The trial of Bo Xilai, indicted for bribery and abuse of power, is scheduled to begin Thursday in Jinan, Shandong Province. Jason Lee/Reuters
For an event whose outcome is all but assured, the Bo Xilai trial -- scheduled to begin in Jinan on Thursday -- arrives with an unusual amount of fanfare. Bo is accused of bribery and abuse of power, and without question will be found guilty and sentenced to prison, probably for a very long time. The conviction will conclude one of China's most dazzling political careers -- as well as one of its most spectacular downfalls. As the Party Secretary of Chongqing, the dashing Bo engineered a populist revival of Mao-era culture as well as cracked down on organized crime, becoming a star destined for higher office. But a scandal involving the poisoning death of a British businessman, a crime for which Bo's wife was found guilty, led to Bo's expulsion from the Communist Party and ultimate indictment.
In the predictable world of Chinese criminal justice, Bo's conviction is assured. But that doesn't mean that his trial will be a dull, perfunctory exercise. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for the top levels of the Chinese government to be nervous -- and that alone makes the proceedings worth paying attention to.
Typically, Chinese officials indicted for corruption attract little public sympathy. But Bo isn't just any politician. Months after his expulsion from the Communist Party and banishment from public life, Bo still commands significant grassroots support throughout the country. In an effort to clamp down on pro-Bo sentiment, the Chinese government has threatened and intimidated supportive bloggers into silence. Clearly, Beijing wants the trial to come and go without anyone making a fuss. But the government has to be careful; an unjustly harsh verdict may inflame Bo's supporters, causing a public relations headache that the Communist Party wants desperately to avoid.
There's also the question of what Bo will say and do in the courthouse. In Chinese jurisprudence, there's usually no reason for defendants to put up much of a fight, since they're almost certainly going to be found guilty anyway. But the circumstances of Bo's trial are different. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bo apparently believes that the charges against him are unfair, and that his wife Gu Kailai -- already guilty of the murder of Neil Heywood -- is more to blame. For her part, Gu is willing to testify against her husband if it helps protect their son, a law student in the United States, and avoid further legal trouble herself. Given this situation, Bo may find it in his interest to fight the charges, even if it means risking a lengthier prison sentence if he fails to persuade the judges of his innocence.
(It's worth noting that Gu has other problems, too: Heywood's family in the U.K. now wants financial compensation for his death, but even they have begun fighting amongst themselves. A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't make this up.)
Then there's the raucous, chaotic nature of major political trials in China, where condemned leaders don't always go gently into the night. Chen Xitong, the former Beijing mayor convicted of corruption in the 1990s, told his judge that "if you sentence me to prison, you'd better get 300 coffins ready." Jiang Qing was once China's most powerful woman, who, as Mao Zedong's wife, ruled the country as the leader of the "Gang of Four." During her trial in the early 1980s, Jiang screamed at and ridiculed the court, referring to a female judge as "a bitch." The smooth, urbane Bo doesn't seem like the sort to have an outburst in court; but if he acts out, it would not be unprecedented in the history of Chinese jurisprudence.
What does the Bo Xilai trial say about China? On the surface, not much. Those hoping that Bo's trial will usher in a period of "rule of law" in China will probably be disappointed. But the rise and fall of Bo Xilai, reflects a new era in Chinese politics, where regional politicians can leverage social media to leverage nationwide, grassroots support. Rather than being a distraction in what would otherwise be an ordinary government corruption trial, Bo Xilai's very celebrity is the detail that keeps Beijing's leaders up at night.
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.
For those who didn't go to prestigious schools, don't come from money, and aren't interested in sports and booze—it's near impossible to gain access to the best paying jobs.
As income inequality in the U.S. strikes historic highs, many people are starting to feel that the American dream is either dead or out of reach. Only 64 percent of Americans still believe that it’s possible to go from rags to riches, and, in another poll, 63 percent said they did not believe their children would be better off than they were. These days, the idea that anyone who works hard can become wealthy is at best a tough sell.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
What it’s like to watch a komodo dragon get dissected
Try to imagine how hard it would be to skin a Komodo dragon.
It is harder than that.
The problem is that the giant lizard’s hide is not just tough and leathery, but also reinforced. Many of the scales contain a small nugget of bone, called an osteoderm, which together form a kind of pointillist body armor. Sawing through these is tough on both arms and blades.
I’m at the Royal Veterinary College, about 20 kilometers outside of central London, watching four biologists put their shoulders into the task. A Komodo dragon, which recently died in London Zoo for unexplained reasons, lies on a steel gurney in front of them. Their task, over the next three days, is to dissect it and measure all of its muscles. So, first, the skin must come off.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements in what appears to be a case of blackmail.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, who first reported on the indictment, 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 reading between the lines of the indictment against Hastert suggests 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?
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.
Reforms were slow to take hold in Cincinnati, but when they did, they drove down crime while also reducing arrests.
CINCINNATI—Citizens were throwing stones and beer bottles at police officers in front of City Hall, and Maris Herold didn’t understand what they wanted.
She was a police officer herself, and knew that her department had made some missteps. Most recently, an officer gunned down a 19-year-old unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas—the fifteenth black man to die at the hands of police in five years.
But, Herold knew, the police were investigating the incident. They were listening to the community. They were working 12-hour shifts to protect the city from looting and fires, though the disturbance would soon turn into the worst riots in the U.S. in a decade.
“I was like, ‘We’re doing everything right, obviously the police officers made mistakes and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,’” she told me recently. Herold, who joined the police force after a career in social work, couldn’t understand what more the police could do to make amends with the community.
There are two types of people in the world: those with hundreds of unread messages, and those who can’t relax until their inboxes are cleared out.
For some, it’s a spider. For others, it’s an unexpected run-in with an ex. But for me, discomfort is a dot with a number in it: 1,328 unread-message notifications? I just can’t fathom how anyone lives like that.
How is it that some people remain calm as unread messages trickle into their inboxes and then roost there unattended, while others can’t sit still knowing that there are bolded-black emails and red-dotted Slack messages? I may operate toward the extreme end of compulsive notification-eliminators, but surveys suggest I’m not alone: One 2012 study found that 70 percent of work emails were attended to within six seconds of their arrival.
This has led me to a theory that there are two types of emailers in the world: Those who can comfortably ignore unread notifications, and those who feel the need to take action immediately.