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.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
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.
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements, reportedly while attempting to conceal past sexual misconduct.
Updated on May 29, 2015, at 4:05 p.m.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements, reportedly while paying a man to cover up past sexual misconduct.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But Hastert’s indictment seems to involve a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
This week, we have photos of the oppressive heatwave in India, a high walkway made of musical glass planks in China, an aerial view of Chicago at night, rescued baby iguanas in Costa Rica, the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, and much more.