An injured woman receives treatment at a hospital after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit Minxian county, Dingxi, Gansu province July 23, 2013. (Reuters)
China's unfortunate streak of major earthquakes has continued. On Monday, a tremor measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale struck near the city of Dingxi, a mid-sized city (by Chinese standards -- it still has 2.7 million people) in impoverished Gansu Province. As of this writing, 94 people have lost their lives in the quake, and more than 1,000 are injured. The quake has affected over 120,000 people and will undoubtedly cost millions of dollars in reconstruction fees.
Devastating earthquakes are a global phenomenon, as anyone in Indonesia, Haiti, or Japan can tell you. But China has experienced more than its fair share of earthquake tragedy; according to this list of the world's 10 deadliest earthquakes, the two highest-casualty ones of all time -- and three overall -- happened in China. Given the immutable laws of plate tectonics, the chances that an earthquake will again inflict China in the near future is high. What, then, are the reasons for China's high number of fatalities -- and, more importantly, what does the government have to do to minimize this number in the future?
The first reason has to with some simple, irreversible facts: China has a lot of people -- and a lot of earthquakes. But in addition to being the most populous country in the world, China also is extremely dense -- at least 90 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people live in the eastern half of the country, and the coastal provinces are especially crowded.
Fortunately for China, the area of most seismic activity overlaps with a less populous part of the country: the southwest. This map plots Asian earthquakes, by magnitude, since 1964, and shows a concentration of mega-quakes in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang: none ranking among China's most crowded provinces.
California Institute of Technology
The flip side, however, is this: The areas of heightened seismic activity also overlap with remote, mountainous parts of China, where poor transportation infrastructure makes recovery efforts difficult. For this challenge, at least, China is well-equipped: According to Kit Miyamoto, the president and CEO of the earthquake research firm Miyamoto International, China's dispatch of almost 100,000 well-organized soldiers to Beichuan within hours of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake was "highly impressive given the challenging conditions." Beijing received considerable praise for its recovery effort, especially in respect to how badly the government botched a quake that struck the city of Tangshan in 1976, a calamity that killed a quarter of a million people while China refused offers for assistance.
Yet for China's skill in implementing rescue and recovery operations, its record in pre-empting excess casualties is more problematic.
Much of the infrastructure damage in earthquakes is simply unavoidable, and in hilly areas landslides cause tremendous loss of life long after the earth stops shaking. But in China, the prevalence of low-quality buildings -- many constructed in violation of building codes -- has exacerbated the damage and caused a political headache in Beijing. Following the 2008 Sichuan quake, relatives of the victims wondered aloud why the town's schools had collapsed while the sturdier government buildings remained standing. The uproar -- soon squelched by the government -- touched upon a number of broader controversies in China: government privilege, official corruption, and the yawning gap between rich and poor.
Prior to the onset of economic reforms, the quality of Chinese construction was poor; as in many rural, developing countries, most structures were made from adobe or watered-down concrete and thus were ill-equipped to survive earthquakes. But in the years since, China's improvement in this regard has been striking: major cities boast modern, steel high-rises, and a far higher percentage of the population lives in earthquake-proof structures. Building codes in China are well-defined and up to international standard.
Enforcement of these codes, though, is a problem. As Miyamoto told me, "You need more than just good building codes. You also need good engineers to implement the code, and good contractors to implement the engineers' vision." And along the way, a lot can go wrong: Contractors feel pressure to complete projects ahead of schedule and cut corners. Builders substitute cheap materials in order to cut costs. And then, you have the omnipresent specter of bribery and corruption.
As a result, for a country whose defining structure is an enormous ancient wall, modern Chinese structures have an surprisingly short half-life. New buildings in the country are expected to stand for 25 to 30 years -- a far cry from the U.S. expectation of 70 to 75 years. This difference is partly explained through economics -- China's binge in fixed-asset investment encourages major construction projects, least of all to keep workers employed, and one by-product of all this construction is a huge raise in living standards. But from an earthquake prevention standpoint, the new buildings remain worrisome.
After the 2008 quake devastated the town of Beichuan, local authorities resettled approximately 40,000 people into a new city called Yongchang located 10 or so miles from the epicenter. The new town is clean and picturesque and is, at first glance, a worthy tribute to the victims of the earthquake. But, as this piece by NPR's Louisa Lim describes, there's trouble in paradise: Cracks have appeared in the brand new homes, and a local official has been detained for accepting bribes. Residents have complained of corruption, and when one man attempted to organize them, he was arrested and thrown in jail.
The subject of earthquake damage prevention symbolizes one of the central challenges of contemporary Chinese governance. At the federal level, China has good building codes, the willingness to invest in safe housing, and the means to respond quickly and effectively when tragedy strikes. But at the local level, where the country's population actually interacts with its government, difficulties with corruption and law enforcement mean that subsequent earthquakes will be more tragic than necessary.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
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.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society.
If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts and toward reveries.
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician, the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the vanity of all human endeavors. “It is the natural and common fate of cities,” Wood dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, “to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.” Wood’s beautiful and meticulous prints served as inspirations for paintings, and it was in response to one of those paintings that Diderot wrote some famous pages in his great Salons of 1767: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. ... Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of a rock being worn down, of a valley being formed, of a forest that’s dying, of these deteriorating masses suspended above my head? I see the marble of tombs crumble into powder and I don’t want to die!”
Heather Armstrong’s Dooce once drew millions of readers. Her blog’s semi-retirement speaks to the challenges of earning money as an individual blogger today.
The success story of Dooce.com was once blogger lore, told and re-told in playgroups and Meetups—anywhere hyper-verbal people with Wordpress accounts gathered. “It happened for that Dooce lady,” they would say. “It could happen for your blog, too.”
Dooce has its origin in the late 1990s, when a young lapsed Mormon named Heather Armstrong taught herself HTML code and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job in web design and began blogging about her life on her personal site, Dooce.com.
The site’s name evolved out of her friends’ AOL Instant-Messenger slang for dude, or its more incredulous cousin, "doooood!” About a year later, Armstrong was fired for writing about her co-workers on the site—an experience that, for a good portion of the ‘aughts, came known as “getting dooced.” She eloped with her now ex-husband, Jon, moved to Salt Lake City, and eventually started blogging full time again.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
It’s not just Trump: With Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the rise, Republicans are loving outsiders and shunning politicians.
For the first time in a long time, Donald Trump isn’t the most interesting story in the 2016 presidential race. That's partly because his dominance in the Republican polls, while still surprising, is no longer novel and increasingly well explored and explained, but it’s also partly because what’s going on with the rest of the GOP field is far more interesting.
The brash Manhattan billionaire would seem to stand for values they despise—yet conservative Christian voters are flocking to his campaign.
Donald Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married, and until recently, pro-choice. By conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him. Yet somehow, the Manhattan billionaire has attracted their support.
According to the most recent polls, Trump is one of the top picks for president among evangelical Christians. One Washington Post poll even had him as the group’s favorite by a margin of six points. His first major rally in the Bible-Belt fortress town of Mobile, Alabama, drew an estimated 18,000 attendees. And on September 28, prominent televangelist Paula White will reportedly lead a delegation of evangelical leaders to meet with the mogul in Trump Tower.
Burning Man is underway in the Nevada desert, the migrant crisis grew in both scale and impact, new Star Wars toys went on sale worldwide, China marked the 70thanniversary of the end of World War II, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley was renamed Denali, and much more.
Burning Man is underway in the Nevada desert, the migrant crisis grew in both scale and impact, new Star Wars toys went on sale worldwide, China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley was renamed Denali, a Kentucky county clerk was jailed for contempt of court while refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and much more.
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)