May 12, 2018 in 3,936 words

The Madman Theory of North Korea

Never before have two leaders in command of nuclear arsenals more closely evoked a professional wrestling match

In 1969, Richard Nixon, about eight months into his Presidency, grew frustrated with the North Vietnamese leadership. The President wanted to negotiate an exit from the Vietnam War, but his adversary’s terms were unyielding. Nixon thought that he needed the Soviet Union to pressure North Vietnam; he also believed that Leonid Brezhnev would act only if he was convinced that the U.S. was about to do something crazy. In late October, Nixon ordered an operation code-named Giant Lance. B-52 bombers loaded with atomic weapons took off from bases in California and Washington State and headed toward the Soviet Union, then flew in loops above the polar ice cap. Nixon’s hope was that Soviet intelligence would interpret the action as an immediate, and utterly insane, threat of nuclear attack. The “madman nuclear alert,” as the political scientist Scott D. Sagan and the historian Jeremi Suri called it in a 2003 article, remained secret for years. H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, recounted in his memoir how his boss described the tactic. “I call it the Madman Theory,” Nixon once told him. “We’ll just slip the word to them that ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he is angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button.’ ”

Last week, about eight months into his Presidency, Donald Trump, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, denounced Kim Jong Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission.” The President said that, while the United States has “great strength and patience,” if it were “forced to defend itself or its allies” it would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Kim replied in kind. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” he said.

Never before have two leaders in command of nuclear arsenals more closely evoked a professional wrestling match. It is unsettling that with both men it is hard to know where performance ends and personality begins. Trump rages publicly at Kim, but, then, he rages at everyone, from his staff to Meryl Streep. Kim may not be suicidal, but he has executed his uncle and is reported to have ordered the murder of his half brother.

In the history of nuclear diplomacy, no nation-state has ever given up atomic weapons in response to shrill threats. In a number of instances, however, countries have been coaxed to mothball their nuclear programs in exchange for political and economic returns. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus voluntarily gave up their nuclear weapons or abandoned advanced programs. In 2003, Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, agreed, in exchange for economic opportunities, to surrender his uranium-enrichment equipment. Nearly twelve years later came the landmark accord in which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear-weapons program and dismantle parts of it, in exchange for relief from sanctions.

Japan has a form of capitalism that works

People’s reflections are shown in a Tokyo stock indicator. Japan’s economy is performing well and deserves more attention as a model of capitalism that manages to balance income growth and income distribution.

Japan deserves the Nobel Prize for applied economics. I say this not because Japan’s capitalism has no flaws, but because the overall outcome produced by the Japanese economic system is extremely positive. Japan manages to balance income growth and income distribution so well that, unlike many other advanced economies, Japan’s society is resilient against the rise of popular nationalism a-la Donald Trump in America, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France or Xi Jinping in China.

The goal of an economy is to create and sustain a stable society. To do so, an economy must produce growth and must distribute the spoils of that growth in a fair and equitable way. So let’s look at the scorecard — how wealthy are the people and how is that wealth distributed? At the end of last year, the median net financial wealth — all financial assets minus liabilities — for households in Japan stood at $96,000. In the United States, the same number was a mere $50,000. In other words, the average Japanese is de facto twice as wealthy as the average American.

What about the distribution of wealth? At the bottom end in Japan, approximately 9 percent of households own less than $10,000 worth of net financial assets. In America, that’s true for 28 percent of all households. Make no mistake — Japan certainly does have an underbelly of poor, but in my view the data speaks for itself: In Japan’s economy, only relatively few are truly left behind financially.

Meanwhile, America does better at the top end of the wealth pyramid: Approximately 7 percent of American households own net assets worth more than $1 million. In Japan, that’s true for only 2 percent of households. So, in percentage terms, America has three times more very wealthy people than Japan, but America also has three times more poor people. From a social and political perspective, America has become a political powder keg precisely because of that heavy skew toward the poor and financially left-behinds. This is where poor economic management meets real-world democracy: When U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talked about “deplorables” during the 2016 campaign she missed the point: What is truly deplorable is the fact that the U.S. ruling elite, of which Clinton is a leading member, allowed for this gravely destabilizing financial inequality to happen in the first place.

Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web

An alliance of heretics is making an end run around the mainstream conversation. Should we be listening?

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.

Today, people like them who dare venture into this “There Be Dragons” territory on the intellectual map have met with outrage and derision — even, or perhaps especially, from people who pride themselves on openness.

It’s a pattern that has become common in our new era of That Which Cannot Be Said. And it is the reason the Intellectual Dark Web, a term coined half-jokingly by Mr. Weinstein, came to exist.

What is the I.D.W. and who is a member of it? It’s hard to explain, which is both its beauty and its danger.

Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.

The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back

American companies that fall victim to data breaches want to retaliate against the culprits. But can they do so without breaking the law?

Estimates suggest that ninety percent of American companies have been hacked.

One day in the summer of 2003, Shawn Carpenter, a security analyst in New Mexico, went to Florida on a secret mission. Carpenter, then thirty-five, worked at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, on a cybersecurity team. At the time, Sandia was managed by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. When hundreds of computers at Lockheed Martin’s office in Orlando suddenly started crashing, Carpenter and his team got on the next flight.

The team discovered that Lockheed Martin had been hacked, most likely by actors affiliated with the Chinese government. For several years, operatives tied to China’s military and intelligence agencies had been conducting aggressive cyberespionage against American companies. The problem hasn’t gone away: in 2014, the Justice Department indicted five hackers from the People’s Liberation Army for stealing blueprints from electrical, energy, and steel companies in the United States. Keith Alexander, the former National Security Agency director, and Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence, recently wrote in the Times that “Chinese companies have stolen trade secrets from virtually every sector of the American economy.”

Examining the Orlando network, Carpenter discovered several compressed and encrypted files that were awaiting exfiltration, “rootkits” that the hackers had used to cloak their intrusions, and malware—malicious software—that appeared to be “beaconing” to a server in China. Carpenter’s manager had long encouraged him and his team to act as if they were “world-class hackers” themselves. In order to determine what the culprits might have taken, Carpenter proposed “hacking back”—getting into the thieves’ computer networks without authorization. To his frustration, officials at Sandia feared that doing so might invite additional attacks or draw attention to the original breach, and neither outcome would be good for business. More important, hacking back is against the law.

Any form of hacking is a federal crime. In 1986, Congress enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits anyone from “knowingly” accessing a computer “without authorization.” The legislation was inspired, oddly enough, by the 1983 film “WarGames.” In the movie, Matthew Broderick plays a hacker who breaks into the Defense Department’s network and, by accident, nearly starts a nuclear war. Ronald Reagan saw the film and was terrified, as were other politicians, who vowed to act.

5 Surprising Ways America Is Actually Moving Backwards

When people wax nostalgic, it’s typically for fun stuff, like old cameras and weathered rocking chairs … not polio or segregation. But as you’ve probably noticed with all the folks trying to bring Nazism back like it’s a fun dance move from the ’80s, nostalgia isn’t always harmless. And there are other awful, heartbreaking, and plain stupid things we’re rolling back the clock on. For example …

5. More American Women Are Dying During Childbirth

You’d think dying in childbirth would be like burning witches, or Harvey Weinstein — you know, horrible old threats that modern women thankfully no longer need to worry about. But in the U.S., childbirth mortality rates are rising so fast that our only hope is that the tragic backstories will create a new generation of superheroes.

Up up and away!

The idea of a wealthy Western country where childbirth is becoming more dangerous may sound ridiculous, but the stats back it up. Women in the U.S. are now twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related reasons as women in Saudi Arabia, and three times as likely as those in the UK. Since 1987, childbirth death rates have gone up by almost 250 percent. It took us longer to bring Star Wars back than the threat of maternal mortality. The U.S. is only one of eight countries in the entire world where this figure is on the rise, an exclusive club that includes the likes of Afghanistan and South Sudan.

Sort of odd company for the overwhelming world leader in healthcare spending.

While there are contributing factors, like women having children later in life and the ongoing obesity crisis, it’s the American healthcare system that’s truly to blame. Southern states suffer the worst, thanks to issues with insurance coverage and access to care, not to mention the scourge of unnecessary C-sections. Failing health coverage in poorer areas has gotten so bad that Native and African American mothers are dying at triple the average rate.

How the chicken nugget became the true symbol of our era

This is what happens when you turn the natural world into a profit-making machine.

The most telling symbol of the modern era isn’t the automobile or the smartphone. It’s the chicken nugget. Chicken is already the most popular meat in the US, and is projected to be the planet’s favourite flesh by 2020. Future civilisations will find traces of humankind’s 50 billion bird-a-year habit in the fossil record, a marker for what we now call the Anthropocene. And yet responsibility for the dramatic change in our consumption lies not so much in general human activity, but capitalism. Although we’re taught to understand it as an economic system, capitalism doesn’t just organise hierarchies of human work. Capitalism is what happens when power and money combine to turn the natural world into a profit-making machine. Indeed, the way we understand nature owes a great deal to capitalism.

Every civilisation has had some rendering of the difference between “us” and “them”, but only under capitalism is there a boundary between “society” and “nature” – a violent and tightly policed border with deep roots in colonialism.

First taking shape in the era of Chistopher Columbus, capitalism created a peculiar binary order. “Nature” became the antonym of “society” in the minds of philosophers, in the policies of European empires, and the calculations of global financial centres. “Nature” was a place of profit, a vast frontier of free gifts waiting to be accepted by conquerors and capitalists.

This was a dangerous view of nature for all sorts of reasons, not least because it simultaneously degraded human and animal life of every kind. What we call “cheap nature” included not only forests and fields and streams, but also the vast majority of humankind. In the centuries between Columbus and the industrial revolution, enslaved and indentured Africans, Asians, indigenous peoples and virtually all women became part of “nature” – and treated cheaply as a result. When humans can be treated with such little care, it’s not surprising that other animals fare even worse under capitalism, especially the ones we end up paying to eat.

Animals have been at the centre of five centuries of dietary transformation, which sharply accelerated after the second world war.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

A Zen Buddhist monk’s simple guide to clean spaces and tidy minds


Practical steps to achieving enlightenment.

You are cordially invited to the most important event of the season: A cleanup.

Tidying spaces is a great way to create order at work, at home, and in your head, and you needn’t do it alone, according to the Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto. In his self-help book, A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind—a best-seller in Japan, published in English in January 2018—he advises cleaning as a road to illumination, both alone and in groups.

Scrubbing is an inexpensive and utilitarian form of therapy, plus a contemplative practice. Tidying with family, friends, and even strangers can help us achieve outer and inner peace, Matsumoto believes. “Clean the lamps and fixtures gently, as if you are polishing your heart and soul to make them shine their brightest,” he writes.

The monk is a member of the Komyoji Temple in Tokyo. Twice a month, he invites people to join him as part of the temple’s cleanup crew. The gathering draws a diverse crowd, including JJ O’Donoghue, who wrote about it in The Japan Times on May 5. Apparently, even the CEO of a Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed company once showed up with workers for a contemplative scrub session.

After the sweeping, the cleaners have tea and chat. For Matsumoto, the act of cleaning is much more than a chore. It’s a spiritual practice that can unite people and ensures psychological health.

Ed. In the past few weeks, I’ve conducted a purge. I examined every thing in my home, asking the same four questions about each: Do I like this thing? Do I need this thing? Do I use this this thing? Do I want this thing? If the answer to all was ‘no,’ the object was purged. Most everything purged was donated or recycled; there was very little waste. The end result was very quieting and peaceful.

‘Incredible’ bioluminescence gives California surf an eerie blue glow

‘Incredible’ bioluminescence gives California surf an eerie blue glow
An unusual algal bloom, known as a red tide, has drawn many to the beach in the hopes of witnessing the stunning spectacle.

A blue glow in the surf has been observed during hours of darkness along a 15-mile stretch of coast.

A dense bloom of bioluminescent algae off the coast of southern California has lit up the Pacific Ocean with an eerie and fantastical neon blue glow, sending photographers and spectators to the beach at night in hopes of witnessing the natural phenomenon.

The algal bloom, also known as a red tide, was observed this week lighting up the waves along a 15-mile stretch of coastline.

“Bioluminescence happens all the time, just not at that level,” said Dr James M Sullivan, a bioluminescence researcher at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. “This is an incredible one.”

It is not known how long the current display will last. In September 2013, the last time San Diego saw a red tide, the conditions lasted for a week. Other red tides have been known to last for a month or even longer.


The story of a sad and tragic epidemic that happened just 70 years ago, but which few people know about today. (But you’re familiar with at least one of its victims.)


On February 14, 1941, Dr. Stewart Clifford, a pediatrician in Boston, made a house call to check on one of his patients, the three-month-old daughter of a young rabbi. The girl had been born several weeks premature, weighing just four pounds at birth, but had been doing well in the months since her birth. Unfortunately, something now seemed wrong. There was a grayness in the pupils of the girl’s eyes—and she appeared to have lost her ability to see. Clifford contacted his friend, Dr. Paul Chandler, one of Boston’s leading ophthalmologists. Chandler examined the girl, and told Clifford he had found something he had never seen before: there were strange gray masses attached to the rear of the lenses in both of the child’s eyes. Even worse, Clifford’s diagnosis was correct. The girl was completely blind.

Just days later, another of Clifford’s patients, this one a seven-month-old baby, was discovered to have the same symptoms. That baby had also gone blind. And just as with the prior case, the child had been born prematurely.


By 1942 several other cases of premature babies going blind, with the same symptoms—the appearance of gray masses inside the babies’ eyes—were reported in the Boston area. That same year, Clifford contacted Dr. Theodore Terry, professor of opthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and asked him to look into the mysterious cases. Terry studied five of the cases, and wrote an article about the condition in American Journal of Ophthalmology. When eye doctors around the country saw the article, similar stories were reported outside the Boston area.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The alt right is struggling to hold itself together. It’s dealing with infighting and money problems, and some of its leaders have decided they can’t risk holding events that are open to the public. One reason for that is antifa, the anti-fascist activists best known for punching Nazis but who also engage in digital counterintelligence, infiltrating white nationalist message boards and chat rooms to find out who they are and what they’re doing.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

“The Soul of America” author Jon Meacham argues that President Trump’s demagogic assault on U.S. values will eventually be corrected with the aid of America’s “better angels.”

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

A new bill by GOP lawmakers would require post offices to display photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Bill recaps the top stories of the week in his Real Time monologue including good news from North Korea, Erick Schneiderman’s fall from grace and troubles with leaving the Iran Deal.

In his editorial New Rule, Bill questions how a New York City slicker like Trump became a hero to America’s heartland.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.

最近お気に入りの遊び方。すぐに捕まってしまうとやり直しさせられるので、こちらも捕まらないように必死に動かします。When Maru easily caught the toy, he starts it again. Therefore I move the toy hard!

Max is determined to destroy his door so I can never shut him in his room ever again.

If you like to travel or looking to relocate this is the channel for you. Top 10 reasons NOT to move to Colorado. Denver Broncos, Rockiy Mountains.

Ed. Psssst… Legal marijuana.


Enlightenment Idols: Are we stuck in progress?

Politics on both sides of the Atlantic is being played out in the costumes of dead generations. Trump won the White House with a Reagan campaign slogan, pledging to bring back factory jobs and tariff wars. Democrats believe desperately in the existence of Russian conspiracies. British conservatives yearn for the nineteenth century, while academics at Oxford seek an “intelligent Christian ethic of empire.” Jeremy Corbyn has made postwar socialism popular again, with the help of a line from Shelley. Such retromania might not be so surprising—every age of crisis, as Marx famously argued, conjures up the spirits of the past for guidance and inspiration. But it is harder to account for a ghostly presence that provides neither: the public intellectual who wants to fight about the Enlightenment.

Steven Pinker has released a book, Enlightenment Now, which argues that the solutions to all our problems—global warming, inequality, terrorism—lie in the “timeless ideals” of the eighteenth century. Jordan Peterson, recently anointed “the most influential public intellectual in the world right now,” has labeled identity politics an assault on the Enlightenment principle of human rights. David Brooks thinks that a populist Trump, a “Nietzschean Putin” and a “Marxian China” each represent a waning of faith in the Enlightenment project: “a long line of thought,” as Brooks aptly put it, like one you might put on a graph, but from which we’ve deviated. To get back on track we don’t really need to think through our principles, ideals or projects; we just need a sensible reminder of how Old and True and Good they are. Dead writers can do our thinking for us.

For Pankaj Mishra, on the other hand, history has not marched in a straight line but come full circle. In the New York Times in 2015, responding to the question “Is It Still Possible to Be a Public Intellectual?” Mishra pointed out that there were such doubts “even during the Enlightenment, when this figure emerged as the designer of rational society and the nemesis of religious prejudice and superstition.” Voltaire was the first technocrat comfortable with power, and Rousseau the alienated intellectual who saw corruption all the way down. Mishra turned this contrast into the set-piece for his 2017 book, The Age of Anger: A History of the Present, which extended the lessons of the Enlightenment to the world of Modi, Brexit, ISIS and Trump. From the eighteenth century we have inherited a litany of Voltaires: cosmopolitans, nation-builders and an out-of-touch, “globally networked elite.” But Rousseau, for Mishra, is no less a child of modernity, a prototype for romantic poets, Russian novelists, Italian futurists, Iranian revolutionaries and Hindu nationalists, so many “uprooted men” in whom society has bred resentment.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?