Category Archives: Comedy

In Which I Launch a Righteous Crusade for Justice in the Wanfujing Apple Store, Beijing, China

If you are a foreigner in China who speaks even the slightest bit of Chinese, the first three sentences of every conversation are identical. The simplest poorly pronounced ni hao elicits effusive praise about your intelligence. You assure your conversation partner that your Chinese is, in fact, quite poor; they respond with further praise or genuine disbelief. The first few times I had this interaction, right after I moved to China, I kept messing up halfway through: I could not properly demur because my Chinese was not good enough to understand that I was being complimented on my Chinese.

You swear to yourself that you will not let the constant flurry of undeserved compliments get to your head. Your language skills — amazing! Your ability to use non-fork cutlery — impressive! Your ability to enjoy fresh, delicious local cuisine — without parallel! But it invariably does: what is meant as encouragement seeps into a pervasive sense that your ability to perform basic tasks gives you a path around any and all barriers in your way. We claim to not want to be treated as special, but of course, deep down, we find it hard to refuse. Privilege, like cheap wine at a catered reception, is constantly on offer for no reason except that you happened to show up.

This, I believe, was my state of mind when I set out to for the Beijing Apple Store to fight the paradoxes of modern capitalism filled with the fervor of righteous justice. Read the whole thing on Medium.

Chinese Foreign Policy Initiative or Independent Boutique Shop?

China’s foreign policy initiatives claim to be forward-looking. Hipster fashion: the opposite. Beijing-based cross-cultural comedian Jesse Appell and I worked together to try to find where they meet. Welcome to: Is this a Chinese Foreign Policy Initiative or Independent Boutique Shop?

    1. Belt and Road
    2. Aggregate Supply
    3. Friends and Neighbors
    4. Going Global
    5. Gravel and Gold
    6. The Rising States
    7. Give and Take
    8. The Silk Road
    9. The New Silk Road
    10. Trend of the Times
    11. Band Together
    12. Dream Collective
    13. Community of Shared Destiny
    14. Timeless Trends
    15. Neighborly
    16. Strut
    17. New Stone Age
    18. Peaceful Rise
    19. String of Pearls
    20. Supply and Advise
    21. Iron and Resin
    22. Win-Win
    23. Modern Cooperative
    24. March West
    25. Coolly Observe, Calmly Deal with Things, Hold our Position, Hide our Capabilities, Bide our Time, and Accomplish Things Where Possible

—-

Answer key:

Independent Boutique Shop: 2 [San Francisco, CA], 3 [Austin, TX], 5 [San Francisco, CA], 6 [New York, NY], 7 [Portland, OR], 8 [Bronxville, NY], 11 [Meridian, ID], 12 [Los Angeles, CA], 14 [Thurmont, MD], 15 [Chicago, IL], 16 [South Austin, TX], 17 [Los Angeles, CA], 20 [Miami, FL], 21 [San Francisco, CA], 23 [Chicago, IL]

Chinese Foreign Policy Initiative: 1, 9, 10, 13, 18, 22, 24, 25

Both: 4 [Toronto, Ontario] and strategy to encourage business investment abroad, 19 [Elmira, Michigan] and description of China’s military activity in the Indian Ocean

Recent Activity: On China, On China, On China

I have finally had a chance to reflect on some of my experiences being an American in China.

Previously, I reflected on some of my experiences being an unproductive American in China.

I have also had a chance to reflect on some of the major themes that I encountered in my preliminary research in China. These are broad outlines, and my current research is aimed at digging more deeply into these issues, how they are reflected in policy, and what that means for, like, the world or whatever.

Capital in the 21st Century: A Review

Thomas Piketty has written a truly incredible work, a masterpiece, a tour de force that melds historical data, policy analysis, and meditations on the biggest economic problems of our time. The French economist’s new tome, Capital in the 21st Century, will change the entire way we think about economics – or so I think, from what I have gathered from the various reviews I have read that are not stuck behind paywalls. (If anyone has a subscription to Foreign Affairs, can you email me the review that’s in there?)

Let me quickly apologize here and offer a confession: I have not yet had a chance to read the book myself. It’s sold out on Amazon and at all local bookstores, and my requests to the publisher have so far gone unheeded. Even if I did receive a copy, though, I already have a large queue of items I intend to read, and it probably wouldn’t be fair for me to put this one above the other ones that are waiting patiently in line. I am 140 pages into Infinite Jest, and I don’t want to start another book until I finish it.

It seems like everyone else has had their say on the matter, however, so I just can’t wait to weigh in on the book. The news cycle, like the changing relationship between capital and labor, moves fast – and I won’t be left behind as the headlines churn endlessly forward like the gears of the industrial workplace.

Even from just the front cover, you can tell that this book is important. (Although I have not read the book, I have indeed seen the front of it.) The title evokes Marx’s ruminations on the divide between workers and owners that spawned the very basis of how we think about economics in the modern day. (Although I have not read Marx’s Das Kapital, I have been notified that the title is a nod to the original.) The red outline on the front cover also carries deep symbolism: it evokes the years of bloodshed and antipathy that have defined the relationship between labor and capital since the first factories sprung up amid the lush fields of 18th century England.

There is a touch of punnery on the cover, which should not go unheeded. The word “Capital” appears in capital letters. A deft touch to match the work of a deft economist, who, through charts, data, and an austere but striking book cover has created a sensation unlike anything to hit American shores since a mop-top crew called The Beatles landed in New York in 1964. (I was not alive during at the time, but I’ve seen pictures.)

The back cover is less noteworthy.

I have also spent a fair amount of time reading reviews of the book; after all, three to five pages of double spaced text seemed far less intimidating than an entire tome. Many critics have aggregated previous criticisms, which made my life even easier. Overall, I have read at least three paragraphs of reviews but feel like I understand at least twice that amount.

Some critics have claimed that Piketty’s work is repetitive. But what I found was that many of the reviews themselves were repetitive, displaying very similar summaries of what was in Piketty’s text. I found this grating, since I had to read so many of them in lieu of the book.

Another review I skimmed claimed that Piketty confuses the concepts of capital and wealth, which, in the opinion of Piketty’s critics, should be distinct concepts. I cannot comment on whether Piketty in fact mixes these two comments together, because of the fact that I have not read the book. But I can say that wealth and capital, while a similar number of letters, are not the same word. (However, Piketty wrote the original in French; since I do not speak French, I do not know the terms for wealth and capital in his native tongue. It is possible that they are the same number of letters and/or the same word.)

Overall, I thought most of the reviews captured the spirit of what I believe to be Piketty’s worldview. However, I cannot say for certain what that worldview is, only what other people have told me what other people have told me what other people have told me what that worldview is. It is, in a way, like a game of telephone – not just any game of telephone, but a game of telephone that dials straight to the soul of economics.

In sum, Capital in the 21st Century has fundamentally upended the economics profession, if not our world. It has changed my life forever. Someday, I hope to read it. Once I finish Infinite Jest, of course.

Passover, Internet Style

For those who are unfamiliar with Passover, it’s the Jewish holiday in which we take all of the least appealing foods we can find, put them together on one plate, and talk about how that reminds us of our heritage.

Here are my thoughts on Passover this year:

Although the story of Passover is centered on the escape from slavery in Egypt about 3,000 years ago, which was before Al Gore and therefore before the Internet, the story of Passover is actually well-suited for the Internet era. Here’s how the Passover story might look in today’s headlines:

Upworthy: Pharaoh Refused To Let God’s People Go. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.

Slate: Actually, The Killing Of The First Born Was A Great Idea

Buzzfeed: 21 Pieces of Horseradish That Look Like Cats

 

Those are my thoughts on Passover this year.