Some Chinese America-watchers seem to think the actor's oddball speech went quite well, but others are simply using it to practice their foreign language skills.
Left, Clint Eastwood scolds an empty chair where he imagines President Obama is sitting. Right, a Chinese site uses the speech to teach English. (AP)
Whatever the domestic impact of actor-director Clint Eastwood's speech endorsing Romney at the Republic National Convention last night, it's having a surprisingly robust international life. After bouncing around Iranian Facebook communities, which treated it with suspicious befuddlement, the Chinese Internet is putting the speech, perhaps somewhat characteristically, to much more practical use.
At least one of China's many English-learning sites, 171english.cn, has posted audio and the transcript of the much-derided speech, so that its readers can use it to practice their English listening and reading comprehension. "Audio and transcript for Clint Eastwood's Speech at 2012 U.S. Republican Party National Convention," reads the Chinese-language header, according to Beijing-based Atlantic writer Helen Gao. The site's English header announces, "Gelivable English Langauge Teaching: Exchange Cooperation Model Innovation." I don't know what that means, either.
These sorts of websites are prolific, and typically use BBC, NPR, or CNN recordings, Helen explained. U.S. government-sponsored soft power outlet Voice of America is a favorite of English-learners, she said, because the reporters tend to speak slowly.
"There aren't many people talking about" Eastwood's speech in China, Helen told me, but "the few that are, are pretty impressed." That's right: impressed with Clint Eastwood. While many of us are scratching our heads in the U.S., the small number of Chinese observers who are aware of the speech seem to have concluded that it went well, according to Helen's anecdotal encounters in Beijing and on the raucous Chinese social web.
"It got enthusiastic responses from the crowd," is the common impression, she said. "It's pretty much based on the crowd's reaction, because they have so little context to judge if the speech is a good one. But if everyone's laughing then it must be pretty good." The state-media response has been warm as well, as reflected in this Chinese-language Sina news service article, with some color commentary from Helen*:
Hollywood strongman Clint Eastwood appeared at the Republican National Convention today to support and warm the auditorium for Romney, and he was welcomed with enthusiasm. He excited the crowd with a famous line from Dirty Harry [the Chinese translation for this movie literally means "an urgent arresting order"] and made the audience very high. [This sounds very informal but is actually what's being said.]
Reflecting, Helen added of the speech, "It would definitely be difficult to explain to my mom why this is funny."
So, very lost in translation. But she also suggested that maybe Chinese reactions aren't really about the speech itself. "Here it's almost like an excuse to admire the American way of campaigning," she said, explaining that Chinese who are attuned to American news often appreciate American politics for "the informal feeling of it," "the ability to appeal to the crowd," and "the thrill of openly making fun of an 'official.'" It's "all very, very foreign," she said. It certainly is.
* -- When Helen showed me this article, I asked, "Is it this funny when you read how American media cover China? Do we get it this wrong?" I held my breath. She answered, "Not that I can remember," and then more seriously, "I think American media is much better at paying attention to what common Chinese people are thinking and saying."
As Trump considers military options, he’s drawing unenforceable red lines.
Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country. He sounded almost excited as he threatened, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
North Korea is a serious problem, and not one of Trump’s making—the last four American presidents failed to impede North Korea’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. President George H.W. Bush took unilateral action, removing U.S. nuclear weapons and reducing America’s troop levels in the region, hoping to incentivize good behavior; Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to negotiate restrictions; President Barack Obama mostly averted his eyes. North Korea defied them all.
Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.
J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.
J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.
His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The sports network’s controversial transformation is driven more by the audience and less by elites than many observers realize.
Bryan Curtis reports a striking scene in “Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN,” his essay on America’s premier sports network and its relationship with politics. The staff of SportsCenter, a group under fire for producing shows that are “too political,” are gathered together to decide the contents of the 6 p.m. broadcast.
“ESPN’s transformation is usually described as swapping a highlight for a debate segment,” Curtis writes. “But the changes are even more elemental. At the SC6 staff meeting, everyone had their heads buried in their social media feeds, looking for content … Twitter is now the de facto coordinating producer of ESPN’s daytime lineup. The network’s old currency was a highlight of Klay Thompson shooting a three. The new currency — and, indeed, that day’s top offering — was a video of Thompson dancing like a dork in a Chinese nightclub. Programming ESPN is like curating your Twitter feed: Find the content that everyone’s talking about and craft the right joke.”
What was it like inside the brain of an ancient prophet?
James Kugel has been spent his entire scholarly career studying the Bible, but some very basic questions about it still obsess him. What was it about the minds of ancient Israelites that allowed them to hear and see God directly—or at least, to believe that they did? Were the biblical prophets literally hearing voices and seeing visions, understanding themselves to be transmitting God’s own exact words? If so, why did such direct encounters with God become rarer over time?
In his new and final book, The Great Shift, Kugel investigates these questions through the lens of neuroscientific findings. (The approach is reminiscent of other recent books, like Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences, co-written by a neurologist and a mysticism scholar.) First, Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do. Then he uses scientific research to show that we shouldn’t assume their view was wrong. If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does.
Old French Canadian genealogy records reveal how a harmful mutation can hide from natural selection in a mother's DNA.
The first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. Given their numbers, they were not literally the king’s daughters of course.
They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America.
And so they did. The filles du roi became the founding mothers of French Canadians, for whom these women are a source of historical pride. A grand old restaurant in Montreal was named after the filles du roi. So is a roller-derby team. French Canadians can usually trace their ancestry back to one or more of these women. “French Canadian genealogy is so well documented, it’s just a piece of cake to trace any line you have,” says Susan Colby, a retired archaeologist who comes from a French Canadian family and has done some of that tracing herself.
The Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 18-hour series on The Vietnam War began its run on PBS on Sunday night and continues through this week and next. I felt about as familiar with that era as I could imagine—with its tensions at the time, with the journalism and literature that came out of it, with the historical assessments, with the war’s role in music and movies and others parts of pop culture and public imagination. Even so I found this a tremendously revealing series. I recommend it very highly. Please find a way to watch—now, or in the many streaming and download alternatives they are making available.
As with any attempt to grapple with a topic this vast and complex, and of such emotional and historical consequence, the Burns/Novick series is bound to be controversial. For one example of an avenue of criticism, see this review by veteran Asia-hand correspondent Jim Laurie, who was on-scene in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.
The gynecological device may have an ethically fraught history, but it's hard to improve on the design.
Few women enjoy pelvic exams: the crinkly paper dress, the awkward questions, the stirrups, the vague fear that can comes with doctors’s visits of any kind (what if they find something abnormal, something bad, something cancerous?). But perhaps no piece of the pelvic exam is as reviled as the vaginal speculum—the cold, clicking, duck-billed apparatus that lifts and separates the vaginal walls so a near-stranger can peer inside.
The speculum’s history is, like many medical histories, full of dubious ethics. Versions of the speculum have been found in medical texts dating back to the Greek physician Galen in 130 A.D. and shown up in archaeological digs as far back as 79 A.D. amidst the dust of Pompeii. (The artifact from Pompeii is a bit of a nightmare: two blades that open and close via a corkscrew-like mechanism.)
Amidst aggressive fundraising to support his reelection, the wealthiest president in American history is tapping the Republican National Committee and his campaign to pay Russia-related lawyer fees.
President Trump, whose surname became a byword for gilded opulence in the 1980s and 1990s, is reportedly leaning on his reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay legal fees stemming from the Russia investigation.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Trump’s legal team had received payments from both organizations, although it was not immediately clear how much has been disbursed. The payments are legal, the wire service noted, because Federal Election Commission regulations authorize using private campaign funds to pay for legal costs incurred “as a candidate or elected official.” They’re also not entirely unprecedented.
Trump’s campaign coffers are being filled through an aggressive fundraising operation. The president made the unprecedented decision to begin raising money for his reelection in 2020 soon after he won last November, far earlier than any of his predecessors in the modern campaign-finance era. Some of his email solicitations for donations have included thinly veiled references to the Russia investigation, usually by way of criticizing the media. In a July 19 fundraising pitch sent one week after Donald Trump Jr. disclosed a secret 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, Trump denounced the “fake news media” as “the real opposition.”