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May 16, 2008

"Before You Die, Just Two Words: You Stink"

By: Bernard Chazelle

While tens of thousands of Chinese are burying their dead, while parents are clinging to the dead bodies of their single children, while thousands are buried alive under the rubble, waiting to die, the New York Times finds the time just ripe to tell us why the Chinese are so annoyingly inferior .

To be fair, we're informed that the Chinese did invent something important: toilet paper. (I guess Americans reinvented it and called it "The New York Times.")

There was never to be a Chinese Newton or Galileo.

Hmm, wonder who's the American Newton? Fig Newton! Newton Gingrich!

Historians have long debated why the Chinese so signally failed to exploit their early promise.

Now that's a tough one. Let me think. Oh yes I know! Maybe they're just stupid.

Why, if the Chinese had come to know so much about earthquakes so early on in their immensely long history, were they never able to minimize the effects of the world's contortions at least the degree that America has?

Oh, that's an easy one: Because we're such smart, beautiful, special people.

Today [China's] wreckage stands as a tragic monument to a culture that turned its back on its remarkable and glittering history.

I guess poverty has nothing to do with the fact that its buildings could not sustain a 7.9 earthquake. (Japan has the world's most advanced earthquake protection codes, and yet the Kobe tremor, 5 times less powerful than the one in China, still managed to killed 5,000 people.)

Then I checked the letters to the editor: It was the usual "Why can't these savages produce great civil engineers like we do." How can that crappy Great Wall compete against the superb New Orleans levees?

But my favorite was this one:

a child may be a parent's best hope for a retirement free from penury.

It's bad to lose a child. It's even worse to lose a single child. But the horror is that it really screws up your retirement package.

— Bernard Chazelle

PS: My friends are OK, but they tell me that several of their students (who attended my lectures during my visit) have lost relatives. This would be Xi'an university and City University of Hong Kong.

Posted at May 16, 2008 08:26 PM

Obviously the answer is they were not wearing their flag pins. It is such a terrible burden to be white and an American knowing the fate of the entire universe rests upon our broad and manly shoulders as all other nations look to us for guidance and assurance which we face with furrowed brow and a stern continence never wavering always steady. After all America invented the Big Mac and the Freedom Fry, Mickey Mouse, and the perhaps even the plumbers helper and no doubt future historians will wonder why it withered away. Wither hath it gone? Hither and yonder they searched, high and low, but nary a sign of it could they find. If only, if only, …if only more Americans had worn their flag pins, standing tall, facing into a bitter wind, a firm hand on the helm, we would have not withered hither and yither.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 16, 2008 09:30 PM

Unbelievably stupid (not you, Jonathan). And incredibly mean spirited as well, talk about kicking people when they're down.
As a dweller in Northern California its hard to forget that but for the grace of God or the FSM go I, and we.
When the next big one hits (and Loma Prieta was not the big one), I suppose we might be able to pat our selves on the back for preparation, infrastructure and response. But don't bet on it.

Posted by: Dick Durata at May 16, 2008 09:51 PM

If Simon Winchester of the NYT op-ed page is so fucking superior, somebody should tell him about that bridge of mine in Minnesota I'd like to sell.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at May 16, 2008 10:33 PM

Let us not forget that the USA did invent some very ingenious and highly striking things.
For instance: carpet bombing.

Posted by: f at May 17, 2008 01:45 AM

Stupid Chinese. How dumb do you have to have your civilization arise in the middle of one of the Earth's most tectonically-active areas? I mean, just one look at the Himalayan thrust zone and you'd know that you should just move on before you create one of the largest early empires. And there's so damn many of them!

Still, you've got to give them credit for gunpowder, cannon, and fireworks. Stick your Galileo in that and smoke it.

Posted by: darrelplant at May 17, 2008 03:07 AM

If a 7.9 hits the Hayward Fault (the most likely Big One in California) the result won't be quite as bad

I used to live in Newark, a couple of miles from the Hayward Fault. Most of the houses (certainly the ones built in the past 40 to 50 years) are built on concrete slab foundations that are sitting on top of alluvial silt. When those magnitude 7 or 8 shock waves go through that, my understanding is that the ground is going to essentially liquify, and it should be interesting to watch them slide all over the place, ripping up gas lines. If they don't wind up burning to the ground, the houses may well remain intact, but property lines are going to need a bit of work.

Posted by: Mike at May 17, 2008 06:37 AM

with furrowed brow and a stern continence

Well, I guess it would be hard to face the world if we were incontinent.

Posted by: Name at May 17, 2008 08:03 AM

The Chinese invented Mah Jong.
We USers invented Monopoly.

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at May 17, 2008 10:11 AM

The one-child policy, made necessary by population pressures and poverty, makes the deaths of children in the collapsed school buildings even more devastating for their families.

To the Times writers I guess that's just one more reason to look down their noses at the suffering.

These are such overwhelming disasters.

Posted by: Nell at May 17, 2008 03:52 PM

I grew up within a mile of the San Andreas fault. I've experienced dozens of earthquakes in my life. The '89 Loma Prieta quake (7.1 on the Richter scale) lasted approximately 15 seconds. Had it lasted, say, 30 seconds, the Bay Area would have really been creamed. Had its duration been significantly longer than that, much less three minutes, we'd still be digging through rubble. Most people don't realize that the Bay Area dodged a huge bullet that day, simply because it was all over before it really began.

Posted by: JWL at May 17, 2008 04:14 PM

If this wasn't so funny , it would be absurd. The NYT 'ragging' on the 'inferiority' of the Chinese ------ the inventors of the "PRINTING PRESS" --- duhhh.

Posted by: DMcD at May 17, 2008 06:25 PM

If this wasn't so funny , it would be absurd. The NYT 'ragging' on the 'inferiority' of the Chinese ------ the inventors of the "PRINTING PRESS" --- duhhh.

Posted by: DMcD at May 17, 2008 06:25 PM

As an American living in the largely Chinese city state of Singapore, I can attest to how the Chinese feel about Americans. While many admire our (dwindling)liberties, they see us as pompous, arrogant bullies who love to show off our wealth and power even when there is no need to do so. They see us as voracious consumers of the earths limited resources and a threat to the future. Since 2000, they have become afraid of our willingness to impose our will on other nations.

The difference between the opinions expressed in the article about China and the opinions these Chinese have about us is....they are right.

Posted by: expatbrian at May 17, 2008 09:54 PM

For instance: carpet bombing.

We stole it from the British.

Posted by: Dan at May 18, 2008 12:52 AM


Are you a fan of the "Once Upon A Time in China" films?

Posted by: En Ming Hee at May 18, 2008 09:01 AM

@expatbrian: voracious consumers of the earths limited resources ... Considering how much of China is starting to look like a Superfund site, and how many endangered animals are regularly killed in superstitious attempts to improve the Chinese libido, that's funny.

Posted by: Ashley at May 20, 2008 11:52 AM

Oh thank you a thousand times for posting this. That article was just sickening.


Posted by: aimai at May 20, 2008 07:37 PM


Brian lives where I do, the city-state of Singapore, probably the last city-state left in the world, with a mere population of 4 million and no natural resources, we do have a very strong understanding of the need for conservation. The population here is majority Chinese, but we do see things quite differently from the mainland Chinese (or as we call them, PRCs).

Posted by: En Ming Hee at May 20, 2008 10:22 PM

I can’t believe Hilary Clinton. Didn’t she agree to the rules before the race started that Florida and Michigan would not count? And now she speaks as if she cares so much about our votes counting. What about people like me who didn’t vote because we were told it wouldn’t count anyway?

Posted by: South American Jewish at May 21, 2008 11:34 PM