The accident in Wenzhou that killed 40 people has pushed criticism of Beijing across the Web and even onto state-run television
A week since the fatal high-speed rail accident in Wenzhou, and there's little more I can add to the voluminous reportage and reactions that have circulated (see here and here). The outpouring on the Chinese blogosphere and Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, has been tremendous and virtually instantaneous. And perhaps most surprising to me was how unreservedly the liberal Chinese press engaged the story, reporting powerful accounts from victims and their families, and holding the government directly accountable. And it wasn't just the unofficial press, even CCTV was unleashing some ostensible anger. A monologue from CCTV anchor, Qiu Qiming, caught the public's attention (translated from Chinese):
"If nobody can be safe, do we still want this speed? Can we drink a glass of milk that's safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not fall? Can the roads we travel on in our cities not collapse? Can we travel in safe trains? And if and when a major accident does happen, can we not be in a hurry to bury the trains? Can we afford the people a basic sense of security? China, please slow down. If you're too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind."
It seemed remarkable, at least for a few days.
Now the state has decided that enough venting has been had and enough "flowers have bloomed". Thus the "7.23 incident"--as it is dubbed in China--has quietly fallen off the front pages, buried elsewhere below the fold (or no longer in prominent spots on websites). Much uncertainty continues to surround just exactly what happened and the fate of the rail project. Questions remain over whether this episode will force the Ministry of Railways to transform itself from a stodgy, opaque bureaucracy to one that is more professional and capable of managing a massive system.
Despite the fact that I continue to believe that an HSR network makes rational sense in the context of China's economic development and urbanization ambitions, the execution of it has been far from competent. I have written on the corruption and possible pitfalls that could bedevil the network. And ultimately, I believe this episode will turn out to be much less about China's technological proficiency but rather the result of a combination of the pervasive "good enough" (差多) mentality in implementation and a government's inability to fully manage a project that took on a life of its own.
But instead of adding weight to the growing body of reflections, I thought I would highlight some of the greatest hits that have so far emerged from this tragedy, in my view. Some are in-your-face defiance and some are more subtly subversive. Take, for example, this eminently homemade T-shirt-ready logo (courtesy of ChinaSmack):
A bold political message with the aid of Photoshop--a public "F you" to the railway ministry. I'd file this under the first category of "in your face" irreverence.
In the "subversive" category, I present you this video* that creates a montage of the rail accident and its aftermath to the soundtrack of that infamous '80s Chinese rock anthem "Nothing to My Name (一所有)". Oh yes they did, they brought back the godfather of Chinese rock Cui Jian:
For those unfamiliar with Cui Jian, he rose to prominence in the tumultuous late '80s with that hit rock single. It seemed to have captured the zeitgeist better than anything else, as Chinese youth grappled with the sense of waywardness during the first decade of discombobulating economic reforms. Cui's ballad was then coopted by students during that memorable summer of 1989 in that famous Beijing square.
I don't want to draw breathless, and in all likelihood unfounded, parallels to that summer of discontent. But is it just pure nostalgia for Cui Jian and the '80s? Or is this a subtle message that prompted the hasty removal of the original video on Tudou?
Yet it resurfaced on YouTube and elsewhere as swiftly as it was removed. To me, that was the essence of this disaster. It was a demonstration of the power of individual agency, amplified by new technology and media, that momentarily knocked the state off balance. The hundreds of thousands individuals who tweeted and commented weren't seeking to overthrow the government or foment revolution. They simply wanted honest answers and accountability from a government that they were asked to trust deeply.
If the government continues to refuse to deliver the kind of good governance and transparency demanded of it, then merely delivering economic growth will no longer suffice.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
Passengers on a domestic flight deplaning in New York were asked to present ID by Customs and Border Protection agents—a likely unenforceable demand that nevertheless diminishes freedom.
American citizens had their introduction to the Trump-era immigration machine Wednesday, when Customs and Border Protection agents met an airliner that had just landed at New York’s JFK airport after a flight from San Francisco. According to passenger accounts, a flight attendant announced that all passengers would have to show their “documents” as they deplaned, and they did. The reason for the search, Homeland Security officials said, was to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a search for a specific immigrant who had received a deportation order after multiple criminal convictions. The target was not on the flight.
After days of research, I can find no legal authority for ICE or CBP to require passengers to show identification on an entirely domestic fight. The ICE authorizing statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1357, provides that agents can conduct warrantless searches of “any person seeking admission to the United States”—if, that is, the officer has “reasonable cause to suspect” that the individual searched may be deportable. CBP’s statute, 19 U.S.C. § 1467, grants search authority “whenever a vessel from a foreign port or place or from a port or place in any Territory or possession of the United States arrives at a port or place in the United States.” CBP regulations, set out at 19 C.F.R. § 162.6, allow agents to search “persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof.”
When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
The president has long toyed with the media, but the stakes are much higher now.
American presidents have often clashed with the press. But for a long time, the chief executive had little choice but to interact with journalists anyway.
This was as much a logistical matter as it was a begrudging commitment to the underpinnings of Democracy: News organizations were the nation’s watchdogs, yes, but also stewards of the complex editorial and technological infrastructure necessary to reach the rest of the people. They had the printing presses, then the steel-latticed radio towers, and, eventually, the satellite TV trucks. The internet changed everything. Now, when Donald Trump wants to say something to the masses, he types a few lines onto his pocket-sized computer-phone and broadcasts it to an audience of 26 million people (and bots) with the tap of a button.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a new paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.”
Each new incident assumes added significance for Muslims and Jews who see them as part of a broader pattern.
Tarek El-Messidi had been planning to leave Philadelphia to visit family on Sunday night. But when he heard that Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery had been desecrated, he cancelled his flight. El-Messidi is Muslim, but he felt it was important to be with his hometown Jewish community at that moment, he said. “Both communities in America are being targeted right now. There’s a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said. “That could have just as easily been a Muslim cemetery.”
Just one week after a Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized, Philadelphia police reported that roughly 100 headstones have been toppled or damaged in the Mount Carmel cemetery. These are not easy monuments to knock down, El-Messidi said: He saw several toppled stones that were three or four feet wide at the base. El-Messidi and the local rabbis who showed up on Sunday night said their group observed far more extensive damage than police reported, with more than 500 headstones affected throughout the cemetery. It’s not clear when that damage happened, though, or whether it was all intentional.
Two of the world’s three richest people extol the virtue, and relevance, of optimism in the age of Trump—and predict a comeback for fact-based discourse.
Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, and Warren Buffett, the third richest, are—not entirely coincidentally—two of the most unremittingly optimistic men on the planet. So when I met the two of them in New York recently to talk about the state of humankind, and about the future of American democracy, I had a clear understanding of my mission, which was to pressure-test their sanguinity at every turn.
I tried, and failed, though not completely. Both men appear to doubt some of President Trump’s innovations in rhetoric and policy. Both men have warm feelings about immigrants, and also about facts, and so are predisposed to react skeptically to recent developments in the capital. When I asked whether they believed America needed to be made great again, Buffett nearly jumped out of his chair: “We are great! We are great!” And when I asked about the Trump Administration’s problematic relationship with empiricism, Gates said, “I predict a comeback for the truth.” He went on to say, “To the degree that certain solutions are created not based on facts, I believe these won’t be as successful as those that are based on facts. Democracy is a self-correcting thing.”
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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