Sign Language

water lake

It is a recurring joke between my wife and me that I approach the straightforward task of highway navigation in the manner of a Revolutionary War general. Rather than simply do what the GPS tells me to do, I like to maintain a broader sense of situational awareness as far as my route is concerned, including the presence along it of significant terrain or water features. “There,” I’ll say, pointing down the road in the direction of a pass in the Pennsylvania mountains. “That’s the gap where the Susquehanna comes through ridge line, and Route 15 goes right through there.” The tone of my voice will combine self-satisfaction with a touch of relief, as though without this insight we might just have lost our way and been reduced to eating the Havanese, just like the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Losing the Game

Barack Obama

To draft an apologia for Barack Obama’s foreign policy might seem like a thankless task. The problem is obvious: things don’t appear to be going very well. Let’s accept for purposes of argument that the administration has enjoyed some progress on international cooperation with fighting climate change (I said for purposes of argument!) and warmed up a few previously chilly relationships with Vietnam, Laos, Burma—and, heck, we’re being generous, so why not throw Cuba in there as well? Check. But what about the big stuff, the major global flashpoints Obama inherited from Bush in January of 2009?

North Korea’s ‘Commercial’ Airline Needs to Be Banned

North Korean workers labor next to Air Koryo jets lined up on the tarmac of the airport near Pyongyang, North Korea / AP

There is a tendency for western media to treat Air Koryo, North Korea’s only “commercial” airline, as an opportunity for humor. The fact that it has been named the world’s worst airline by an industry group for four straight years plays a role in the company’s attractiveness as a butt for jokes, as do the propaganda films that play on its small fleet of Tupolev and Antonov jets (there is no volume control) and the mystery meat burgers served by its flight attendants.

But Air Koryo is no joke. It is an arm of the Kim family’s military-gangster complex, implicated in smuggling cash for Pyongyang’s slave labor enterprises, and has been implicated in weapons trafficking.

The China Test

State Hillary Clinton, Xi Jinping

TOKYO—Anyone paying even passing attention to the news from East Asia knows that the rise of China has taken a bad turn in recent years, and that our closest allies in the region feel threatened by the increasingly belligerent policies of President Xi. It’s not clear, however, that even well informed Americans realize how dire the situation is. It’s time they paid better attention, because China’s lawless pursuit of resources and territory is coming to resemble nothing else so much as the behavior of the Japanese empire before World War Two—a disconcerting comparison I have heard more than once from analysts and government officials here, where I have been traveling with a group of journalists and policy experts on a trip arranged by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How a DNC Staffer’s Murder Is Being Used by Russia


No one knows for sure why Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer at the Democratic National Committee, was shot to death last month in D.C., but the circumstances strongly suggest he was the victim of street crime, and very possibly a robbery gone awry. The killing happened at 4:20 in the morning on Sunday, July 10th, near the house Rich rented with friends in Northwest D.C.. Some reports describe Bloomingdale—the neighborhood where the killing occurred—as “affluent,” but this is a partial truth at best. Bloomingdale is a recently gentrified part of Washington, and was until only a few years ago the scene of regular gun violence and a robust narcotics trade. As recently as 2012 there were signs posted in the neighborhood by the D.C. government stating that people arrested for buying drugs there were liable to have their cars seized. Today, it still borders unsafe areas, and is easily the kind of place where a criminal, or group of criminals, could prey upon an unprepared young man who had been drinking.