The Tao of North Korea

You’ve seen those nighttime satellite pictures of the Korean peninsula. The northern half is dark, while the southern half is a thousand points of light. You might think: hat’s off to those thrifty North Koreans who are helping save the planet by conserving electricity! But of course, that’s not the message you’re supposed to take away with you. The nighttime map is supposed to be a...
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Playing Party Politics

Political parties in East-Central Europe are like amoebas. They are constantly splitting apart (mitosis) and then banding together in coalitions (aggregation). For someone coming from a U.S. context of two relatively stable parties, the political scene in East-Central Europe seems hopelessly complex. That goes double for Romania. During the 1989 revolution in Romania, a popular front organization...
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What Happened to Romania’s Irrecuperables?

In 1990, the issue that catapulted Romania into the headlines in the West, after the rise and fall of Ceausescu, was the country’s orphanages. Journalists and foreign health care workers were appalled to discover the condition of babies and children in the many state-run institutions in the country. During the Ceausescu era, abortions were difficult to obtain, and many families were simply too...
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Fighting for Equal Opportunity

Revolutions elevate a new and unexpected group of people to power. In East-Central Europe in 1990, an electrician became the president of Poland, a playwright the president of Czechoslovakia, and a philosopher the president of Bulgaria. After this brief period of the world turned upside down, the professional politicians took over again (or in the case of Vaclav Havel, the playwright morphed into...
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The Cold War Never Died

In ’89, it looked as though the war had finally ended. For five decades the conflict had ground on, and both sides had grown weary of it all. There had been previous pauses in the hostilities, even a détente or two, but this truce looked permanent. Sure, there were still tensions after ’89, and a few skirmishes broke out. But the peace held, miraculously, for more than 25 years. Then, as...
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NATO Poised to Escalate Tensions over Ukraine

The NATO summit that took place at the end of last week in Wales was supposed to celebrate the end of a long, draining war in Afghanistan. But with the presidential election still up in the air in Kabul, NATO couldn’t enjoy its “mission accomplished” moment. Instead, the assembled ministers took steps to accelerate two new conflicts, one on its borders and the other in the distant Middle...
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