This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until September 8. I’ll see some of you on the National Review cruise this week.
Texas Still Needs Our Help
The rain slowing means that the waters will recede eventually — but “eventually” means the danger of floodwaters continues:
Rain still pelted the city, but rainfall totals were expected to fall sharply, opening some roads and neighborhoods. Officials now anxiously monitored rising river levels, which swelled with the rainfalls of the past two days. The Brazos River at Richmond, about 30 miles south of Houston, measured nearly 52 feet Tuesday morning and was expected to crest at 59 feet by Thursday — four feet greater than the record high set last year.
Outside help continued streaming into Houston. Search-and-rescue crews from Florida, California, Utah and other areas staged at different trouble spots around town. Walmart was shipping 2,000 kayaks to the area to help stranded residents.
Gov. Greg Abbott activated the state’s entire National Guard force, increasing to 12,000 the number of guardsmen deployed to flooded communities.
“Texas (officials) and FEMA will be involved here for a long, long time,” Abbott said. “Until we can restore things as back to normal as possible. But we have to realize it will be a new normal for the region.”
Pyongyang, This Is Not the Time to Push Us.
North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan Tuesday, the latest in a string of direct provocations that have destabilized the region and triggered global alarm.
The missile — the first Pyongyang has fired over Japan’s main islands since 2009 — prompted a fiery response from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“This outrageous action of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region,” he said. “We have firmly protested to North Korea.”
Mr. Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. He said he spoke by phone with President Donald Trump for 40 minutes and that the president gave a “strong commitment” to Japan’s security.
This is why I am skeptical of both the “we need to reach out diplomatically” crowd and the “our scary rhetoric is escalating the conflict” argument. The Obama administration sure as heck wasn’t interested in fighting a second Korean War, and Trump administration has been quiet since the president’s “fire and fury” remarks. Pyongyang has a clear path to de-escalation; they just refuse to take it.
The American government and its allies cannot make any clearer that we have no interest in invading North Korea. (If the regime collapsed from within, well, we wouldn’t shed any tears.) But the perhaps not-quite-sane leadership in Pyongyang refuses to believe it, and clings to the paranoid belief that a U.S. strike could occur at any time, keeping the country on a war footing and cementing their draconian control over the people.
Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press lays out how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might think he could hit America first and then deter a counterpunch:
The trigger for North Korea could be unusual troop movements in South Korea, suspicious activity at U.S. bases in Japan or — as the North has recently warned — flights near its airspace by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers out of their home base on the island of Guam.
If Kim deemed any of those an imminent attack, one North Korean strategy would be to immediately target U.S. bases in Japan. A more violent move would be to attack a Japanese city, such as Tokyo, though that would probably be unnecessary since at this point the objective would be to weaken the U.S. military’s command and control. Going nuclear would send the strongest message, but chemical weapons would be an alternative.
North Korea’s ability to next hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles is the key to how it would survive in this scenario. And that’s why Kim has been rushing to perfect [them] and show them off to the world.
“The whole reason they developed the ICBM was to deter American nuclear retaliation because if you can hold an American city or cities at risk the American calculation always changes,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a nuclear strategy specialist.
“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. military base in the region?” he asks. “Probably not.”
That, right there, is Kim’s big wager.
If “no” actually is the answer, then North Korea has a chance — though slim and risky — of staving off a full-scale conventional attack by the United States to survive another day.
Of course, a successful North Korean attack on American city requires A) their missile to launch correctly, B) our defense systems to fail in shooting it down, and C) their nuclear bomb detonating correctly.
A Quick Thought on the Evolution of Taylor Swift
I’m sure my pop culture podcast co-host will have more to say about this upon my return, but . . . the latest song by Taylor Swift offers the lyric, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh! ‘Cause she’s dead!”
Remember when Taylor Swift first hit it big, back in the last Bush years? Remember how she seemed like a breath of fresh air, with an onstage persona that seemed humble, down-to-earth, level-headed, a refreshing change from the self-absorbed narcissism of other pop stars of that era? People made fun of her seemingly-perpetual “surprised face,” but she always acted genuinely overwhelmed by the admiration of her fans and recognition of her talents by the music industry.
That was a long time ago, and it’s unrealistic to expect Swift, who became arguably the biggest and most influential pop star in America, to remain the same in either her onstage or offstage personas. But as Swift moved from country to pop, and came to dominate the pop charts, did she become less . . . distinct?
Now she’s in another flashy music video with elaborate computer-generated effects, with another plethora of elaborate costume changes, served by computer-generated snakes, surviving a computer-generated car crash, berating the media for false reports about her, pledging that some unspoken rival or foe will pay for wrongdoing . . . Maybe you love this video, maybe you hate it, but doesn’t it feel . . . familiar, from the Thriller-like zombie makeup in the beginning to the biker chic to the models lined up on an assembly line? The well-trod themes are:
Being famous is difficult.
The media is unfair to me.
I have been wronged.
I am stronger than this adversity.
I will overcome this, and those who wronged me will suffer the consequences.
In other words, she’s singing the kinds of songs and making the kinds of videos we would not have been surprised to see Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, or Pink offer not too long ago.
In short, separate from good or bad, isn’t the “new Taylor” kind of . . . generic?
By the way, the pop culture podcast is now available on iTunes.
A hoaxer boasts that he managed to get Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor to re-tweet made-up details about a criminal investigation into Trump. Is that really a difficult thing to do? In terms of degree of difficulty, isn’t this the prank version of making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?