WeChat, a text messaging service from Tencent, has begun to set its sights beyond China. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
One of the ways to think about China's Internet is as a Bizarro version of the World Wide Web. Facebook and Twitter are banned, but social networking sites like Sina Weibo and Kaixinwang operate freely. Instead of YouTube, there is Youku Tudou. And while Google does operate in China -- albeit intermittently -- the Chinese company Baidu dominates the search engine market. A foreign observer of the Chinese internet might conclude, to paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction: "They've got the same stuff there that we do here, it's just ... a little bit different."
This so-called "Chinese intranet" though is a relatively new phenomenon; Facebook and Twitter only became firewalled following the Iranian protests of 2009, the same year that Sina launched its Twitter-like Weibo service. And while censorship is a major reason why Western social media services remain behind the Great Firewall, it isn't an accident that their absence has allowed domestic competitors to grow.
Of all the Chinese social media products to join the market in the last few years, none has had as great an effect as Sina's Weibo. Presenting a (relatively) unfettered space for speech, Weibo has intrigued foreign observers with its irreverent discussions of sensitive issues. In just four years, the site has attracted over 500 million members, more than the population of all but two countries in the world.
For all its success, though, Weibo has confined itself to China; Until this year, when Sina introduced an English-language version and allowed users to login via Facebook, Weibo made virtually no effort to expand to foreign market and focused instead on recruiting users from within China. Given the country's large population -- and still-modest level of internet penetration -- this strategy makes sense; there are still plenty of people in China who don't use Weibo.
On the other hand, new research suggests that Sina may have to re-think its strategy: Weibo seems to have peaked in popularity. A recent survey by the tracking service WeiboReach released this month revealed that user activity has dropped by more than 30 percent from its peak last October. Part of this decline is due to government policy -- Beijing has passed laws demanding real name registration on Weibo, deterring would-be users who valued the service's privacy. But another issue is the rise of a rival service, Tencent's WeChat, which first launched in late 2011.
Similar to the text messaging service WhatsApp -- with elements of Instagram and Skype tossed in -- WeChat has accumulated over 300 million users in its first two years by embracing an entirely different strategy from Weibo: going after the international market head on. Unlike Weibo, which released an English-language web version only this year, WeChat is available in 18 languages and has already produced a Spanish-language advertisement featuring the Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi. Tencent is planning to establish an office in the United States and has already recruited Nike and Starbucks, among other major brands, to interact with customers on the service. While few outside of China use Sina Weibo, WeChat already has 70 million non-Chinese users -- almost a fourth of its overall total.
Despite its drop in user activity, it's too early to dismiss Weibo. As Beijing-based media consultant Jeremy Goldkorn told me, Weibo is "still massive, very popular, and still the most active and powerful platform for public expression in China today." It's worth noting, too, that Weibo and WeChat aren't necessarily competitors -- the two services have different functions, and given their huge subscriber bases within China, many people must use both. But it's hard to escape the sense that WeChat has, as Goldkorn says, "taken the wind out of Weibo's sails."
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of social media, WeChat has a long way to go before it can supplant Weibo's reputation as China's "it' service. But by focusing on the international market, WeChat has upended the industry and also challenged the stereotype that Chinese brands cannot compete abroad. It doesn't want to just be the hot new Chinese Internet fad -- it wants to be the hot new Internet fad that happens to be Chinese.
Whether or not WeChat succeeds remain to be seen. But the early returns are promising. Speaking to Network World, tech consultant Duncan Clark had this to say about it:
"If you didn't know WeChat was from China, you wouldn't be aware of that fact. It has transcended its Chinese-ness."
“Don’t underestimate me,” declared newly announced presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. That may be good advice.
By conventional standards, Sanders’s candidacy is absurd: He’s not well known, he doesn’t have big money donors, he’s not charismatic, and by Beltway standards, he’s ideologically extreme. But candidates with these liabilities have caught fire before. Think of Jerry Brown, who despite little funding and an oddball reputation outlasted a series of more conventional candidates to emerge as Bill Clinton’s most serious challenger in 1992. Or Pat Buchanan, who struck terror in the GOP establishment by winning the New Hampshire primary in 1996. Or Howard Dean, who began 2003 in obscurity and ended it as the Democratic frontrunner (before collapsing in the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses). Or Ron Paul, who in 2012 finished second in New Hampshire and came within three points of winning Iowa.
Marilyn Mosby's press conference Friday shocked residents of Baltimore and everyone else watching protests over Freddie Gray's death. Barely 24 hours after police had completed their investigation into the death of the 25-year-old black man in police custody, the Baltimore City state's attorney announced a strong slate of charges against the six officers involved. It wasn't just the speed (Mosby said her office had begun investigations the day after Gray's arrest, and six days before his death) but the charges: second-degree depraved-heart murder against one officer, with the others facing a mix of manslaughter, assault, misconduct, and false imprisonment.
The decision was met with jubilation in West Baltimore, where protestors had rioted just four nights before. But almost immediately, critics began to second-guess Mosby, who's been on the job for just a few months. Were her charges politically motivated, or perhaps calculated to calm protests? Had she overcharged the officers, picking unfair charges, or ones she couldn't win? Did she move too fast to charge the officers?
Last week, Atlantic coverage was dominated by the dramatic events in Baltimore. Ta-Nehisi Coates lit up the Internet with his controversial take on the rioting in his hometown, followed by a forum at Johns Hopkins University about the broader meaning of the unrest. Conor Friedersdorf frowned at conservatives' response to Baltimore and police brutality in general—though he didn't fail to condemn the rioting as well. Conor also recognized the role that cameras played in the Freddie Gray story, as did Rob Meyer, who offered sound advice on recording cops. David Graham, who has been all over the Gray story, examined how the rioting arose and explored the impact of Twitter. Adam Chandler chased the breaking news while Alan Taylor illustrated the drama with imagery.
Two years ago, a Dutch creative agency opened a concept restaurant in Amsterdam that would be, in the words of its founder, “the perfect place to dine in pleasant solitude.” The restaurant is called Eenmaal—this name has been translated into English as “dinner for one”—and was launched in an attempt to start dissolving the stigma attached to going out alone. Apparently picking up on the same cultural drift, a new fast-casual restaurant in Washington, D.C., has tiered, bench-like seating with individual trays, an arrangement that caters to solo diners.
As antisocial as those ideas may sound, it’s surprising that the world hasn’t seen more of them. Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person—a figure that has tripled since 1970. Also, the median age at which Americans get married has recently reached a record high. Given these demographic shifts, one would think that by now, going out to the movies or to dinner alone wouldn’t be the radical acts they still are.
In the 2001 movie Donnie Darko, a group of teenage boys are drinking and shooting guns when the topic of conversation turns, as you might expect, to the topic of women. “We gotta find ourselves a Smurfette,” one of them says.
“Smurfette?” his friend asks.
“Mm-hmm. Not some, like, tight-ass Middlesex chick, you know? Like, this cute little blonde that will get down and dirty with the guys. Like Smurfette does.”
“That's bullshit. Smurfette fucks all the other Smurfs.”
This exchange came to mind when watching the actor Jeremy Renner's appearance on Conan this week, during which he called Black Widow, the Avenger played by Scarlett Johansson, “a slut.” He'd already made a joke along these lines a few weeks ago, after which he apologized to anyone who'd been offended. But apparently Renner believed his joke wasn't actually vile—just misunderstood. “Conan, if you slept with four of the six Avengers, no matter how much fun you had, you’d be a slut,” he said. “I’d be a slut.”
The simplest way to reduce the number of Americans who are abused by police officers is not to retrain cops or to reform their subculture. It is to significantly reduce the number of adversarial interactions people have with police.
Questions about how frequently Americans ought to interact with law enforcement are often associated with the debate over Broken Windows theory. Its proponents champion a model of policing where foot patrolmen are a regular presence in high-crime neighborhoods, vigilantly guarding against the sorts of low-level disorder that ostensibly leads to more serious crime if left unchecked.
For now, let's defer debate about Broken Windows theory.
Even if it is correct, there are still a number of reforms that would reduce adversarial contacts with police officers without increasing disorder on the streets.
The recent Bridal Fashion Week in New York, which previewed wedding gowns for the Spring 2016 season, featured all the things you'd expect: lace, crystals, tulle. (So much tulle!) It also featured, however, something you wouldn't, necessarily, expect: skin. (So much skin!) Skin not just of traditionally exposed bridal body parts—arms and shoulders and calves—but also of stomachs and sides and backs.
There was the Marchesa gown that leaves its wearer's back bare save for a line of covered buttons. There was Theia's pants-based ensemble, the focal point of which is a bra worn under an iridescent blouse. There was the spate of dresses that, taking their cue from ready-to-wear trends, featured cutouts—at the waist (Reem Acra), in the back (Monique Lhuillier), between the breasts (Angel Sanchez). There were the many two-piece affairs, with fits both boxy and snug, showing flirty flashes of midriff. There were the nearly invisible nettings—draped, wantonly, over shoulders and backs and necklines—that offered, in everything but the most up-close of views, the illusion of bareness. There were the many dresses that took their plunging necklines to their logical conclusions: their wearers' waists.
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowd formations." Whether the subject is military parades or world-record attempts, mass exercises or enormous performances, the images are frequently remarkable. The masses of people can look beautiful or intimidating, projecting a sense of strength and abundance. Individuals can become pixels in a huge painting, or points on a grid, or echoes of each other in identical uniforms or costumes. I've gathered some of these images below, taken around China over the past several years. (Note: a few of these images can create a dizzying effect when viewed while scrolling, which is fun, but could be surprising.)
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—have brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.