Political Animal


GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL….Megan McArdle reviews Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel today. She likes it but has a couple of complaints.

I liked it too, and I don’t even have the complaints she does. It was, simply, a terrific book, with a truly eye-opening and compelling explanation for why Eurasian civilizations were the ones that took over the world, not Australian or African or North American ones. The short answer: they started first and managed to conquer the world before anyone else was able to catch up.

One word of warning: the subject of the book is strictly early development, so it does not try to explain why one particular Eurasian civilization (Western Christendom) has so far been the winner over the other three Eurasian civilizations (China, the Middle East, and India). Diamond actually does address this very briefly with a few guesses, but that’s all they are, and he makes no pretense otherwise. So don’t dive into it expecting a comprehensive history of the world.

This is a highly recommended book, one of my all-time favorites. You can read my longer review of it here.


DEPARTMENT OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES….A friend of mine tells me that some local residents where he lives complained about a dangerous stretch of road a few years ago. The city finally agreed to put in a light, which was installed two years ago. But it turned out that people didn’t know the light was there, so they just barreled on through, a situation even more dangerous than the original one. So the city installed a bunch of raised dots in the road to warn people that something was coming. This worked, but then everyone started complaining that the constant flow of cars over the dots made too much noise. So now they are building a 1000-foot sound wall to cut down the noise.

Exercise for the reader: what is the likely unintended consequence of the wall?

ANSWER: According to correspondent Ian D, the answer is: graffiti.

NORTH KOREA….David Adesnik of OxBlog

NORTH KOREA….David Adesnik of OxBlog wants to talk about North Korea, and points to his contribution to the debate here. So let’s talk.

What are the options for dealing with North Korea? There are three:

  • A military strike. Clinton considered this eight years ago, but backed off for obvious reasons. And quite aside from a lack of domestic support, a military strike is hardly feasible unless it’s supported by the South Koreans, which it isn’t. So that’s out.

  • Economic sanctions. Unfortunately, we’re already doing this and there’s little evidence that they are making much difference.

  • Negotiation.

So, given that negotiation is really the only option, how would I rate Bush’s performance on North Korea? Let me put it this way: how would you rate the emperor’s performace in the throne room in Return of the Jedi? With the right nudge, Luke might have been turned to the dark side and we would have been spared three more films, but instead the emperor had to engage in some gratuitous trash talking just because it made him feel good. And the result? Like a trash talking newspaper clip pinned to a locker room bulletin board, it just spurred Luke on. Final score: Luke 1, Emperor 0.

So: we should knock off the blustering that accomplishes the exact opposite of what we want. We’re big enough that we don’t need it. Instead, we should talk, talk, talk, and talk some more. We should promise to take Kim Jong-il seriously, even if we have to leave the room frequently to keep ourselves from busting up laughing. We should make a deal and do our best to monitor it until it breaks down, and then we should make some new deal to replace it.

What’s that, you don’t like this approach? It sends the wrong message? We shouldn’t negotiate with bullies? Tough. It’s the way the world works. Kim Jong-il is obviously well aware that nobody would care about North Korea if it weren’t for the army, and the missiles, and the bombs, so he’s not going to give them up.

We should either launch a military attack or else go to the table and negotiate. And if it’s going to be negotiation, then we should do the best job of negotiation we can, and that means sucking it up and acting like a major power, not some tinpot labor leader trying to rally the faithful with rock-em-sock-em rhetoric about never compromising with the evil corporate bosses. Bush knew very well how North Korea was likely to react to his ridiculous “Axis of Evil” childishness, but he went ahead and did it anyway because it made him feel good. He’s made his bed, and now he has to lie in it.


YOU CELEBRATE YOUR WAY, WE’LL CELEBRATE OURS…. How did you spend New Year’s Day? If you’re a human, you spent it recovering from a hangover, watching football, eating leftovers, or engaging in some other activity requiring higher intellectual skills.

If you’re one of my cats, you spent it proving that nature really is red in tooth and claw.

Note the relative difference in “Cat Q” displayed by my feline companions. Jasmine, on the left, is actively trying to hunt down her lunch. Inkblot, the larger and, um, less agile one on the right, is just watching. If it moves faster than a can of cat food, it’s not worth the trouble.

Unsurprisingly, Inkblot is my favorite.