January 6, 2018 in 2,424 words


China is investing billions in building pathways to Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Silk Road was established during the Han dynasty, beginning around 130 B.C. Markets and trading posts were strung along a loose skein of thoroughfares that ran from the Greco-Roman metropolis of Antioch, across the Syrian desert, through modern-day Iraq and Iran, to the former Chinese capital of Xian, streamlining the transport of livestock and grain, medicine and science. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced that the Silk Road would be reborn as the Belt and Road Initiative, the most ambitious infrastructure project the world has ever known—and the most expensive. Its expected cost is more than a trillion dollars. When complete, the Belt and Road will connect, by China’s accounting, sixty-five per cent of the world’s population and thirty per cent of global G.D.P. So far, sixty-eight countries have signed on.

If bridges, pipelines, and railroads are the arteries of the modern world, then China is positioning itself as the beating heart. Since 2013, it has loaned about forty billion dollars a year to developing countries, according to David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Some analysts worry that China is delivering the money without the World Bank’s required protections for the environment and for people uprooted by major infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, said that he and other leaders in the region embrace the benefits. “The Chinese are going to grow their influence,” he said, at a recent session of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And this is one coherent framework within which the Asian countries—Central Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian—can participate in this.”

Like most Chinese official-speak, the phrase “Belt and Road” obscures more than it clarifies: the “belt” will be composed of land routes running from China to Scandinavia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Middle East; the “road” refers to shipping lanes connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In the fall, the photographer Davide Monteleone traced stretches of one of the land routes, travelling from Yiwu, in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, to Khorgos, home to one of the world’s largest dry ports, and to Aktau, in Kazakhstan, on the Caspian Sea. Few of the Chinese whom Monteleone encountered, from shopkeepers to restaurant owners to railwaymen, had much interest in the Belt and Road Initiative. “What concerns us is what puts money in our pocket tomorrow, not an abstraction three, five years from now,” a worker in Lanzhou New Area, in northwestern China, told Monteleone.

In Chongqing, an inland city of eight million, and “kilometre zero” of a new international railway, Monteleone rode a ferry on the Yangtze River, in order to capture a panorama of the city. “It’s dazzling, foggy, monstrous, compressed, and expansive,” he told me. Fifty-one towers have been built in the past three years. Looking at Monteleone’s photographs, I tried to find a familiar shape in the neon skyline of the city where I was born, but I recognized nothing, except the dark waters of the Yangtze, rippling in the foreground.

The Guardian view on the Trump presidency: a reckless and undignified spectacle

Written without much hindsight and without access to official papers, Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury is more than journalism, if less than history.

Copies of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury on sale in a New York bookshop.

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury, is an unforgettable ringside view of the reckless and undignified spectacle of the Donald Trump presidency so far. It will not surprise anyone that the US president comes across as a vain, delusional and unstable character whose public utterances could mostly be disproved by provable facts. Unable to master the presidential mien, Mr Trump has chosen to defile it. Without experienced advisers and consiglieres, Trump’s White House was divided into two camps: one led by his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the other by Steve Bannon, a Mephistophelian figure credited with channelling passions that more conventional politicians have been careful not to exploit. Mr Bannon, once Mr Trump’s chief strategist, is the book’s unkempt star. It is through his rise and fall that we learn how unsuited Mr Trump is to the world’s most demanding job.

Mr Bannon’s view is that Mr Trump is not likely to make it to the end of his first term. Either the president is brought down by the “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” meetings held by his son and a group of Russians or by federal prosecutors who unearth serious financial crimes. On this analysis Mr Bannon gave Mr Trump equal chances of staying in office, being removed by Congress or being declared mentally unfit for office.

The last option seems far-fetched, but the US constitution’s 25th amendment allows for a president to be removed if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Such is Mr Trump’s divisiveness that a social movement of mental-health professionals has sprung up which argues Mr Trump suffers from incurable malignant narcissism and this renders him unfit for office. This is a break with conventions adopted in the wake of the failed rightwing US presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s successful legal action against a magazine after it published a story in 1964 saying medics declared him so “severely paranoid” that he should not be able to become president. Since then psychiatrists have largely refrained from giving opinions about figures they have not personally examined.

It is a measure of how troubled the White House is seen to be that senior Republicans openly worry that the president is unravelling. Yet however erratic Mr Trump might be and however unsuited for high office, Republican voters remain loyal. Despite the rhetoric, Mr Trump’s base is largely made up of well-off and rightwing citizens rather than white, working-class voters struggling in a rapidly shifting global economy. This explains why his singular accomplishment, the Trump tax cut, will hurt poorer voters more than the Wall Street fatcats he railed against on the campaign trail.

Millennials are more perfectionist than other generations, but it’s not their fault

Perfect Work Pressures

Makes it look perfect.

If you’re a professional of a certain age, you may have noticed young recruits arriving at your company seemingly more gung-ho, more eager, more fastidious, with every passing year. Their resumés are loaded with internships and awards, their ambitious creative projects have been celebrated in their local paper.

Millennials, you may have thought to yourself, you’ve gotta chill out.

Okay, obviously I’m talking about my own observations as a Gen Xer in the workforce, but I suspect I’m not alone. And now there’s evidence that I’m not entirely imagining the differences I’ve been seeing, either. According to a new study from a pair of UK psychologists, perfectionism—which breeds tendencies to be overly self-critical—is increasingly more common with every generation of college students, and it isn’t healthy.

Perfectionism may sound like a positive asset in an employee, but it is also a creativity killer and it’s been linked to higher rates of burnout.

Thomas Curran, a social psychologist from the University of Bath, and Andrew Hill, a professor of sports psychology at York St. John University, analyzed data from more than 246 studies published between 1989 to 2016, and representing more than 40,000 American, British, and Canadian college students.

In The 1950s, America Wanted To Nuke The Moon

Throughout the course of history, the U.S. has at least attempted to put a military base or nuclear weapons in just about any location you can dream up, from the middle of the desert to the depths of the Arctic. There’s probably even a long-abandoned diagram in a dusty Pentagon cabinet featuring Mount Rushmore with a warhead jutting out of Lincoln’s head like some radioactive stovepipe hat.

The moon was no exception. In the 1950s, before humans even reached the moon, the Air Force planned to detonate a nuclear weapon on the lunar surface as a grand, irrational display of power to intimidate the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Yes, the U.S. had an entire theoretical policy based on the same logic used by that grade-school bully who would punch icicles and make you thank him (because they weren’t your face). Furthermore, there was discussion of using the moon as military “high ground,” so that the United States could launch nukes from space if civility (and civilization) went to pot on Earth.

The plan was co-authored in partnership between the U.S. Air Force and every James Bond villain.

So why isn’t there a photo of a lunar mushroom cloud in textbooks?

If you want to lose weight, don’t look to Instagram for inspiration—use Reddit instead

Cut The Crap

For getting fit, one social media site is much more trustworthy than the others.

New Year, new you? With Christmas firmly in the rear-view mirror, the annual dieting frenzy is about to begin. Whether you’re looking to lose some weight, put some muscle on, or just improve your health, the likelihood that you’re thinking of going on a diet right now is higher than it has been at any point over the last 12 months.

Google searches for “losing weight” spike in January each year.

Trying to make better food choices can be confusing. Anyone who’s taken a glance at the health pages of a tabloid women’s magazine or their batty aunt’s Facebook page will know that nutrition science is deeply contested. Drinking red wine will increase your risk of cancer—but it will also reduce your risk of cancer. Coffee will prevent liver cancer—but drinking it too hot will give you oesophageal cancer. Even when the evidence isn’t contradictory, it’s often inconclusive. Does “calories in, calories out” help us understand how to lose weight, or is it a dangerous oversimplification? The only real consensus is that eating plenty of vegetables is probably a good thing. (But even then, articles like this one suggest that even veggies aren’t an unalloyed good.)

With science being an unreliable or incomplete source of accurate information, we turn to the next best thing: the internet.

Searching for diet advice on Instagram has become the nutritional equivalent of self-diagnosing your medical ailments through Google.

How sausage flavours the German language

It was all but inevitable that pork would become thoroughly baked into the German psyche, its savoury juices trickling down into everyday speech.

When I awoke to grey skies and pouring rain on my wedding day, everyone had something to say about it. Poised to marry in a country garden north of Berlin, I was quickly surrounded by well-meaning Germans with plenty of aphorisms on hand.

The one that came up most often was the classic ‘Viel Regen bringt viel Segen’ or ‘lots of rain brings many blessings’, which I suspected was less a time-tested truth than a means of consoling an inconsolable bride. My father-in-law, however, only looked at me sadly, shaking his head and repeating ‘Schweinewetter, Schweinewetter’ (‘Pig weather’).

Those concerned with how much we’d invested in the big day might have discussed how I’d spent ‘Schweinegeld’(‘pig money’ or a lot of money). Still others, in an effort to get me to buck up, could have declared, ‘Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei’ (‘Everything has an end; only the sausage has two’).

The German language is full of idioms that speak to the timelessness and intrinsic value of their meat products.

Visitors to Germany love to joke about the country’s obsession with all things sausage, but Germans don’t do anything to discourage them. In fact, their speech is littered with references to Wurst; full of idioms that speak to the timelessness and intrinsic value of their meat products.

As Bonn-based scholar and food writer Irina Dumitrescu detailed in her reprinted 2013 essay ‘Currywurst’, no matter the occasion, the German language will probably have a suitably sausage-y saying for it.


Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

Waste removal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. On the darkened streets of New York City, it’s a race for survival.

Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.

Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. The Action truck began driving on the wrong side of the road in preparation for the next stop. The workers were racing to pick up as much garbage as possible before dawn arrived and the streets filled with slow traffic. “This route should take you twelve hours,” the boss often told them. “It shouldn’t take you fourteen hours.”

Working 10- to 14-hour days, six days per week, means that no one is ever anything close to rested. The company holds monthly safety meetings and plays videos, taken by cameras installed inside the trucks, of Action drivers falling asleep at the wheel. “You’re showing us videos of guys being fatigued, guys falling asleep,” a driver told me. (All Action employees asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.) “But you aren’t doing anything about it.”

“In the history of the company I am sure there have been times where supervisors have inappropriately rushed people,” said Action Carting CEO Ron Bergamini. “They shouldn’t be, and they’d be fired if they ever told people to run red lights or speed. But you have to find the balance between efficiency and safety, and that’s a struggle we work on every day. But you cannot turn around and say, ‘Hey just take your time, go as long as you want.’” He pointed out that workers can anonymously report concerns to a safety hotline. As to the questions of overwork and driver fatigue, Bergamini responded, “That’s a struggle that the whole industry has — of getting people to work less.”

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?