Archive for January 8th, 2010
The US infrastructure is falling apart. But we don’t want to fix it. We want it to heal on its own. Apparently. Take a look at the watermain-break clock (via James Fallows).
Orville Schell lists the things that other nation do that the US can’t manage:
Lately, I’ve been studying the melting of glaciers in the greater Himalayas. Understanding the cascading effects of the slow-motion downsizing of one of the planet’s most magnificent landforms has, to put it politely, left me dispirited.
It is impossible to focus on those Himalayan highlands without realizing that something that once seemed immutable and eternal has become vulnerable, even perishable. Those magnificent glaciers are wasting away on an overheated planet, and no one knows what to do about it.
Another tipping point has also been on my mind lately, and it’s left me no less melancholy. In this case, the threat is to my own country, the United States. We Americans too seem to have passed a tipping point. Like the glaciers of the high Himalaya, long-familiar aspects of our nation are beginning to seem as if they are, in a sense, melting away.
In the last few months, as I’ve roamed the world from San Francisco to Copenhagen to Beijing to Dubai, I’ve taken to keeping a double- entry list of what works and what doesn’t, country by country. Unfortunately, it’s become largely a list of what works elsewhere but doesn’t work here. In places such as China, South Korea, Sweden, Holland, Switzerland and (until recently) the United Arab Emirates, you find people hard at work on the challenges of education, transportation, energy and the environment. In these places, one feels the kind of hopefulness and can-do optimism that used to abound in the United States.
China, a country I’ve visited more than 100 times since 1975, elicits an especially complicated set of feelings in me. Its Leninist government doesn’t always live up to Western ideals on such things as political transparency, the rule of law, human rights and democracy. And yet it has managed to conjure an economic miracle. In China today, you feel an unmistakable sense of energy and optimism in the air that, believe me, is bittersweet for an American pondering why the regenerative powers of his own country have gone missing.
As I’ve traveled from China’s gleaming, efficient airports to our often-chaotic and broken-down versions of the same, or ridden on Europe’s high-speed trains that so sharply contrast with our clunky, slowly vanishing passenger rail system, I keep expanding my list of what works here at home and what doesn’t.
Over time, the list’s entries have fallen into three categories.
- There are things that are robust and growing, replete with promise, the envy of the world.
- Then there are those things that are still alive and kicking but are precariously balanced between growth and decline.
- Finally, there are those things that are irredeemably broken.
Here is the score card as I see it.
Aspects of U.S. life that are still vigorous and filled with potential: …
Thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for the pointer. An article by David Gosset in the Asia Times:
The co-existence of a gigantic bureaucratic state with an overall social plasticity and transformation whose scale has no equivalent in world history is an apparent paradox that puzzles the observer of Chinese society. Why is China so comfortable with change while Western democracies are dangerously lacking in the capacity to question their assumptions and could, in the long term, be threatened by inertia and complacency?
As the Chinese renaissance gradually reshapes the 21st century and takes the global system to another level, understanding China has become a practical necessity. Instead of continually lecturing in a tone of superiority about what it poorly frames as an “emerging market”, the West would gain much by a more modest approach: accepting inspiration from a civilization whose resurgence, far from being a threat, is a contributor to global equilibrium. As Chinese intellectuals endeavor to reconnect with the universal message of their traditions, China’s humanistic revival is also the promise of a more harmonious global village.
By considering the board game weiqi (known as go in Japanese and familiar in the West under that name), one of the most significant symbols in the Chinese mental geography, one can develop a better understanding of Chinese dynamics in politics, in business, and even in more trivial social interactions. The Tao of weiqi envelops an esthetic and an intellectual experience that take us closer to Chinese psychology and give us insights on Chinese strategic thinking, but are also, to a certain extent, a way to approach the fundamental patterns of China’s collective success. Beyond their ritualistic rigidity, the bureaucrat-mandarins of the Chinese Communist Party are, above all, individuals whose behavior is determined by an underlying cognitive culture that also explains what can appear, at first glance, to be paradoxical.
Using a universally relevant metaphor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to US president Jimmy Carter, wrote in The Grand Chessboard (1997): “Eurasia is the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.” But is Beijing playing chess? In Eurasia and beyond, Chinese strategists are more probably spontaneously designing a series of moves compatible with their own understanding of strategy. While Westerners might navigate a world mapped as a chessboard, the Chinese mind circulates on a weiqi board.
The chronicle by Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972) of an intense intellectual duel, translated in English as The Master of Go, certainly contributed to the popularity of the game in the West, but weiqi is a product of Chinese civilization and spread over time in the educated circles of Northeast Asia. Kawabata, who viewed Master as one of his favorite creations, knew that for China the game of “abundant spiritual powers encompassed the principles of nature and the universe of human life”, and that the Chinese had named it “the diversion of the immortals”. 
In imperial China, weiqi had the status of an art whose practice had …