China: The Not So Good Earth

A painful look at how the thirst for energy (and the cash that comes with it) is turning once-bucolic places in China into filthy, grimy, environmentally chaotic shit holes. Don’t miss the description of the mountain of coal waste literally suffocating a town Shanxi Province.



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That’s how long we all have to wait before Bush leaves office. It’s a sobering thought: 2009 seems farther away than the moon. How do we hold out for that long, under the leadership of a child? Our only hope is to soften the pain by giving Congress back to the Democrats in November. Even if we succeed, 2009 still seems a millennium away. Let’s hope America is still intact by the time Bush rides off into the sunset.


Britney Spears on Dateline

I really needed something to laugh about today, and this article did the trick

The Britney Spears interview on NBC’s “Dateline” offered several lessons worth noting, the most significant of which is to remove large wads of gum from one’s mouth before engaging in a conversation. One surefire way to nick one’s public image is to go on national television chomping open-mouthed like a shill for Bubblicious.

It is also best not to wear a denim miniskirt so short that when seated it practically disappears beneath the protuberance of one’s pregnant belly, producing an image that is more gynecological than fashionable. Instead of making a statement about the sexiness of impending motherhood, it suggests that the mother-to-be appears to be unfamiliar with the usefulness of a full-length mirror and the term “ho-gear.”

Pregnancy cleavage can be a beautiful development, but serving up one’s bosom like melons at a picnic is aggressively self-indulgent, enormously distracting and, unless you’re auditioning for a spread in Penthouse, unnecessarily vulgar..

After that, however, the tone of the article is more tragic than comic. It sounds like Britney is a phenomenon whose time came and went.

It’s always sad to see someone in decline, but Britney never deserved her fame to begin with. Her winning formula of being a below-the-age-of-consent sex kitten luridly strutting her stuff while lip-synching truly wretched written-by-computer junk music had to fail as she grew into a woman. She had her full 15 minutes of fame and exploited it to the max, capitalizing all the way on raw teen sexual energy. For her now to complain about the paparazzi chasing her, as she does in the Dateline interview, is ludicrous. She invited them in with open arms; her sexploitation is entirely self-generated and it’s hard for me to feel sorry for her.

(That post just sort of wrote itself. Maybe I’ll delete it later – I didn’t mean to be so hard on poor Britney. After reading that article, however, it’s hard to feel much compassion, and I’ve always wondered how someone so devoid of talent could be catapulted to such lofty heights.)

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China’s new college graduates released into a jobless void

Nothing is sadder to read about than the dashed hopes of milions of Chinese college students who are graduating this year. Many were sent to college by families that put themselves deeply into debt in hopes of improving the lot of their children. Many went in believing they had a bright future in front of them. I’ve wondered what’s going on in their minds today, as they see just how limited their prospects actually are. This beautiful essay written by such a student captures the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that so many must be sharing. Here’s how it starts:

Like a sudden verdict, each word of this news stabbed at my ears. Hearing it, it was not longer like those other notices coming over the loudspeaker, to be ignored if you pleased. It was a rude administrative command, bluntly telling us, “You’re graduated, you may leave.” Between the lines, though, it was saying, “You must leave!” I’m not walking through the gates of the school – I’m being kicked out. A sense of shame at being discarded rose within me. Having graduated, of course we’ll leave – we can’t just hang around, can we? Perhaps to students who have found jobs, it does not matter either way, but what of the 70% of students who have not found or decided on a job? It’s like we’re being pushed out of the incubator in a stupor, pushed out into some unknown, intermediate void, and the storm’s about to break.

Read the whole amazing, poetic, poignant, agonizing thing. Whoever this student is, he should be able to find a good job as a writer. I’m not sure if the piece was translated or not, but there’s no question that it’s a work of beauty.


Maureen Dowd; We Need Chloe

We Need Chloe!
Published: June 24, 2006

You’d think Michael Chertoff would have something more important to do.

The hapless homeland security chief could snatch more money away from American locales most likely to be hit by Al Qaeda. Or let another wonderful city fall into a watery abyss. Or go on TV and help cable news hype the saga of the Miami gang of terrorist wannabes who look like they couldn’t find the local Sears, let alone the Sears Tower.

These guys were so lame they asked an informant for boots, radios, binoculars, uniforms and cash, believing he was Al Qaeda — and that jihadists need uniforms.



Off on a business trip

Back in a day or two. Maybe I’ll find time to slip into a Hong Kong Internet cafe and post, but I strongly doubt it.


Lost in the Chinese translation: all hope for objectivity and truth

This is related to the recent post on poor translations exacerbating the perceived “China threat,” but today’s article focuses on one man, the ideologue and China hawk Michael Pillsbury, who appears to be messing things up monumentally with his less than stellar Mandarin translations. He’s Rumsfeld’s favorite “translator,” and he’s as opinionated as they come. (He refers to those who don’t see China as the evil empire as “Panda huggers.”) That means everything he hears goes through his anti-China filter and comes out mangled.

In May 2002, ten months before he became president of China, Hu Jintao visited Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. The meeting, as then-Vice President Hu saw it, had gone well. Routine U.S.-Chinese military-to-military contacts, which had been suspended since 2001 after a tense standoff over a damaged U.S. spy plane, were to be renewed. China’s Xinhua news agency quickly put out a headline announcing the thaw: “Chinese vice-president, U.S. defense secretary agree to resume military exchanges.”

But there was a problem. According to the Pentagon, no such consensus had been reached. Instead, the two sides had merely agreed that the possibility of such exchanges would be “revisited.”

The mix-up, as it turned out, had a likely explanation. According to The Far Eastern Economic Review, Rumsfeld, in a characteristic interdepartmental snub, had barred the State Department’s interpreter from the meeting. The man on whose language skills Rumsfeld had instead relied was not a professional interpreter but a Pentagon advisor and longtime Washington operator named Michael Pillsbury. With a proficiency (up to a point) in Mandarin, a doctorate in political science from Columbia University, and three decades of experience in dealing with the Chinese military, Pillsbury has emerged as a Defense Department favorite. That he may inadvertently have caused Hu to leave Washington with an overly conciliatory picture was also ironic: Pillsbury is one of Washington’s foremost China hawks, consistently warning that Beijing represents a more serious and rapidly growing military threat than other China experts believe.

You have to read through the long piece to get a feel for just how sloppy Pillsbury’s work is, both as a scholar and as a translator. Translation is just part of the story here. More than anything, this article is about China and how the Bush administration sees it as a dire threat – and how they want to see it as a dire threat.

[H]e gives his sponsors the research they want. China may turn into a serious enemy, or it may not. For now, we have chosen to assume the former, along with the costs. If the Bush administration has taught us anything, however, it’s that overestimating a threat can be as dangerous as underestimating one. Rumsfeld and Pillsbury, it appears, take a different view. But what those of us on the outside must decide, once again, is whether the experts the White House hawks are choosing for their particular insight are really experts at all–whether their specialty lies in facts or speculation, in scholarship or in advertising, in conclusions based on evidence or in evidence based on conclusions.

“Read the whole long thing.”

Update: Here’s an invaluable postscriptum. It blew my mind. What timing.


A thread that won’t die

For some reason or another, this controversial post on why some Asian men seem intimidated by some white women keeps getting new comments. It was dead for months, and suddenly it’s one of the most active threads on the site. No explanation.

I’m only pointing this out because you may want to see the new comments, some of which are first rate.


Hong Kong, world’s rudest city?

This video reminded me why rudeness seems to be everyone’s No. 1 complaint about HK. The contrast with Taipei is astonishing. Here, people hold doors open for you, wait for you to get on the elevator (as opposed to pounding the door close button when you’re just a few seconds away), stop for pedestrians and are generally happy to stop and help total strangers. I miss HK’s hustle and bustle. I don’t miss being pushed, being insulted or being ignored.


Maureen Dowd: Big Ideas of Fukuyama, Hannah and Zegna

This might be MoDo’s most incoherent, most sloppy column ever. Where’s her editor? Why does the headline refer to someone’s first name (Hannah) and someone’s last name (Fukuyama)? Why is the word Zegna even in the headline? Come on, Maureen, there’s a lot of serious shit coming down – why are you wasting our time with crap like this? What’s the theme here? Something about big ideas, I guess, but what’s your point?

Fukuyama, Hannah and Zegna
Published: June 21, 2006

As he launched a progressive journal to ponder big ideas that might help the wretched Democrats stop driving on Ambien and snatch back a little power, Andrei Cherny sought advice from a conservative pundit.

“Who’s on your tie?” the pundit asked, explaining that Reaganites had been able to sum up their philosophy in the 80’s by wearing Adam Smith and Edmund Burke ties.

Mr. Cherny did not say. (John Stuart Mill?)