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.
Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead
During the seven years that I worked as a management consultant, I spent a lot of time trying to look older than I was. I became pretty good at furrowing my brow and putting on somber expressions. Those who saw through my disguise assumed I made up for my youth with a fabulous education in management. They were wrong about that. I don’t have an M.B.A. I have a doctoral degree in philosophy—nineteenth-century German philosophy, to be precise. Before I took a job telling managers of large corporations things that they arguably should have known already, my work experience was limited to part-time gigs tutoring surly undergraduates in the ways of Hegel and Nietzsche and to a handful of summer jobs, mostly in the less appetizing ends of the fast-food industry.
The commander in chief embraces a peculiar worldview in which bogus claims are retroactively justified and evidence simply conjured into existence.
President Trump remains peculiarly fixated on the cover of Time magazine. He has claimed in the past that he holds the record for most covers, but in an interview with Michael Scherer for this week’s magazine, the president asked if he was the all-time leader. Scherer had to break the bad news to him: Richard M. Nixon still held the lead—though he added, “He was in office for longer, so give yourself time.” “Ok, good. I’m sure I’ll win,” Trump replied.
The exchange is full of intrigue. Neither man noted that though Nixon was elected to two terms, his presidency was foreshortened by paranoia and lawbreaking. Nor did they note the increasingly frequent comparisons between Nixon’s terminal scandal and Trump’s own difficulties. But in the course of an interview about Trump’s extremely distant relationship with the truth—from obvious lies to head-scratching speculation—the president offered Nixonian maxim of his own.
Michael Anton actively courts controversy with his extreme views. But how much influence does he have in the White House?
Michael Anton warned last year that 2016 was the Flight 93 election: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”
Americans charged. Donald Trump became president of the United States. And Anton, the author of that now-notorious essay, is helping to fly the plane—running communications for the National Security Council.
Anton cuts a curious figure through the Trump White House. A thoroughly educated dandy, his writings are at the core of an effort to construct an intellectual framework around the movement that elected a president who has shown no inclination to read books and who speaks in an unpretentious New York vernacular.
"I’m a huge admirer,” White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said. “I think Michael is one of the most significant intellects in this nationalist movement.”
At the president’s behest, House Republicans will render what might be a final verdict on the Affordable Care Act in a high-stakes vote on Friday.
On Thursday, the Affordable Care Act celebrated its seventh birthday. On Friday, it just might celebrate a most unlikely reprieve.
In a take-it-or-leave-it message delivered by his senior advisers to Capitol Hill, President Trump late Thursday told bickering House Republicans they had one final opportunity to repeal and replace the health-care law they have decried since its enactment. At the president’s behest, Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday will call a vote on the American Health Care Act and dare recalcitrant conservatives to defeat it. If the bill fails, Trump plans to keep Obamacare in place and move on with other parts of his agenda—a move that would enrage conservative activists while conceding an enormous defeat for the new administration.
Donald Trump flaunted his elastic conception of truth in an interview with Time—but he may yet learn that facts are stubborn things.
How can anyone convince the most powerful man in the world of something he does not wish to believe?
It’s not an idle question. In a remarkable interview with Time’s Michael Scherer, President Trump flaunted his elastic relationship with truth. Instead of weighing evidence, he explained, he prefers to trust his gut. “I’m a very instinctual person,” he said, “but my instinct turns out to be right.”
Trump unrepentantly rehearsed his litany of false or unsubstantiated claims with Scherer. Was Ted Cruz’s father linked to Lee Harvey Oswald? “Why do you say that I have to apologize? I’m just quoting the newspaper.” (The newspaper in question is the National Enquirer.) Had the president tapped his phones? “A lot of information has just been learned, and a lot of information may be learned over the next coming period of time. We will see what happens.” Were there 3 million fraudulent votes cast in 2016? “Well I think I will be proved right about that too.”
Party leaders postponed a House vote Thursday after President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan failed to win enough support.
Updated on March 23 at 4:28 p.m. ET
Lacking the majority needed to pass their bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, House Republican leaders have postponed a planned Thursday vote, imperiling President Trump’s first major legislative priority.
The move was an indication that a series of meetings Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan had with reluctant members in the party’s conservative and centrist wings had failed to achieve a consensus. Members of the House Freedom Caucus left a meeting with the president early in the afternoon saying there was “no deal” as they pushed Ryan to move the bill further to the right. And for Trump and Ryan, the delay dashed their hope of voting to dismantle the law on the seventh anniversary of its signing by former President Barack Obama.
Two Princeton economists elaborate on their work exploring rising mortality rates among certain demographics.
Two years ago, the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton published an alarming revelation: Middle-aged white Americans without a college degree were dying in greater numbers, even as people in other developed countries were living longer. The husband-and-wife team argued, in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that these white Americans are facing“deaths of despair”—suicide, overdoses from alcohol and drug, and alcohol-related liver disease.
The paper caused a stir in academic circles and in the media, and has remained in the public discourse following Donald Trump’s win partly on the strength of his support from these same middle-aged white Americans (the alive ones, to be clear). The paper, however, couldn’t answer the question everyone had: Why was this demographic in particular struggling? It couldn’t be purely the economic pain they faced in the wake of globalization; after all, European countries are also affected by globalization, and their residents are getting healthier and living longer. And non-whites in the U.S. are living longer than they used to as well, and they are subject to the same economic forces as middle-age whites and are struggling, at least in economic terms, even more.
Trump promised to revitalize the blighted heartland. His policies will punish them.
President Donald Trump might be consumed by half-truths and conspiracy theories, but during the campaign he brought attention to a very real phenomenon: regional inequality. He promised not only a proper swamp-draining in Washington, D.C., but also a renaissance for the Rust Belt, Appalachia, and America’s blighted heartland.
Even when his prognoses were fantasies—neither trade wars nor border walls will ever bring back 1950s-level manufacturing employment—the underlying diagnosis was pretty much right. For much of the 20th century, productivity in America’s poorest regions actually grew faster than in rich metros. But decades of convergence have come to a screeching halt in the 2000s. Rich coastal cities have left the rest of the country behind. In 1980, the typical New York City worker earned 80 percent more than the national average. By 2013, he earned 172 percent more.
How “engagement” made the web a less engaging place
Here’s a little parable. A friend of mine was so enamored of Google Reader that he built a clone when it died. It was just like the original, except that you could add pictures to your posts, and you could Like comments. The original Reader was dominated by conversation, much of it thoughtful and earnest. The clone was dominated by GIFs and people trying to be funny.
I actually built my own Google Reader clone. (That’s part of the reason this friend and I became friends—we both loved Reader that much.) But my version was more conservative: I never added any Like buttons, and I made it difficult to add pictures to comments. In fact, it’s so hard that I don’t think there has ever been a GIF on the site.
New research on the creatures’ family tree could “shake dinosaur paleontology to its core.”
When I first read Matthew Baron’s new dinosaur study, I actually gasped.
For most of my life, I’ve believed that the dinosaurs fell into two major groups: the lizard-hipped saurischians, which included the meat-eating theropods like Tyrannosaurus and long-necked sauropodomorphs like BrontosaurusYes, Brontosaurus. It’s a thing again. ; and the bird-hipped ornithischians, which included horned species like Triceratops and armored ones like Stegosaurus. That’s how dinosaurs have been divided since 1887. It’s what I learned as a kid. It’s what all the textbooks and museums have always said. And according to Baron, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, it’s wrong.
By thoroughly comparing 74 early dinosaurs and their relatives, Baron has radically redrawn the two major branches of the dinosaur family tree. Defying 130 years of accepted dogma, he splits the saurischians apart, leaving the sauropods in one branch, and placing the theropods with the ornthischians on the other. Put it this way: This is like someone telling you that neither cats nor dogs are what you thought they were, and some of the animals you call “cats” are actually dogs.