and more workers are telecommuting—working not just from home, but from PJs. It’s a time, too, when the lines between “work” and “everything else” are increasingly—and sometimes frustratingly—fluid. And so: It’s also a time when many of us are trying to figure out, together, what “work clothes” actually means, and the extent to which the term might vary across professions. As Emma McClendon, who curated a new exhibit on uniforms for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, summed it up: “We are in a very murky period.”
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Washington voters handed Hillary Clinton a primary win, symbolically reversing the result of the state caucus where Bernie Sanders prevailed.
Washington voters delivered a bit of bad news for Bernie Sanders’s political revolution on Tuesday. Hillary Clinton won the state’s Democratic primary, symbolically reversing the outcome of the state’s Democratic caucus in March where Sanders prevailed as the victor. The primary result won’t count for much since delegates have already been awarded based on the caucus. (Sanders won 74 delegates, while Clinton won only 27.) But Clinton’s victory nevertheless puts Sanders in an awkward position.
Sanders has styled himself as a populist candidate intent on giving a voice to voters in a political system in which, as he describes it, party elites and wealthy special-interest groups exert too much control. As the primary election nears its end, Sanders has railed against Democratic leaders for unfairly intervening in the process, a claim he made in the aftermath of the contentious Nevada Democratic convention earlier this month. He has also criticized superdelegates—elected officials and party leaders who can support whichever candidate they chose—for effectively coronating Clinton.
Americans persist in thinking that Adam Smith's rules for free trade are the only legitimate ones. But today's fastest-growing economies are using a very different set of rules. Once, we knew them—knew them so well that we played by them, and won. Now we seem to have forgotten
IN Japan in the springtime of 1992 a trip to Hitotsubashi University, famous for its economics and business faculties, brought me unexpected good luck. Like
several other Japanese universities, Hitotsubashi is almost heartbreaking in
its cuteness. The road from the station to the main campus is lined with cherry
trees, and my feet stirred up little puffs of white petals. Students glided
along on their bicycles, looking as if they were enjoying the one stress-free
moment of their lives.
They probably were. In surveys huge majorities of students say that they study
"never" or "hardly at all" during their university careers. They had enough of
that in high school.
I had gone to Hitotsubashi to interview a professor who was making waves. Since
the end of the Second World War, Japanese diplomats and businessmen have acted
as if the American economy should be the model for Japan's own industrial
growth. Not only should Japanese industries try to catch up with America's lead
in technology and production but also the nation should evolve toward a
standard of economic maturity set by the United States. Where Japan's economy
differed from the American model—for instance, in close alliances between
corporations which U.S. antitrust laws would forbid—the difference should be
considered temporary, until Japan caught up.
What’s harder to believe: that it took a year for Andrea Constand to accuse the star of sexual assault, or that it’s taken 11 years and dozens more women coming forward for those accusations to be heard in court?
To date, more than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct. Constand was the first. In January of 2005 she told police that a year earlier, Cosby had touched and penetrated her after drugging her. A prosecutor decided against proceeding with the case, and Constand followed up with a civil suit that resulted in a 2006 settlement. After that came an accelerating drip of women making allegations about incidents spanning a wide swath of Cosby’s career, from Kristina Ruehli (1965) to Chloe Goins (2008).
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
Speculation about how Ramsay Bolton might die reveals the challenges of devising a cathartic TV death—and illuminates a larger issue facing the series.
Warning: Season 6 spoilers abound.
Ever since Ramsay Bolton revealed himself as Westeros’s villain-in-chief, Game of Thrones fans have wanted him dead. He first appeared in season three disguised as a Northern ally sent to help Theon Greyjoy but quickly turned out to be a lunatic whose appetite for cruelty only grew as the series progressed. (Last year, Atlantic readers voted him the actual worst character on television.) After several colorful and nauseating years of rape, torture, murder, and bad visual puns, speculation about the Bolton bastard’s looming death has reached its peak this sixth season. But “Will Ramsay die this season?” also gives way to a slightly more complicated question: “How should Ramsay die?”