The JP Morgan sign is pictured at its Beijing office. (Jason Lee/Reuters)
There is a wonderful word in Chinese that, soon after arrival in the country, every expatriate learns: guanxi. The most common English translation for guanxi is "relationship", but this only captures part of its meaning. In China, guanxi refers to the total strength of a person's interpersonal connections -- and his ability to leverage these connections in order to get ahead. This, in a country of 1.3 billion, is an essential asset. Having "good guanxi" can mean the difference in getting a job, getting into the right school, or ensuring that a new business venture avoids unnecessary government attention. Intractable problems can be resolved, quickly and without undue stress, by "pulling" guanxi.
So this brings us to the case of JPMorgan, now under investigation by the SEC for allegedly hiring the children of high-ranking Chinese officials in exchange for lucrative business deals. Hiring the sons and daughters of important Chinese officials is hardly unusual -- and not illegal -- for a company with Chinese business interests, but the SEC is weighing whether these hires led directly to bank business -- and thus violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
JPMorgan's alleged transgressions have met with a collective shrug in the United States, where Americans of privilege are long used to pulling guanxi in order to obtain plum jobs. Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin defends this practice as practically harmless, even saying that the children of elite are better candidates for these jobs because -- lo and behold! -- they have better contacts and thus are more useful than mere commoners. Or, as the Chinese would say, they simply have more guanxi, a commodity of real value.
Sorkin's probably right that from Wall Street's point of view, hiring the well-connected -- people who are usually intelligent and competent, anyway -- makes sense. But what does it say about society as a whole? As The Atlantic Wire's Dashiell Bennett and others have pointed out, just because a Chelsea Clinton has the wit and education to succeed in finance doesn't mean that other members of her Stanford graduating class -- or those with less prestigious educational pedigrees -- do not. And over time, only hiring the well-connected seals off the entire industry to outsiders, making a mockery of the Horatio Alger-ism that supposedly underpins American prosperity.
In China, the guanxi problem is even more pronounced. Although bribery is technically illegal in the country, China lacks a regulatory body with the scope, mandate, and independence of the SEC, or any other institution overseeing the relationship between business and politics; which, in China, are so entwined that it would make a K Street lobbyist blush. This is not by accident; one way of explaining Chinese prosperity over the past three decades is that, by and large, business has bought into the political system, while politicians have bought into business.
But the consequences of this guanxi-led business have become apparent in China. First, income inequality has grown over the years to an extent that, by some measurements, China is a more unequal society than the United States. In addition to the effect inequality has had on the economy, a gulf between the well-born and everyone else has emerged in Chinese society. When a 19-year old Chinese student living in Italy was killed in July, many of her compatriots were unsympathetic; after all, in order for her to have gone abroad in the first place, she must have come from money. This was hardly a unique example: throughout the country, there's a pervasive belief that the rich get to play by their own rules. And while there are institutions in China that are supposed to mitigate inequality -- for example the gaokao, China's univeral college entrance examination, gives students from any background a chance to attend elite universities -- class divisions in China have grown worse over the years. Good guanxi has never been so important.
It isn't JPMorgan's responsibility to push for social mobility in China (or the United States), and in any case the company has denied wrongdoing. But whether or not the SEC investigation uncovers any criminality, the story at least highlights an issue that, in China, shouldn't just be ignored.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Along with the Nancy Drew series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient.
In the opening pages of a recent installment of the children’s book series The Hardy Boys, black smoke drifts though the ruined suburb of Bayport. The town's residents, dressed in tatters and smeared with ash, stumble past the local pharmacy and diner. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. “Unreal,” says the mystery-solving teenager Joe Hardy—and he's right. Joe and his brother Frank are on a film set, and the people staggering through the scene are actors dressed as zombies. But as is always the case with Hardy Boysbooks, something still isn’t quite right: This time, malfunctioning sets nearly kill several actors, and the brothers find themselves in the middle of yet another mystery.
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.
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.