Jason Treit
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A View From China

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TPM Reader PH gives us a wild, bracing, sobering view from China. This is a must-read …

I’ve been following the COVID-19 cataclysm, as I believe it is, very closely. One reason is that I had the fortunate timing of moving to Beijing from San Francisco in January 2020. I’m far from any kind of expert on China or epidemiology, but as a longtime TPM reader and Prime AF member, I thought I’d share some experiences and thoughts.

The governmental response has been extraordinary, and the national quarantine is total. In February, I only had two places I could go: the place I was staying and the grocery store Carrefour. When entering either, I have my temperature taken by a security guard, and if it were elevated I would go into mandated quarantine. I got caught in a non-tier 1 city for the month after LNY, and for weeks returning to Beijing was out of the question. After I finally returned to Beijing, I received regular phone calls from the police to confirm I was abiding by the self-quarantine, including a door check. Recently it has been loosening up, but most white collar workers are still opting to work from home. Masks are required and ubiquitous. From a personal tech perspective, we are able to have groceries cheaply delivered twice per week, and when we purchase goods in person it’s all self-checkout via QR code, as potentially virus-carrying cash hasn’t been too common in China for awhile. In the past week, the only people I’ve interacted with in person are my security guard and my girlfriend.

Once the threat of COVID-19 was identified, the government was willing and able to sacrifice the economy–what too many Western observers think of as its sole legitimizer–and put all of Chinese society on a total wartime footing against the coronavirus, in the span of one or two weeks. And it’s been wildly effective. It’s really the most impressive deployment of state capacity I’ve seen. It wouldn’t happen in the USA, but moreover it couldn’t happen in the USA even if we wanted it to.

I joke with my friends now that I have a sofa they can crash on if things get bad stateside, but I’m only half joking. Singapore and Taiwan responded to coronavirus very effectively (preventing even the start of community spread), South Korea competently, Italy with a level of mediocrity, and Iran with deep incompetence. The US will likely end up somewhere between Italy and Iran. Because of the test kit fiasco and the resultant lack of rigorous contact tracing, as well as messaging from national leadership, we don’t even know where we stand now, and in the early stages of exponential growth that’s a very bad place to be. The government is unable and unwilling to take the actions necessary to slow the spread, apparently for fear of spooking the markets, which Trump identifies as *his* sole legitimizer. All of that is to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if China issues a travel ban
on Americans by April.

Amartya Sen argued democracy was the cure for disasters such as famine, because it and the free press facilitate the flow of information from the reality on the ground to the national leadership and provides the incentives to address issues correctly. And that argument still has some power: the disconnect between medical officials and bureaucrats in Hubei and the national Chinese leadership contributed to this disaster. But in a post-truth world where power wills its own reality, does democracy still have those feedback mechanisms that give it the edge? When I talk to people in China, the general sense is that China essentially got a pop quiz and scored a B+, while other countries are getting a take home exam and failing it. Buy into that analogy or not, if the USA and the West more broadly flunk this test, the Chinese model will be gaining legitimacy over democracy, not losing it. And that loss in legitimacy will happen everywhere, not just in China.

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gazuga
205 days ago
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Edmonton
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shanel
205 days ago
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Hmmmm
New York, New York

Typing your password is like serving in tennis. The first attempt you try to smash it with fuck-off-record-breaker speed. If that doesn't work you go again more carefully, but it's still fast to the casual observer.

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adamgurri
702 days ago
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New York, NY
gazuga
703 days ago
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Edmonton
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When to Stop

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Many years ago, I published an article titled The Gap, which was about the enormous chasm between what I consider good enough quality to ship and what I am actually capable of producing. I was going to write something on that topic today, but, as it turns out, The Gap expresses almost exactly what I wanted to say. So here it is, resurrected, with a few edits.


For a couple of years, I have been paralyzed. When I sit down to write, nothing comes out. When I start to design, I stare at a blank canvas. My ability to create things does not meet my own ridiculously high standards of quality, so I get stuck in an endless loop of making decent things, throwing them away, and then starting over from scratch. I’ve been floating around in despair, a creativity limbo, which has nearly destroyed me. I stopped working. I became depressed. In a last ditch effort to restart my brain, I left; I bought a one-way plane ticket to Bali with the hope that culture shock would inspire me to make great stuff once again.

That was several months ago, and while I now feel more inspired and energized than ever, the paralytic gap between my actual ability to create and my unachievable sense of what constitutes “good enough” remains. I simply cannot make things that are good enough for myself. This problem festers in my thoughts, and it causes me to doubt myself at every turn.

The truth is that perfection is impossible and “good enough” is good enough. Logically, I know this. But as a designer, this task is insurmountably difficult. It feels like defeat. Accepting good enough instead of absolutely amazing is a tacit admission that I am not good enough to create things that meet the same level of quality that I demand from others when I evaluate creative work. My taste exceeds my own ability.

It’s interesting that the source of my internal battle lies buried in something as innocuous as “taste”. For most people, taste is just the basis of opinion. It describes the point at which something flips from being “not good enough” to “ok, decent”. But for creative people, it’s something different. Taste is everything. It is what drives us. It is the definition of success, the ceiling of what is possible, and the source of everlasting internal frustration. Being creative is a battle fought over the slow conversion of a mere idea into something tangible that you think is great. The question is: When do you stop the conversion process?

I don’t know.

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duerig
886 days ago
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I think these impossible internal standards about what is 'good enough' or 'really a new idea' are pretty universal, both in creative and noncreative people. The only difference between the two groups is that noncreative people have given up on being 'good enough' or 'creative enough' to meet those standards. I find that the only way to stay creative is to constantly try to force myself to ignore those internal voices.
gazuga
887 days ago
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Rumored Chutes

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For a piece published by The New Yorker back in October, writer Joshua Yaffa looked back at the history of his Moscow apartment complex, “a vast building across the river from the Kremlin, known as the House on the Embankment. In 1931, when tenants began to move in, it was the largest residential complex in Europe, a self-contained world the size of several city blocks.”

Among many other such stories and details, one stood out: the interior of the building, Yaffa learned, was allegedly used against the people who lived in it. He explains that, “throughout 1937 and 1938 the House of Government was a vortex of disappearances, arrests, and deaths. Arrest lists were prepared by the N.K.V.D., the Soviet secret police, which later became the K.G.B., and were approved by Stalin and his close associates. Arrests occurred in the middle of the night.”

However, it’s how the police were rumored to access individual apartments that caught my eye: “A story I have heard many times,” Yaffa continues, “but which seems apocryphal, is that N.K.V.D. agents would sometimes use the garbage chutes that ran like large tubes through many apartments, popping out inside a suspect’s home without having to knock on the door.”

This vision of vermicular control from within—of agents of the state sliding around within our walls and utility ducts like animals—is both unsettling and Kafkaesque, a nightmare and the setup for a surreal tragicomedy.

An undercover cop stuck in the walls between floors four and five for nearly three weeks is fed homemade soup by a young boy who takes pity on him, this unknown man caught in the fabric of the building and abandoned there by his superior officers out of embarrassment.

Gradually, the boy and this agent of the state strike up something like a friendship, sharing their hopes for the future, complaining about perceived limitations in life, confiding in one another about random things they’re both inspired to recall, and looking forward to future adventures—until, finally, one day after a shower leak raining down from a luxury apartment somewhere much further above, the man is able to slip free.

He slides into the boy’s room feet-first, covered in wood shavings and dust—where he promptly follows through on his initial mission and arrests the boy’s entire family.

Read Yaffa’s piece over at The New Yorker.

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satadru
964 days ago
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gazuga
975 days ago
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Edmonton
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Naked suspects in bizarre Alberta kidnapping may have sipped trippy tea, relative says

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By Chris Purdy - The Canadian Press

Thu., Nov. 9, 2017

LEDUC, ALTA.—The people charged in a bizarre naked kidnapping that ended in a car crash may have unknowingly drank some hallucinogenic tea over breakfast, says a relative.

RCMP have released few details about what happened Monday just before 10 a.m. in the community of Nisku, just south of Edmonton.

Three adults have been charged with kidnapping and resisting arrest. The matter was in court for the first time Thursday.

No one was hurt, but the case has made headlines around the world.

The relative said he wants everyone to know the accused are not bad people. They just had some trippy tea.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” said the man, who cannot be named due to a court publication ban protecting the identity of youths involved in the case.

“It’s a scary thought thinking, ‘Oh, let’s try this tea that we purchased.’ And then all sit down thinking they’re just going to have a nice morning and end up in that circumstance.”

He told The Canadian Press that his two daughters, who are 13 and 15, and his ex-wife were having breakfast with two friends — a man and his wife. The man had recently travelled overseas and brought back some tea from India. The relative did not know the name of the tea.

That kicked off the “whole crazy spell,” he said.

Mounties have said a man, woman and baby were forced against their will from a home in Leduc County into a BMW. Inside the car were five naked people. While the car was being driven, the abducted man, who was in the trunk, managed to escape. The woman and her baby then managed to get away.

The trio were picked up by a passerby, but his work truck was rammed from behind by the car.

When officers arrived, they pulled out the five naked people. The adults, who are 27, 30 and 35, were arrested, but the teens were not charged.

The relative said he laughed about the case when he heard it on the news, then was shocked to learn that his straitlaced daughters were involved.

“I was just like what the heck?”

He visited his youngest girl in hospital, who had been taken with some of the other suspects for treatment.

They don’t remember what happened, the man said.

“Whatever potency that stuff had obviously is making it so it’s just a big blur,” he said, adding blood tests were also taken at the hospital.

“Nothing came back like illicit drugs, so they figure it may have been some type of herbal drug or something.”

He said the three people who were forced from their homes — a man, his daughter and her six-week-old baby — are also family friends and aren’t holding any grudges. They probably opened their door that morning trying to help, he suggested.

He also believes the car rammed the truck because the tea made those inside think the family had been abducted by the truck driver — not the other way around.

“They were under the impression that they were saving that guy and the woman and the little girl.”

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gazuga
1051 days ago
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Apparently Florida Man has nothing on Alberta Family.
Edmonton
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sarcozona
1050 days ago
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I really want to know what was in that tea

Knifepoint Horror: "staircase"

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gazuga
1062 days ago
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Something spooky for your ears at whatever hour you stagger home tonight.
Edmonton
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