There are areas where, as best I can tell, the Chinese authorities actually struggle to Do the Right Thing when it comes to international responsibilities. For instance, a U.S. business bigshot who visited Shanghai yesterday said that not one of the Chinese officials he'd recently met in Beijing had "been in denial" about the country's food safety problems. They didn't pretend that the poison-pet food stories and related horrific accounts were somehow anti-Chinese or unfair; instead they admitted that there were big problems to deal with.

Then there is the realm of intellectual property, where to a first approximation the government doesn't lift a finger to prevent counterfeiting. Maybe that's unfair -- I'm only judging on what I see. Like, the video stores full of 90-cent DVDs of all recent movies. Or a report like this, from a state-controlled English-language newspaper, about the abundance of Chinese translations of the last Harry Potter book available free, on line. Howard French of the New York Times has just written a related story.

Oh well. On the brighter side, and with a sustained literary theme: it is now August 2 in China, which means that it is time to offer birthday greetings to my friend Lawrence Wright, author of the widely-acclaimed The Looming Tower; and to my friend Erik Tarloff, author of the acclaimed-by-those-in-the-know Face Time and The Man Who Wrote the Book; and to the departed James Baldwin and the still-with-us Peter O'Toole and others (like Judge Lance Ito!) i know only from a distance; and all of this from their fellow member of the August 2 fraternity. Update: I see that my friend-via-correspondence, Caleb Carr, author of many books from The Alienist to The Lessons of Terror, is also part of this select club.

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