Political Animal


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.

2002 BOOK REVIEW….Recommended books from

2002 BOOK REVIEW….Recommended books from my 2002 reading:

  • A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar. I read the book after I saw the movie and was genuinely shocked that the movie was essentially completely fabricated: aside from the fact that it’s about a mathematician who goes crazy and then eventually wins a Nobel Prize, there’s barely a single thing in the movie that’s actually taken from John Nash’s life. The movie was good, but it was fiction; the book is also good, but it’s fact. And the final chapter, which is a capsule history of the Nobel Prize in Economics, is genuinely entertaining.

  • To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I like Connie Willis’ fiction and I went on a Connie Willis binge around the middle of the year. Of the three or four books I read, this one was the best, a witty time travel story about Victorian England.

  • Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis. This is a gem, a short but incisive book about the six most important shapers of America during the 18th century: Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. Terrific stuff.

  • Nickel And Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. A middle class writer works at three minimum wage jobs for a month each just to see what it’s like. As with 1998’s The Corner, with its ground level look at the inner city drug culture, this book is invaluable as a portrait of what life really feels like for the working poor. It may not change your mind on matters of policy, but you should read it anyway just so you have a feel for the reality of the subject, not just the statistics and the talking points.

  • Venus Envy, by Jon Wertheim. An inside look at the dysfunctional women’s tennis tour. Even if you don’t like tennis, you might still like Wertheim’s book purely as an anthropological exercise.

  • The Threatening Storm, by Kenneth Pollack. The most important book to read about the situation in Iraq, whether or not you’re in favor of ousting Saddam Hussein. My detailed review is here.

Honorable mention: The Honors Class, by Benjamin Yandell, a comprehensive review of Hilbert’s 23 problems. If you don’t know who Hilbert is, don’t bother with this, but if you do and you enjoy math, it’s a surprisingly readable summary of a very complex tale.