A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff

May 23 2011 2:24 PM

China Factory Explosion: Three More People Died for Your Shiny iPad

At least three workers were killed on Friday in an explosion at a Chinese factory making the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 for Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech contractor. The state-run Global Times reported:

An initial investigation indicated the explosion could have been caused by combustible dust in a polishing workshop. Investigators ruled out the possibility of deliberate sabotage, Xinhua quoted officials as saying.

The company—which employed notorious global public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller last year after a series of worker suicides—has reportedly refused to supply workers' relatives with a list of casualties. Journalists, even those with official state news agencies, have been barred from reporting at the site, in Chengdu:

Xinhua journalist Yuan Jian confirmed with the Global Times that his camera was taken away by three men wearing traffic police uniforms who also smashed his video recorder.

The PC Magazine website, however, reports that Foxconn should be able to shift enough production from the damaged Chengdu factory to its older, formerly suicide-plagued plant in Shenzhen to ensure that the supply of iPad 2s to consumers is uninterrupted.


May 21 2011 10:43 AM

Judgment Day: Field Notes on the Rapture

May 21 is here—come and gone already, from Fiji to Australia—and so far there's been no news of the earthquakes or the mass vanishings predicted by Harold Camping . The rolling disasters that were supposed to have started at 6 p.m. local time failed to appear .

Still, we're only a little more than halfway through the 48-hour window during which it's May 21 somewhere on the planet. And what if the Rapture is more subtle than expected? According to one eyewitness, the security gates in the Conde Nast building began flapping uncontrollably on their own yesterday—as if the unseen spirits of countless fact-checkers and senior editors were rushing through, toward the elevators, ascending.

Then there was this, on a downtown D train: 


Where did the subway ads go? Half the sign space in the car was bare; the other half was still covered with Delta ads. Has Delta Airlines been left behind, for the Tribulation? (This makes sense, if you've flown Delta.) The God of Harold Camping does not want Delta ads in the hereafter.

God also apparently wanted the kaiser rolls:


But other choices were more inexplicable.


What did the other five bottles do wrong? Maybe Harold Camping can explain, if he's still around tomorrow. 

May 20 2011 3:21 PM

Words of the Times: Is David Brooks Calling Britain's Big Society a Cephalopod or a Feeble Explosive?

While he waits for

to decide whether or not to run for president, New York Times columnist David Brooks has taken his quest for a non-laughable yet "conservative"-branded example of government over to Britain. There's nothing beyond the

to indicate that Brooks has left his desk in Washington to observe anything or talk to anyone there in Edmund Burke-land—come on, get out of the hotel, already. Do like Friedman and chat with a cabbie, at least. The taxicabs are fabulous.

But the British don't really like the new conservative model over there, either—though Brooks, ever

, writes that it "substantively...has been a success." On the non-substantive grounds where non-Brooksian thinking takes place, prime minister David Cameron's program of a "Big Society" is unpopular:

It has turned out to be something of a damp squid politically.

As opposed to a savory

? But that was in the print edition. Online, Brooks' column now describes the Big Society as

something of a damp squib politically.

Whither the mollusk? "Damp squib" makes

, idiomatically. But how did it get into the column? There is no note to indicate the reason for the switch. If Brooks was looking for a phrase to capture the

, someone really should have stetted the "squid."

May 20 2011 11:48 AM

Countdown to Armageddon: In Fiji, It's Already Judgment Day

It's not quite lunchtime on Friday in America. But on the

, Saturday, May 21—Judgment Day, as indicated by

—has already arrived. In Fiji, Saturday is

; Tokyo and Seoul are now on the clock. At the top of the hour, thanks to the single-time-zone system of the People's Republic of China, May 21 will reach 1.3 billion more people.

May 20 2011 11:17 AM

Ai Weiwei Accused of (Though Still Not Charged With) Tax Evasion

China's official Xinhua news agency has reported that the Beijing police have reported that a company run by dissident artist Ai Weiwei—who was taken into custody without explanation in early April—"was found to have evaded 'a huge amount' of tax."

The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. was also found to have intentionally destroyed accounting documents, the police authorities told Xinhua, citing an initial investigation.

The police also described Ai's detention as "residence surveillance"—though the artist is not under house arrest, but being held somewhere undisclosed. Ai's wife, Lu Qing, was

him for the first time this past Sunday, at "a location she did not recognize," but was not permitted to discuss the case with him. And despite today's claims about tax evasion, formal charges against Ai have yet to announced; the

for detention without charges passed


May 19 2011 2:20 PM

Everything You Do Is (Still) Being Tracked Everywhere

If you've logged into Twitter or Facebook within the past month, the Wall Street Journal reports, those services are tracking every visit you make to any Web page that has a "Tweet" or "Like" button on it.

Widget makers say the collection of users' Web-browsing activity is an unintended side effect of how the tools work. In order to show a user which of their online friends "liked" a particular article, for example, the widget must know who the user is.

So in case you might want to tell people you liked an article, the widget is already monitoring the fact that you are reading it. Again, as always: "privacy" is a complicated, human concept. Data exchange and collection within the network is the default operating condition.

This is essentially the same news as last month's reports that smartphones are generating

. Or yesterday's news that the movements of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the housekeeper accusing him of sexual assault have presumably been

system at the Sofitel:

"They would have a record of her using the key to gain access," [card-key sales executive Peter] Krauss said. "They should have a record of the door remaining open for X period of time, and the door lock being actuated again. The system can differentiate between the guest’s card key and the housekeeper’s master key."


"They know what time the maid opened that door, propped open that door, and when someone closed that door," Mr. Krauss said.

Maybe this is heartening information, regarding the search for truth in the Strauss-Kahn case. Maybe the thing about the browser tracking is alarming. The machinery doesn't care how you feel, either way. It just keeps recording. There's no reason for it not to.

May 19 2011 10:09 AM

Emperor Club Memberships and Outlaw Helicopters: China's Plutocrats Look for Ways to Spend Money

Why must the Communist system make things so difficult for China's more fortunate citizens? Earlier this week, the authorities shut down a planned

in the Forbidden City, the old imperial palace complex at the heart of Beijing, at which memberships reportedly cost 1 million RMB, or more than $150,000. According to the English-language Global Times, the enterprise was the work of a

of the bureaucracy overseeing the complex:

The imperial palace-turned-museum said on its official Tencent microblog Monday that turning the Jianfu Palace into a club was an unauthorized move taken by the Forbidden City Cultural Development Company (FCCDC), the museum's subsidiary, and the action had been stopped.

FCCDC was set up in 2005 by the Beijing Forbidden City Culture Service Center, a subsidiary of the Forbidden City, and Hong Kong Yicheng Investment Co, according to the museum microblog.

In other bureaucratic news, the New York Times reported that "a minuscule group of wealthy Chinese" have taken to

in their private helicopters and airplanes, in defiance of the Chinese military's strict airspace regulations.

Several have been mistaken for UFOs while aloft over major cities, including a helicopter pilot whose evening excursion last July over the airport in Hangzhou, north of Wenzhou, tied up a score of commercial jets on the ground. A rich pilot in Dongguan, a south China metropolis, made national headlines in 2006 when he used his helicopter to pursue and subdue thieves who had stolen his luxury car.

Making authorized flights, the Times reported, is more trouble than it's worth:

Private aircraft occupy the lowest rung of the flight ladder....[A]nyone seeking to fly to another airstrip must negotiate a bureaucratic thicket, filing flight plans with the military and China’s civil aviation agency not only at the departure point, but at the arrival point and all waypoints in between.

Mr. Cao [Wei], the Beijing flight company owner, said the state meteorological agency also must be consulted. Within a few days — or a week, or 10 days, depending on whom one believes — the authorities will respond with an okay. Or not.

So the wealthy fliers are forced to sneak around—"like secret love," a Wenzhou man with three helicopters told the Times.

May 18 2011 4:54 PM

@NYTKeller LOL 140 CHRS Re #TwitterMakesYouStupid

Shallower than Twitter: long-form

tossed off by man with full-time executive editor duties. Respect the medium, Keller.

May 17 2011 4:03 PM

"A Subject of Justice Like Any Other": Bernard-Henri Levy Makes the Case for Prosecuting Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The French philosopher-celebrity Bernard-Henri Lévy is in the Daily Beast today, ostensibly defending IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn against his sexual-assault prosecution in New York. Because his friend DSK is unable to speak, BHL is stepping forward to give him a voice—a voice that says things like this:

I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a "cleaning brigade" of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.

The use of "one of the most closely watched figures on the planet" here suggests a certain inelasticity of perspective from the philosopher. And perhaps it's a tribute to France's labor laws that Lévy cannot imagine a chambermaid working solo. But what is he getting at? That this chambermaid, an agent of the trans-Atlantic anti-Socialist conspiracy to bring down Strauss-Kahn, made sure there would be no witnesses to the incident she was about to stage? Or merely that a woman who walks into a hotel room unaccompanied is automatically offering herself up for sex with whoever might be there?

(Everybody thought Kobe Bryant was a symbol of out-of-control macho American jock culture—what if his legal troubles were really a sign of his continental sophistication?)

Either way, if your goal is to push back against the tide of public opinion condemning your friend as an arrogant, hopelessly entitled sexual predator, it's maybe not wise to write your defense from the point of view of an arrogant, hopelessly entitled sexist:

I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.

Yes, it is exceedingly rare for victims of sexual assault to be quiet about it.

This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.

I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed "accusatory," meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.

This is how Levy wants to save his friend's image: by mocking the notion that he would be treated as "a subject of justice like any other"; by disdaining a system in which "anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime." How can a mere cleaning servant be allowed to claim sexual assault against someone so very far above her station?

Uh, par-dough-nay moi, mon-sewer, but 'round here, folks like to call that "equal justice." (But also? We have "innocent until proven guilty," which tends to work out OK for people who can hire good lawyers.) Strauss-Kahn is perfectly free to file counter-charges of, I dunno, what's the story? False imprisonment, sexual battery, whatever this scheming chambermaid did that sent the great man fleeing in a panic.

It's mind-boggling that this argument is coming from one of the most celebrated rhetoricians of our age, the same man who reportedly got NATO into the Libyan war by persuading French president Nicolas Sarkozy to recognize the rebel government. If Lévy had made the case against Qaddafi the way he makes the case for Strauss-Kahn, the Marines would be defending Tripoli. What does this accomplish, except hardening opinion against Strauss-Kahn, thereby depriving "the French left," as Lévy warns, of "its champion"? And thereby strengthening the position of ... Levy's new Libyan-war ally, Sarkozy? Who is influencing whom here? The conspiracy gets deeper.

May 16 2011 3:53 PM

Countdown to Armageddon: Maybe the World Will End Friday Night (or Sunday Morning)


And there was Harold Camping, the man behind the end of the world , right in the middle of last night's cable lineup, on the way from the ABC station that had had the Grizzlies-Thunder game up to TNT, which had the Bulls and Heat. Right before a swath of undifferentiated Community Programming: "Open Forum."

All through the decades, late at night on the car radio, I'd imagined Harold Camping fielding phone calls in a small, barren studio somewhere, a pool of light in the sleeping darkness, leaning into a ponderous old-time microphone. Instead here he was, shriveled as life, clutching each arm of an armchair, in what looked like a wood-paneled den, with a two-camera setup. The lighting was strong and even; the microphone out of view. The background decor included a small potted tree from one angle, and a conch shell from the other.

Camping's Bible, thumbed into floppiness, lay in his lap. According to that Bible, as he reads it, the Rapture is coming on Saturday. He has gotten the world's attention, however cynically that attention may be given. It is a thing to talk about that everyone assumes won't happen, like Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Saturday: the end of the world. Bulls in two, then.

Even before these countdown days, "Open Forum" was always noticeably open, allowing callers a moment to tell Camping he's a heretic, a crank, a fool—or to try dragging him toward an even more unhinged and impenetrable engagement with the biblical text than his own. Last night, someone phoned up and asked him if he was on crack cocaine. He fielded the question as if it were any other factual matter. He had never taken any mind-altering drugs at all, he said. Then he reared back his head in his standard wince-smile and thanked the caller and said "shall-we-take-our-next-caller-please."

Someone else had a thornier question: what about the time zones? The whole concept of Judgment Day would seem to be based on a flat-earth cosmology, where a single day has a single boundary. The Camping position on the timing is not totally clear—by one account , the Rapture, like the New Year, is supposed to make a circuit of the globe, time zone by time zone. A new batch of the saved will ascend as each set of clocks strikes 6 p.m. On TV this afternoon, though, Camping (now at a podium, before a red curtain) was fudging a little: "maybe" we can even know the hour, he said.

Last night's caller was concerned that an omnipresent Rapture might occur before some people's calendars had even turned for the 21st. Camping's answer was convoluted and inconclusive; it had something to do with the notion that "days" in the Bible referred to the daylight hours particularly. For reference, the sun will rise on Jerusalem at 5:39, local time, on Saturday morning—which will be 10:39 on Friday night on the East Coast of the United States. (Crunch time in the Bulls-Heat game.)

Those details don't matter. Nobody's going to be mocking Harold Camping if the Rapture arrives early. The pressing question is how long May 21 will last. Camping will not be guaranteed wrong until—unless—the final minute of May 21 expires from the last possible place on the globe.

That last place appears to be Samoa. Earlier this month, the island nation declared that it would jump the International Date Line at the end of 2011. December 31 will be deleted, and Samoa will move straight into 2012 on the leading edge of January 1.

Assuming, that is, that January 1 arrives at all.

Will it? If you're on the East Coast, 11:59:59 p.m. in Samoa—the last tick of May 21—will fall at 6:59:59 a.m . on Sunday, May 22. If your clock hits 7 a.m., we'll just have to keep on living.