China really ought to have more people like Xu Zhiyong. A law professor, legislator, and civil activist, Xu has worked tirelessly over the past decade in ensuring that China lives up to its constitutional ideals. Writing in The New Yorker in 2009, Evan Osnos described Xu as someone "as close to China gets to a public-interest icon." He even received recognition in the Chinese press for his efforts.
But in May, things took a dark turn for Xu. He sent an open letter to authorities calling for the release of 10 people who had been arrested for publicly demonstrating against corruption. Like the activists, and several others who had been similarly detained, Xu advocated that public officials disclose their financial assets in an effort to improve government transparency.
On Tuesday, Chinese officials arrested Xu in his Beijing apartment, seizing his computers and cell phone in the process. His current whereabouts are unknown.
In the past several months, the Chinese government has carried out a crackdown against anti-corruption activists in the country, arresting at least 15 since January. This process has ensnared not only well-known activists like Xu Zhiyong but also those like Liu Ping, Li Sihua, and Wei Zhongping, three men quietly detained in Jiangxi Province in April.
In the context of Chinese history, the crackdown is hardly news: The People's Republic has never cared for agitators. But what's different about Xu's case is this: Rooting out government corruption happens to be of President Xi Jinping's stated policy goals. Upon becoming China's president last November, Xi vowed to eliminate the "tigers and flies" who had enriched themselves through bribery and patronage.
Why, then, is the Chinese president going after the very people who, in theory, could most help him achieve his goal of rooting out corruption in China?
The answer is simple. Xi Jinping doesn't actually want to end corruption. According to Minxin Pei, a professor of Political Science at Claremont McKenna University, there is an old Chinese saying: "Corruption might destroy the Party, but fighting corruption will definitely destroy the Party." Corruption is the lifeblood of the Chinese government, as Pei says: "The Communist Party is a patronage machine and patronage by definition is corruption. Fighting corruption would require Chinese government officials to live like monks, and nobody joins the Chinese government in order to live like a monk."
Xi Jinping couldn't do much about corruption, even if he wanted to. But what Xi can do is this: crack down on the appearance of corruption. And that's exactly what he's done. Since becoming president, Xi has, among other things, famously asked Party cadres to carpool and cut back on the boozy, lavish dinner banquets that so typified Chinese official privilege. Cutting back on these ostentatious displays of corruption won't actually taking care of the problem -- but, as Andrew Wedeman of Georgie State University says, it "works well as a PR campaign." And that, there, is the issue: Corruption itself isn't bad. It's the public relations nightmare that accompanies corruption that, for the Communist Party, is the real problem.
That's where Xu Zhiyong comes in. The particular cause he advocated in this case -- the unwillingness of Party officials to disclose their assets -- is indeed sensitive in China: Both the New York Times and Bloomberg are firewalled in the country after reporting on the wealth amassed by former Premier Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping, respectively. But discussing the issue of wealth disclosure itself isn't necessarily taboo in China: Current Vice Premier Wang Yang said last year that he expected officials to comply by this request eventually, and last year a local cadre in Hunan Province published his personal financial information on Chinese social media. Furthermore, the Chinese government isn't afraid of general vigilance against corruption: There's even established a hot line for people who see something that doesn't look right.
But Xu's problem this: as a well-known, experienced activist, he has the potential to cause widespread public recognition of a corruption problem. Unlike earlier generations of activists, Xu can utilize social media in order to promote a cause, and that, more than anything else, is what the Chinese government fears: losing control of the public narrative. What starts as a campaign to force officials to disclose their assets might, as Pei says, then turn into a campaign for greater press freedom. "It doesn't take a political genius to see the risks Xi Jinping faces," he said. But unfortunately for Xi Jinping and his colleagues, there's only so much you can crack down on the Internet; and corruption isn't just going to go away on its own.
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.
Neuroscientist James Fallon discovered through his work that he has the brain of a psychopath, and subsequently learned a lot about the role of genes in personality and how his brain affects his life.
In 2005, James Fallon's life started to resemble the plot of a well-honed joke or big-screen thriller: A neuroscientist is working in his laboratory one day when he thinks he has stumbled upon a big mistake. He is researching Alzheimer's and using his healthy family members' brain scans as a control, while simultaneously reviewing the fMRIs of murderous psychopaths for a side project. It appears, though, that one of the killers' scans has been shuffled into the wrong batch.
The scans are anonymously labeled, so the researcher has a technician break the code to identify the individual in his family, and place his or her scan in its proper place. When he sees the results, however, Fallon immediately orders the technician to double check the code. But no mistake has been made: The brain scan that mirrors those of the psychopaths is his own.
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
He died on a Saturday.
My mother and I had planned to pick my dad up from the hospital for a trip to the park. He loved to sit and watch families stroll by as we chatted about oak trees, Kona coffee, and the mysteries of God. This time, the park would miss him.
His skin, smooth and brown like the outside of an avocado seed, glistened with sweat as he struggled to take his last breaths.
In that next year, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
Nuts-and-bolts Washington coverage has shifted to subscription-based publications, while the capitol’s traditional outlets have shrunk.
Back in 2009, I had a job with a Washington, D.C.-based newsletter called Water Policy Report. It wasn’t exactly a household name, but I was covering Congress, the federal courts, and the Environmental Protection Agency—a definite step up from the greased-pig-catching contests and crime-blotter stories I had chased at a community newspaper on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, my first job out of college.
One of my responsibilities at the newsletter was to check the Federal Register—the official portal that government agencies use to inform the public about regulatory actions. In December of that year I noticed an item that said that the Environmental Protection Agency had decided that existing pollution controls for offshore oil-drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were adequate, and that there wasn’t enough pollution coming from those platforms to warrant further review or action.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
Places like St. Louis and New York City were once similarly prosperous. Then, 30 years ago, the United States turned its back on the policies that had been encouraging parity.
Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.
Twitter stock fell more than 10 percent after the announcement.
Since it went public two years ago, investors have rarely considered Twitter’s prospects rosy. The sliver of Twitter’s users who are interested in how it fares as a corporation have gotten used to this, I think: There’s an idea you see floating around that, beyond avoiding bankruptcy, Twitter’s financial success has little bearing on its social utility. Maybe there are only 320 million humans interested in seeing 140-character updates from their friends every day after all. If you make a website that 4 percent of the world’s population finds interesting enough to peek at every month, you shouldn’t exactly feel embarrassed.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
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.
“Wanting and not wanting the same thing at the same time is a baseline condition of human consciousness.”
Gary Noesner is a former FBI hostage negotiator. For part of the 51-day standoff outside the Branch Davidian religious compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, he was the strategic coordinator for negotiations with the compound’s leader, David Koresh. This siege ended in infamous tragedy: The FBI launched a tear-gas attack on the compound, which burned to the ground, killing 76 people inside. But before Noesner was rotated out of his position as the siege’s head negotiator, he and his team secured the release of 35 people.
Jamie Holmes, a Future Tense Fellow at New America, spoke to Noesner for his new book Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing. “My experience suggests,” Noesner told Holmes, “that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, people are confused and ambivalent. Part of them wants to die, part of them wants to live. Part of them wants to surrender, part of them doesn’t want to surrender.” And good negotiators, Noesner says, are “people who can dwell fairly effectively in the areas of gray, in the uncertainties and ambiguities of life.”