When the People's Republic begins its once-per-decade power handoff tomorrow, here's where to find clues as to the country's future.
Now that the U.S. election is behind us, time to turn to the next most important political transition in years: the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress. Seventeen congresses have gone by and hardly anyone has paid much attention, including most Chinese themselves. This time is a little different.
Beyond the usual pageantry and effusive praise of the CCP record since the time of Chairman Mao, surrounding this congress is a great deal of intrigue. For starters, consider the characters in the drama, which has become ripe for the kind of meme-worthy moments that marked the American election. Will Premier Wen Jiabao unexpectedly stray from his script and make a spirited denial of his family wealth? (What is your effective tax rate, premier?) Will we play a drinking game for every time Hu Jintao says "scientific development" or "harmonious society" during his speech? Will Bo Xilai photo-bomb the entire show? Will there be a sartorial rogue that dares to stride onstage in a silver suit and yellow tie? (I hear Zhang Dejiang's got quite the wardrobe).
Silliness aside, this question will be most important of all: what will be at stake for China's political and economic future?
If we're looking for compelling answers, we likely won't find them in Chinese rhetoric. American politicians tell stories; Chinese politicians wade through turgid theoretical treatises. The stilted and robotic nature of Chinese political discourse stands in stark contrast to President Obama's soaring speeches. But for the CCP and Chinese in general, politics and language are so deeply linked that understanding political rhetoric is crucial.
Take this excerpt of a speech I translated that was given by the outgoing president, Hu Jintao, in July this year. Dubbed the "7.23" speech for the day it aired, it is now getting prime real estate on the official 18th party congress coverage sites, implying its significance in shaping the backbone of Hu's legacy. In it, the terms "unwaveringly" appears three times and has since been turned into a political neologism along the lines of "three unwavers". For students of Chinese modern history, this follows in the footsteps of the "two whatevers" of Hua Guofeng, the once-designated successor to Mao Zedong. It was a formulation meant to defend the path Mao laid out for China, even after his death. As history would have it, Mao lost and Deng Xiaoping won. Hu said:
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the banner of contemporary China's progress, and is also the banner under which a united Communist Party and nation strive for. We must unwaveringly maintain socialism with Chinese characteristics, based on the important thought guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory and Three Represents and the thorough implementation of the Scientific Development Concept. We must firmly grasp our work and the urgency of execution, so that over the next five years, we can decisively plant the foundations for realizing our objective of comprehensively building a moderately well-off society by 2020; and that by mid-century, we will have fully achieved socialist modernization.
We must unwaveringly walk the correct path that has long been paved by the Communist Party and Chinese people through practical experience, no matter the fear of risks and no matter the temptation to stray. Thought liberalization remains the ultimate powerful intellectual weapon that promotes the party's and the people's unfinished enterprise. Reform and opening up has always been, and continues to be, the powerful driving force for the development of the party and Chinese people. We must unwaveringly push forward reform and opening up, never becoming rigid, never stagnant. Unite all strength that can be united, muster all positive factors that can be mustered, and brim with confidence to overcome all challenges and risks in the road ahead.
May Confucius bless you, and bless the People's Republic of China.
Okay, so I made up the closing sentence, but the rest is authentic Chinese-politics speak. There will be seven more days of this, and I am ready. You should be too.
The political event formally begins on November 8 and is expected to last about a week, at which time the main event will take place: the official unveiling of China's new leaders. Over the course of the week, I will be providing regular updates on the congress, so keep an eye on this space.
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.
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
Plant proteins called lectins are an emerging source of confusion and fear.
Two weeks ago, a publicist sent me an early copy of a book that claimed it would change everything I thought I knew about food.
That happens a lot. This one caught my eye because it warned of the “hidden dangers lurking in my salad bowl,” and I was eating a salad.
The book, The Plant Paradox, has an image of an artfully smashed tomato on the cover, and it tells readers that eating tomatoes is “inciting a kind of chemical warfare in our bodies, causing inflammatory reactions that can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions.”
Tomatoes and ill-timed references to chemical warfare are, apparently, only a small part of the problem. The Plant Paradox urgently warns against eating wheat, beans, and peanuts, among other plants.
In a series of astonishing statements, Trump underscores the extent to which his worldview—and his sense of himself—is shaped by what he sees on television. Yet at the same time, his media literacy is questionable.
References to the news media surface repeatedly throughout the conversation. “I used to get great press,” Trump says at one point. “I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media.”
Trump is known for being a voracious viewer of television news and punditry, which may help explain why he’s so rattled by coverage he doesn’t like. Television clearly shapes some of his thinking. He frequently borrows the language of TV—like his obsession with ratings as a metric for popularity—as a way to describe his presidency. Trump has been known to tweet in response to what’s being broadcast on Fox News at any given time. On Saturday, instead of attending the White House Correspondents Dinner, he’s holding a rally in Pennsylvania to mark 100 days in office—a rally that’s not just an event, but also competing programming: a way of upending the spotlight on the press.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
The organization has a flair for attracting media attention, but lacks a mass membership or scholarly expertise—and its connection to its famed namesake isn’t what it claims.
Sean Spicer was in trouble. In a press conference addressing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, the White House press secretary had fallen into one of his signature slow-moving train-wrecks of an analogy: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he said, later clarifying that he understood Hitler did use them in “the Holocaust centers” but didn’t use them “on his own people.” The claims were wrong in just about every way: Adolf Hitler used gas chambers to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps across Europe, including German citizens.
“BREAKING NEWS: SEAN SPICER DENIES HITLER GASSED JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST,” the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote in all-caps on Facebook. “MR. PRESIDENT, FIRE SEAN SPICER NOW.” Weeks earlier, the center had slammed Donald Trump for being slow to condemn a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers—“a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” it said—and the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of news outlets picked up the statements, and the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, was all over television. After all, this was the American organization that speaks for Anne Frank, the teenaged author of the world-famous diary about her life in hiding in Amsterdam before she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
An interview with the Associated Press shows President Trump slowly coming to terms with the size of the government he now runs, and the challenges he must tackle.
Every president faces a steep learning curve when he enters the presidency. There is, as John F. Kennedy, wrote, no school for commanders in chief. Yet even by that standard, recent interviews show a Donald Trump who is genuinely surprised by the size of his duties, the interests he must balance, and the methods required to get that done.
On Sunday, the Associated Press released a transcript of an interview with the president last week. It deserves to be read in full: It captures his constant evasiveness on facts, preferring hyperbole, for example, and his detachment from reality—when asked about a “contract with the American voter” on what he’d achieve in 100 days, Trump dismisses it, saying, “Somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan.”
Could waxworms—or something inside them—help degrade the planet’s mountains of plastic waste?
When she’s not working in her lab at Spain’s IBBTEC institute, Federica Bertocchini keeps bees. One day, when she looked at her hives, she found them infested with caterpillars called waxworms. These insects are the bane of beekeepers because they voraciously devour the wax that bees use to build their honeycombs. Bertocchini picked out the pests and put them in a plastic bag, while she cleaned out the hives. And when she returned to the bag, she found it full of holes.
The waxworms had eaten their way out.
Bertocchini doesn’t study insects, waxworms, or plastic—she focuses on the early development of animal embryos. But you can’t keep a good scientist away from an interesting question, and the perforated bags posed an obvious one: Were the waxworms actually digesting the plastic?
The president has been frustrated on many fronts in his first hundred days, but on his watch, unauthorized border crossings have fallen sharply.
Obamacare remains the law of the land. So does NAFTA. Tax reform exists only as pixels in a tweet. Infrastructure ain’t happening. Five months after the Republicans won united control of Congress and the presidency, it seems uncertain whether one-party Washington can avoid a government shutdown over a budget dispute.
Yet as Day 100 of his presidency nears, President Donald Trump can take credit for one huge accomplishment, an accomplishment more central to his election campaign than any of the unfulfilled pledges above. Illegal immigration into the United States has slowed dramatically. The Department of Homeland Security reports that illegal crossings across the southern border plunged 40 percent in the first month of the Trump presidency, the steepest decline in illegal migration since the recession of 2009. Illegal immigration by family groups with children has dropped by over 90 percent.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.