The shutdown of North Korea’s only working reactor and associated facilities on Saturday has reinvigorated multilateral negotiations in Beijing. Chun Yung-woo, Seoul’s chief delegate to the six-party talks, called the atmosphere at the nuclear disarmament discussions “as bright as Beijing’s skies.” The South Korean intended to convey optimism. But his figure of speech suggests the opposite—the skies above the Chinese capital being mostly gray with pollution—and is all the more apt for it.
How do we account for the sudden progress of the last several days? There have been many moments of rapid advance since the end of the 1980’s, when the world began to take notice of the North Korean nuclear program. The international community rejoiced when Jimmy Carter, defying Seoul and Washington, visited Pyongyang in 1994 and set the terms for the Agreed Framework. Yet during the ensuing years, the ruling Kim family—first Kim Il Sung and now Kim Jong Il—managed consistently to throw the process into reverse at critical moments. Particularly, Kim Jong Il has stalled the six-party talks since 2003, when they convened. It is now especially unlikely that he, a master at creating crisis on cue, has made a good-faith commitment to disarm. His health is in doubt and the military—the most powerful faction in Pyongyang—is dead-set against surrendering its most destructive weapons.
Baseball fans who recall Jackie Robinson’s heroic role in integrating baseball in 1947 tend to forget other pioneering African-American players in the major leagues like Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe. Likewise, music fans often pay tribute to African-American singers like the contralto Marian Anderson (1897 –1993), and soprano Leontyne Price (b. 1927) for their triumphant Met Opera debuts, in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Yet other mightily talented singers who also battled early opposition have often been overlooked, which makes a new CD reissue from Bridge Records of a live 1940 concert at the Library of Congress by soprano Dorothy Maynor especially welcome.
Virginia-born Maynor (1910-1996) is accompanied in 1940 by the expert Hungarian pianist Arpád Sándor (1896-1972), a student of Bartók and frequent recital partner of Jascha Heifetz, who knew when to be reticent and when to make passionate keyboard points. Maynor’s flexible lyric soprano has a rapid beat, akin to the voice of the endearing Brazilian diva Bidu Sayão. Maynor’s singing of French in works by Bizet and Charpentier is particularly impressive. She fully deserves this commemoration from Bridge, a doughty, small label run by two New Yorkers, Becky and David Starobin.
Yesterday, Iran continued work on its first nuclear weapon, Moscow and Beijing conspired to undermine the Western democracies, and fanatics prepared their next attack on the United States. Oh, there was one other thing that happened—the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed 14,000 for the first time. Although the index eventually ended up below that magic mark (at 13,971.55), yesterday’s was the fourth successive record close.
I think this is a form of irrational exuberance. Investors, traders, and speculators needed just 57 trading days to push the Dow from 13,000 to 14,000, and they required only 129 days to make the journey from 12,000 to 13,000. By way of contrast, it took about seven-and-a-half years for the market to climb from 11,000 to 12,000. Markets are efficient, but they still dive on the outbreak of wars, assassinations, and miscellaneous disasters. That said, today there is a huge disconnect between current events and market performance. What kind of a risk premium would accurately reflect the perilous state of geopolitics today? One restrictively high, I’d say. And the markets continue to soar. It isn’t pessimism to see a bad ending in this.
How should we assess the new National Intelligence Estimate on “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland”?
This document was produced by the National Intelligence Council, now under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the new body that sits astride the CIA and the fifteen other agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community. The CIA, both as an intelligence collector and as analytic machine, played a central role in its preparation.
Reaction to the document so far has largely revolved around whether it helps or hurts the tottering Bush administration. But while such speculation is inevitable—and also necessary given the possibility that the CIA might be continuing to wage guerrilla warfare against the White House—it is in some respects beside the point.
The key thing to bear in mind in thinking about this NIE is that it was produced by an organization that is still bleeding from a series of self-inflicted wounds. Having missed the 9/11 attacks, and then botched its assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the second Gulf War, the CIA is locked in perpetual defensive motion.
A document of this nature, and of such importance, therefore has to be written defensively; in other words, given all the missteps taken and falsehoods purveyed by the intelligence community in the past, everything this NIE says now about the terrorist menace has to be irrefutable.
The public image of the college professor has certainly changed since 1941. That year, Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire featured Gary Cooper as an academic so completely insulated from life that the slangy patter of a gangster’s moll, played by Barbara Stanwyck, baffled him. Since then, the cinematic professor has become more worldly. He is likely to be a womanizing alcoholic (One True Thing), a suicidal Proust scholar* (Little Miss Sunshine), or a womanizing failed writer (both Wonder Boys and The Squid and the Whale). William Deresiewicz dissects these and other examples in a provocative essay in the American Scholar, which looks at the public image of the contemporary college professor—and its underlying reality.
The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.
This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?