Sunday, May 25, 2014

You have been there before. That cold, clammy feeling when you are far away and there is a banking issue.
Mine came while I was inn-sitting for friends in the middle of France, Sancerre a hilltop village overlooking the vineyards that produce the wine of the same name. Peaceful, the placid Loire coursing along quietly, life’s turmoil far far away.
Then fear and terror strike. “Your credit card may have been compromised, we are cancelling your current card and we will send you a new one. The prospect of being lost in the wilds of the French countryside cardless (not true of course because I have three more but it makes it a better story the other way), gave me chills. The chills were in fact based on the prospect of a long and potentially fruitless search for a solution to the dilemma on the telephone. Bless Skype because the project would cost me less than a ransom for my daughters.

Put it off a day and it may go away. It didn’t.

Screwing up my courage with repeated reminders to remain calm, don’t lose your cool, don’t scream at the innocent people on the phone who may be half way around the world from the Bank of America and are not responsible for the strange policies of their employer.

A deep breath and the hit the mouse and dial the number.

Three rings and the recording began. Many options, none that I wanted or needed, but a quick attempt to hit 0 and get to a live human being produced nothing. I entered my card number and additional ID information. I waited and waded through the options, then hit 0 and Eureka, a human answered after three rings.
I reminded myself  “you’re a preferred customer dummy, ordinary civilians would be on the line rotting.”

The requisite identification dance proceeded apace. I had to repeat all the information I had entered electronically to get this far. I never have understood that part of the system. Does the automated computer information the client offers get transmitted to the live agent’s computer? Of course not.

I explained my plight. I had six weeks to go in France and wouldn’t be home to retrieve my new card.

Sympathy and kindness from the Bank of America person in native English. But I had fallen on someone in the wrong department.

Instant panic.

The hairs on my arm leaped to alert. Switching. A transfer to another department. An electronic cliff without a safety rail. “Sure I’ll wait.”

Click and I was gone into the digital void. I was connected. The Bank of America wasn’t. I wondered what I was connected to. I will never know.

Start again. Same identification ritual. This time I knew to tell the human being that I needed a different department to solve my problems. I found out this was to be the fraud department, but the kind person said: “I’ll stay on the line with you until they answer to make sure we don’t lose you.”

One or two musical compositions later an answer. The earlier voice chirped: “There they are, thank you for waiting.”

“No problem and thanks for sticking around.”

The identification ritual for the third time. The electronic voice at fraud wanted my card number and either the last four digits of my social security number. Once satisfied, another human came on the line, another cheerful polite person who listened to my plight and suggested the solution would be to send me the new card in France.

Elation was obliterated by visions of the international mail trying to find me where I didn’t live. Delays. Lost or returned mail. This odyssey might occupy the rest of my stay in France and I would be tied to the Inn waiting for the knock on the door or worse, the call to tell me of failure.

Questions and persistence pays. I was in the middle of asking questions (“How will you send the card…”) when the dreaded silence reappeared. Dead end. No one on the other end. I was connected to a void; the Bank of America had again disappeared.
Deep breadth. Go to the bathroom. Pee. Hydrate. Tick, tick, tick, tick with the mouse.

“Welcome to the Bank of America…”

In a pinch they could hire me as their recorded voice; I have the welcome greeting down pat. Credit card number. Last four digits of my social security number. I passed them all with flying colors. No reward.

“I need someone in the fraud division…” I was feeling like a Bank of America veteran. Another human being after a relatively short wait and no disconnect….yet. The ID ritual for the (I have lost count) third time? Live people want answers to the secret questions. I was on the third options, passed again with flying colors. “Thank you.”

“We could send you the card by express.”
“Express mail, or FedEx or UPS?”
“Express.” (why is it that people who do not know fear saying: “I don’t know” perhaps followed by “I’ll check”?) I wasn’t going to push it fearing the dreaded disconnect. I needn’t have worried. I was disconnected anyway in mid-sentence.
Fuck you Skype, Microsoft (they own Skype), Bank of America. None of that helped.

Tick, tick, tick. Lets see, where are we? Fifth try? I have been there before so when I faced the first call, I had allotted at least an hour for this task. I didn’t have anything else on the schedule. How many people have that luxury?
ID+ for the automated answering system. ID and secret questions for the human and the last helpful human being assured me my name and the address of the Inn would get the card to me.

“Let me check to be sure.” A diligent helper and a coddled preferred customer.
“Today is Tuesday May 20th. The card will be delivered on May 28th.”
“Great, I’ll be here and I’ll be sure to be available all day.”
Thanks all around. Relief poured from me. Forgiveness. I forgot all about the dropped calls and the silliness of the system repeating itself. Loyalty to the Bank of America welled in my breast.

Two days later on May 22 the card arrived. While basking in the glow of the new card solution I wrote a message to the Bank on their website:

-----Original Message-----
I was recently notified that my card may have been compromised and that a new card would be issued. I received this notification while in Europe for two months, unable to receive the new card at my home address (Seattle).
Arrangements were made to express deliver my card to a small village in France where I am resident. I called B of A on May 20 and was told delivery would be on May 28. It is May 22 and the card was just delivered. That is impressive service. When I went online to activate, the site informed me that the card had been activated. Thoughtful. Thanks, that helps offset the six calls I had to make to negotiate the delivery (your system dropped five calls).
I did nit expect an answer. “Thanks for the compliment” would have been more than enough. But lurking in the vaults of the Bank of America there are algorithms at the ready. Algorithms that have a way to go to differentiate between call volume and dropped calls. Therefore:

RE: BankAmericard Privileges with Cash Rewards Signature Visa - 8830 compliment for service
Dear Peter M. Herford,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 5/22/2014. I am able to assist you.

I would like to inform you that Bank of America was experiencing high call volume on 19th May, 2014. Therefore, our customers calls were not answered due to wait time. We apologize for the inconvenienced you have experienced.

Reply to this email with your question and we will be happy to assist you.

We value you as a customer and appreciate your business. If we may be of further assistance, please contact us again by email. Thank you for choosing Bank of America.


Aayan Kites
Bank of America

The answer I did not send:
Dear Ms Kites,
My sympathies. I am so sorry you had such high call volume on May 19th, though I am dismayed at the notion that you do not answer customer calls when there is high volume.
In fact you answered my calls promptly and efficiently. Perhaps that was because I called on May 20th and call volume had dropped precipitously overnight. What did happen was that my calls were dropped six times. Here too it may not be the fault of the Bank of America. Perhaps Skype is at fault. Perhaps it’s a little of each, or a gremlin neither your institution or my computer know anything about. How sad. We will never know.
But before leaving I want to acknowledge the mellifluousness of your name. It is unusual and unusually musical. I wish you well in your career.

Friday, May 23, 2014


The short answer to where the leadership comes from is:
The Party.
And therein lies a lesson that can help explain their shortcomings and their strengths.
The Chinese Communist Party, Chinese birth and male are the three prerequisites for any person with “I want to be President” ambitions.
Since the founding of the modern Chinese Communist Party in 1949 China’s Presidents/General Secretaries have been:
1.   Men
2.   Educated in elite schools, including in some cases foreign universities
3.   Products of a male hierarchy in the Party and at home.
Imagine if you were born a Prince in a society where men are Kings and Emperors. Imagine the joy the birth of a Prince brings into the Chinese family. A male child. (Chinese history is full of Empresses and Queens, but none were remotely recent.)
Men and women in China are equal only in the Constitution. Men are born with promise and expectations. The expectation for women is marriage and a grandchild, preferably male, in to the one-child family. (The one-child policy is undergoing change.)
Until recently Chinese values did not include fraternizing, dating, much less sex in middle and high school. Study, and examinations dominate the life of all school-aged Chinese with an overlay of constant pressure from home where you likely live until you go to university.
Most Chinese have yet to travel outside their country. Many Chinese have not been beyond the Province they live in or a neighboring province or two. China’s Presidents, unless they were educated abroad during their university years, have rarely traveled outside the Middle Kingdom.
China’s Presidents in recent incarnations, 6 of the 7 since Mao, qualify as “Princelings”, the sons of Party officials, young men born to lead. They are all men. They grow up in a male society that until recently included arranged marriages (a practice that has not completely died).
A “traditional” Chinese man and woman are akin to the roles men and women played in the immediate post-world war II era in the USA when Father’s Knows Best was not only the title of a popular early television series, but also described the gender roles in many American households. Wives may rule the roost at home but father is the breadwinner and the highest-ranking member of the family. That description works for many Chinese households today.
Ask someone about the family of China’s leaders and the technically correct answer is: State Secret.
How many children does Hu Jintao (predecessor to Xi Jimping) have? Answer: State Secret.
(State Secret is the label the Chinese government puts on anything, fact or subject that it doesn’t want to discuss. “None of your business” is the message.)
You can end up in jail if you violate state secrets.
In recent years the rules have relaxed to the extent that we learn more about the families of China’s leaders.
Xi Jimping’s wife Peng Liyuan is a musician and prominent folk singer who performed on stage and TV before her husband became Party Secretary. She is a civilian member of the People’s Liberation Army and performed in an officer’s uniform commensurate with her rank. She has continued the recent practice of traveling with her husband on state visits, unheard of in decades past when there were not even photos of the China’s First Ladies during their husband’s tenure.
But China remains as male-dominated a society as there is today. The mores of this society are akin to the MAD MEN era of the USA in the late 1940s and 50s.
Chinese men dominate the executive suites and boardrooms of all SOEs (State Operated Enterprises), and most Chinese corporations in the private sector. There has never been a female member of the Chinese Politburo (although one woman was mentioned for the first time as a “potential candidate” in the most recent transition).
(The Politburo makes policy in China and has more power than The President and General Secretary of the Party.)
Once in a position of power Chinese men cement the values of their boy’s club. Xi Jimping’s attack on corruption and high living by Party officials has been broader and deeper than his predecessors. The luxury trade has suffered. High-end restaurants have suffered, and the mistress trade has suffered.
Sex and power are bedmates. Many Chinese men compete with each other over who has more mistresses. This competition is almost as important as golf. Trophy women have been on display at social and some official functions.
My lesson was learned half a dozen years ago when we held an awards gathering for young journalists who had won prizes for entrepreneurial environmental reporting. The appropriate Vice-Minister (male) in Beijing was invited and scheduled to attend. He sent regrets at the last minute (a common occurrence among officials who accept invitations they have no intention of keeping). Instead he sent a young woman in her 20s wearing the latest and most expensive fashions. What she lacked was a title or portfolio.
In the Xi Jimping era ostentatious behavior of this kind and showing off a lifestyle that is likely to raise suspicions of ill-gotten gains is too risky.
There are embryos of a women’s movement in China. Here too you have to reach back to the late 50s and 60s in the USA (even later in Europe) when women realized that the pace of change in their male dominated societies would not accelerate until they forced change. In the political sphere that meant some women had to fight their way into the political arena.
The challenge in China is greater despite the fact that the Constitution mandates equality. Mao in his era dictated equality. “Women hold up half the sky”. But that was a society without an economy where status and power was available only to those who were gifted by their superiors. There was no entrepreneurship. But the new China has given women opportunities previously unavailable.
China has been creating dollar billionaires faster than any other country. In one recent example, 40% of the newly minted billionaires were women. They were all entrepreneurs who had started their own businesses and managed them to success. The message was clear. There were rarely opportunities within established companies, whether state enterprises or private enterprises, for a women to rise to the top. The economic and the political world had a male lock.
Job postings in China often specify gender preferences. Young single women are assumed to be temporary employees who will leave when they find a husband because they will soon be pregnant.
These are all throwback values that were common in North America and Europe. While values have changed in the mature economies of the richer countries, Chinese Party leaders have likely not grown out of their background and rearing.
These issues that are not discussed in state media. Stories about gender are rarely based on what happens in the public sector.
How can a Chinese leader begin to understand the hopes and aspirations of modern career-minded women? He has never known a model beyond his mother, perhaps a sister destined for marriage and motherhood, and later his wife.
His wife comes into the picture with the same set of compartmentalized expectations. If she comes from an elite Party family she will have benefitted from an elite education including University and likely a grad school. The professions will be open to her. Business will be an available choice. But the chances of becoming a Party official are rare. What chance is there to change this male culture?
Deng Xiaoping came from a large traditional Chinese family. He had one older sister and three younger brothers.
Jiang Zemin is the middle child of a large Chinese family sandwich. One older brother and sister. One younger brother and sister.
Hu Jintao has two younger sisters.
Xi Jimping is the second youngest in a family of four. One younger brother, one older brother and two older sisters.
18 children. 7 women and 11 men. Some of the women went on to successful careers and families of their own, but the four who rose in the ranks of the Party were men. That was not an accident.
The other end of the social and economic scale is the example of a relatively poor (not quite lower middle class) family in a small city in Hebei Province. The ideal family, a first-born son and a daughter (before the one child policy was mandated). When the son completed mandatory education through 9th grade he went on to high school and university and became a schoolteacher. The daughter, equally bright if not brighter than her brother, had to leave school after 9th grade. No money for high school or beyond and no expectation that she was destined for anything other than an early marriage and motherhood. She remains single, makes more money than anyone in the family through entrepreneurship that is nevertheless limited by her lack of education and a revered Chinese degree that remains a key to advancement in the economy and the society.
The circumstances and choices in the political family and the poor family are not uniquely Chinese. The struggle that women have to be seen without a gender prism is universal. In China the male society is institutionalized within the Party system. The Party is the source of the one-child-policy, the nationalized education system, and the Five Year Plans that are the blueprints of the Chinese economy, and society. 
The generations coming into the lower and middle levels of Party leadership are now, for the most part, only-children. This will likely produce one or more generations of male party leaders with an even narrower gender focus.
Any single child knows that she or he is spoiled. No fault of the parent. It’s a simple fact of life when you are the only child; you get what is available, whether it is a little or a lot. There is no competition. You never encounter sibling rivalry. And the attention lavished on a male child in China is greater because of the gender bias and the size of the families reaching back before the single child policy. The older generations are thinning, but there are still large Chinese families such as those of the recent General Secretaries of the Communist Party.
Family gatherings can be seen as pyramids with the eldest family members representing a broad bottom of multiple siblings, the aunts and uncles first, second, and third cousins. Finally there stands the single male child. And if that male child has had the benefit of education, all the more so if he is a Princeling, the male heir to a Party official; it is not hard to imagine both the expectations and reverence that are thrust on him.
Think about it and imagine that life.
Then imagine the life of the young modern urban Chinese career woman. She too is likely an only child. In the special relationship between mother and daughter she has likely learned the inner workings and secrets of the men at the top, including her father.  Mothers and daughters have different conversations than fathers and daughters. Mothers pass on their wisdom and family secrets. Fathers rarely do.
The level of communication between men and women in China runs the gamut form 0 to perhaps 4 on a scale of ten (as the best). There are exceptions, but the norm is low. It is lower yet for a father with a daughter. A father, whether Princeling or pauper is the anointed child. If he had a sister she was subservient. His model is his mother. If his mother is a traditional Chinese mother, and most mothers in past generations are traditional, her son is the jewel in her life.
The roles in a Chinese family are cast. The face of the family is the man. Honor and respect go to grandfather as the elder, but the hopes and expectations are on the son. It is a weight as well as a position of privilege.  
When former Ambassador Gary Locke came to China and carried his own baggage the social networks of China erupted. Women recognized the natural gesture of a man to whom the trappings of gender, office and privilege were not important. Ambassador Locke was not only putting on a show for the Chinese. He was being himself though he knew what the reaction would be. It was a calculated gesture but also a normal one for him and his family.
When Michelle Obama came to China with her daughters, minus the President, the symbolism was obvious to every modern Chinese woman, and that likely included China’s First Lady as hostess. Peng Liyuan does travel in China and appears in more public functions on her own than her predecessors did but she is not likely to make any international forays as China’s First Lady soon.  She was at a disadvantage during Mrs. Obama’s visit because her only daughter was away studying at Harvard and remains an anonymous member of the First Family of China.
Hillary Clinton is known throughout China and is an ever-present reminder to every Chinese woman: “we have no one who is comparable.”
In recent years there has been only one woman atop a Chinese Ministry (Commerce). Wu Yi negotiated China’s entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization). She is middle-aged and single, a rarity in her generation, all the more so for someone who rose to be a Minister in the central government. The explanation often heard from men and women was not her skills and political acumen: “She must be a Lesbian.”
The Chinese economic miracle, an economy that grew at between 7 and 12 percent for more than 30 years is a unique accomplishment in human history. China has raised between 200 and 400 million of its citizens out of poverty.
The country that suffered 40+ million deaths from starvation within the last 75 years now feeds its citizens and exports food.
China has built 20,000+ miles of high-speed rail in less than a decade. The country produces and sells more cars than the United States.
The country is the world’s number one polluter while it spends more money than any other country to reverse the pollution created by an economy that has to produce 22 million jobs a year.
China’s modern history is a string of economic accomplishments that brought a nation out of a dark age. Men set the agenda. Women have had an influence on China’s development and policies indirectly at best.
The men who lead and have led China have been restricted by their upbringing and life experience, but they are neither stupid nor blind. The question becomes, when and how, or even whether they are willing to raise social issues of gender equality and willing to share political power with women to a higher level?  

Friday, May 16, 2014


Mobile Chart Of The Day

WeChat Nears 400 Million Users, But Growth Is Slowing

Tony Danova | | May 15, 2014
WeChat, the China-based messaging competitor to WhatsApp and LINE, now has 396 million monthly active users worldwide, according to the first quarter earnings report from parent company Tencent.
While an audience of nearly 400 million is impressive, WeChat's growth is starting to slow.
WeChat added an average of 14 million users per month during the first three months of 2014. That's less than half the 28 million users added per month in the fourth quarter of 2013.
WeChat still hasn't managed to catch up to its chief competitor, WhatsApp, which now boasts an audience over 500 million.
Remember MYSPACE? Once the Facebook of its day, the early social network was created in 2003, 11 years ago. 
3 years later the 100 millionth subscriber signed on and a universe was created. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp became a believer and paid for than $500 million for MYSPACE. A man adept at spotting trends and getting out front overlooked something. This was only the beginning of a communications revolution that accepted the challenge and potential of the internet and drew young people (for the most part) together around the world. MYSPACE was the beginning of an accelerating communications revolution that has not slowed down. Life turned out to be short for those who jumped aboard this high speed train.
There was no unique proposition at work here, just the first door opening on a new universe. FACEBOOK came along, grew to a billion and MYSPACE was sold for $35 million 7% of its valuation 5 years earlier. The first significant social network lasted, 5 years. (The decline started long before the sale.)
The story of FACEBOOK is familiar. It dominates. Does it?
In China BBS bulletin boards started the communications explosion on the internet in the 1990s. Given a population of close to 1.4 billion and despite a small percentage of internet users and computers in China's 1990s, the traffic quickly grew into 10s of billions of messages flying back and forth daily. The message that early adopters catch on fast.
Tencent, the Chinese communication giant that few people outside of China have heard of then introduced QQ, a message service that parallelled the explosion of mobile telephony in the Middle Kingdom. All of this paralleled the comparatively slow growth of social media outside China. The young generation in China, high school through college and university were early rapid adopters of the tools of social networking. QQ soon had company in imitators of FACEBOOK . No one dominated. Everyone just grew. Tencent has been fast enough on its feet to innovate and survive many of its early competitors, much as FACEBOOK is trying to remain relevant.  
But another phenomenon was taking place. New platforms were evolving rapidly and with the exception of QQ which remains viable in China, changing horses in midstream became a standard for users. 
Weibos took over from bulletin boards as the preferred platform (like Twitter) for information and commentary in China. Each platform quickly grew to 100s of millions of users, figures that still boggle the non-Chinese mind but are common fare in China. 
(What's 1% of 1.4 billion? The penetration of computers in China has reached 600+, and estimates (Forbes) are that there will be more than 750 million internet users in China by 2016. The comparable figure in 2010 was 450 million. And while we are at it, China's domestic smartphone sales exceeded the population of the US last year. 500 million Chinese are now using Smartphones to access the Internet. You get the picture)
As each social network platform grows and sees its day in the sun shrink the wildfire of growth accelerates. The 5-6 year growth that MYSPACE enjoyed happened in less than 3 years with Weibo. No sooner had Weibo reached its pinnacle, along came WeChat and the younger generations leaped aboard.
The slowing growth of WeChat reported in the BI INTELLIGENCE report at the top is an example of the rapid platform evolution that is characteristic of social networks. The difference seems to be that each new platform has a shorter lifespan than its predecessor. The established players overpay for embryonic platforms they see as potential material to be grafted onto their cores to keep them relevant and satisfy users.
Will it work? 
The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world do not have time to look over their shoulder to see where the competition is. This is a new form of competition. Forward competition, trying to outguess today's user who is likely to jump on a new offering. There is no brand loyalty in social networking. Just as there are now millions of apps for mobile telephony and tablets, there are international armies of young entrepreneurs with vivid imaginations and the skills to offer "the next best thing".
During the AT&T era in the United States,  a black rotary phone was the only standard, and calling long distance was something you did in an emergency or to announce birth, death or marriage. The older 1/3 of the baby boom generation remember that world. Their grandchildren are now part of another world and we're all in this game together. As daunting a challenge as this new world is for the businesses that are in it, it is as even more profound change for the societies that are being drawn together in ways that were once considered science fiction.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


To those who insist on "print only":

Here is an example of what a print-only reader of the NYTimes misses:

Stick around for Berlin and New York after the piece on Minneapolis.

Watching the NYTimes and other newspapers evolve and find their way into the use of video and audio has been instructive to this child of TV news in the 50s and beyond.

You could do a print piece on any of the subjects in the video link, but what would be missing, even with the best of writers?

As a teacher I see universities and journalism schools in particular wrestling for relevance. Would a traditionally trained journalist find the assignment of reporting any of the pieces in the link be challenged.
Are these examples of reporting?
Does today's J school graduate have the skills to report these stories?
Or are these stories the domain of people who bring a greater variety of skills and insight into traditional journalism?

Bill Cunningham has been reporting fashion for the NYTimes for about 50 years. He moves through the fashion world with his perceptive eyes, his still camera and his encyclopedic knowledge and memory of the fashion world. He is in the Pantheon of the best reporters and should have long since been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, but change is not a hallmark of the traditionalists.

For years the still camera and the print newspaper were enough. Mr. Cunningham's fashion essays are now produced into short video pieces with his narration. His less-than-professional-broadcast-voice is the ideal accompaniment to the photos from his perceptive eye. Its the words that count whether written or spoken. He has adapted to the changes not only in fashion, as he always has; he has adapted to the potential that is the challenge for journalism.
(Characteristically, Mr Cunningham confronted with his style and impact said in 2002 before the advent of his video pieces:
Bill on Bill
"The problem is I'm not a good photographer. To be perfectly honest, I'm too shy. Not aggressive enough. Well, I'm not aggressive at all. I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That's all there is to it. ")

The proliferation of news-sites that now make up the widest and deepest sources of information that humans have ever been able to access draw young women and young men to the limitless potential of what we once called reporting and journalism.

The debate about the value of these different forms of journalism and those who practice the craft is endless and passionate. My bias is clear.

I admire the NYTimes for reaching beyond its traditional self; not that the organization had any choice. I compliment the NYTimes for finding the new young talent that works to marry the traditional skills with the potential in the art of video and audio production. And this is only the beginning of the transition that we will likely look back on as baby steps.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

11 years ago the Central government in China invested 200 billion US dollars in the city of Chongqing to modernize the city and give it infrastructure and a modern face that would entice young people who had been leaving for the Eastern coastal cities to stay.
The investment would be about 240 billion dollars in today's dollars. The plan succeeded. Chongqing once the capitol of Sichuan Province is now its own Provincial level municipality (like Beijing and Shanghai) with a population in excess of 35 million people, the biggest city in China and arguable the world.

Keep those figures in mind as you read the following story about what will seem like a fantasy:


China wants to build underwater high-speed rail to U.S.
China high-speed train
China already has an extensive -- and expanding -- network of high-speed rail -- including the longest high-speed rail line in the world -- within its borders. But a new plan could extend Chinese high-speed rail as far as the United States.
In an interview with the Beijing Times, Wang Meng-shu, a railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that China is "considering" a high-speed rail plan that would run an estimated 13,000 kilometers -- about 8,000 miles -- (the Trans-Siberian Railway is around 9,000 km or roughly 5,500 miles) from northeastern China to Russia and then cross the Bering Strait through an undersea tunnel to reach Alaska.
The tunnel alone would be an impressive engineering feat. Around 200 km (125 miles) of undersea tunnel would be needed. That's about four-times longer than the current world's longest rail tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel in Japan.
Using high-speed trains that could reach speeds of 350 km/hour, the train would run from beginning to end in roughly two days, according to Meng-shu.
The China-Russia-U.S. line is one of four major high-speed rail projects Meng-shu discussed with the Beijing Times. Among them a Eurasian rail line connecting China to London and a Pan-Asian rail line starting in Kunming and connecting Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Of course, there are plenty of potential issues that all the lines will run into:
Intergovernmental cooperation
Engineering challenges
And the costs of the China-Russia-U.S. line alone might be enough to be skeptical that this project will ever become reality. When Quartz extrapolated the costs of similar projects to estimate the price tag of the China-Russia-U.S. line, it found that the final costs could exceed $200 billion. The tunnel alone could cost more than $50 billion. According to Quartz, this one line would be more than half of China's current ($300 billion) high-speed rail budget.

But obvious challenges haven't stopped China from continuing to pursue ambitious high-speed rail projects in the past. In fact, the China-Russia-U.S. line might not even be the most unbelievable high-speed rail news out of China recently. Researchers at China's Southwest Jiaotong University unveiled a super-maglev prototype using a vacuum tube that could one day allow high-speed train to reach 1,800 miles per hour. Speaking of expensive...

While it is not a question of holding our breaths for this project to be launched soon, what appears to be a daunting cost is not as daunting as it might seem. To those who take a commercial view and ask how such a system could ever pay for itself it is worth contemplating the nearly 20,000 mile high speed rail network China has built in less than a decade (and it continues to grow).

Cities and towns along the system are undergoing economic and social development that would have taken decades instead of the few years since they became interconnected.

When first built the high speed rail network was criticized as an elitist transportation system unaffordable to ordinary citizens.

The criticism fell to the fact that migrant workers, among the lowest paid workers in China started using the new system to travel and even commute to their jobs, along with business travelers, families, students; in short everyone. Anyone who uses the system knows that these trains that often run on as little 10 minutes headway are often full or at high capacity traffic all day.

The contrast is to ask why there is an ongoing battle in California to built a single line that will link Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The battle for high speed rail in the Northeast corridor of the US has been well documented and remains at a crawl.

Then there is the construction of the extension of a subway line on 2nd avenue in New York. Planning for this 8 mile extension began in 1929. The first phase, approximately 2 miles long is now under construction with completion expected in December 2016.

If the argument is that metro systems are a more difficult challenge than intercity high speed rail (a reasonable issue), China again is worth considering. The city of Shenzen alone (across the border from Hong Kong) has built 8 subway lines in the last 11 years and continues to expand the system.

Comparing apples and oranges? Really?

There is such a thing as global warming. There is also politics.l
 When they mix it becomes a witches brew. Recent days have seen an effort on the part of the administration to highlight recent scientific reports that draw attention to global warming. Is the cause being helped or hurt? The naysayers are convinced in their zeal that there is no global warming. They dismiss the evidence as unconvincing or fabrication. There is a problem. Scientists have a great deal evidence that points to global warming from a variety of causes, mostly man-made causes. The best science comes from quantifiable evidence. The weakest science comes when scientists slip into the subjunctive and extend their evidence into a Draconian future scenario that "could be" "might be"; and even worse "100 or more years from now". Meteorologists boast that they have developed accuracy when forecasting weather 12-24 hours ahead. After that the drop-off in reliability becomes a steep downward curve. The politicization of reporting on global warming has pushed some scientists to walk the limb of prediction with their subjunctive conclusions. This creates holes in their arguments that an amateur naysayer can drive through easily and raise doubts that undermine the few facts we do know. My craft of journalism is complicit to the extent that the tradition of writing leads and headlines goes for the worst case scenario. Today's NYTimes leads is a good example. Here is the lead story with my comments and annotations.

 Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt

A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries. Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said. The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis. “This is really happening” (what is really happening?) Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.” Two scientific papers released on Monday by the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters came to similar conclusions by different means. Both groups of scientists found that West Antarctic glaciers had retreated far enough to set off an inherent instability in the ice sheet, one that experts have feared for decades. NASA called a telephone news conference Monday to highlight the urgency of the findings. The West Antarctic ice sheet sits in a bowl-shaped depression in the earth, with the base of the ice below sea level. Warm ocean water is causing the ice sitting along the rim of the bowl to thin and retreat. As the front edge of the ice pulls away from the rim and enters deeper water, it can retreat much faster than before. In one of the new papers, a team led by Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, used satellite and air measurements to document an accelerating retreat over the past several decades of six glaciers draining into the Amundsen Sea region. And with updated mapping of the terrain beneath the ice sheet, the team was able to rule out the presence of any mountains or hills significant enough to slow the retreat. “Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” Dr. Rignot said in the NASA news conference. “It has passed the point of no return. (Is there now a consensus that to counter the effects of global warming we must “return” to an earlier time?) Those six glaciers alone could cause the ocean to rise four feet as they disappear, Dr. Rignot said, possibly within a couple of centuries. He added that their disappearance will most likely destabilize other sectors of the ice sheet, so the ultimate rise could be triple that. A separate team led by Ian Joughin of the University of Washington studied one of the most important glaciers, Thwaites, using sophisticated computer modeling, coupled with recent measurements of the ice flow. That team also found that a slow-motion collapse had become inevitable. Even if the warm water now eating away at the ice were to dissipate, it would be “too little, too late to stabilize the ice sheet,” Dr. Joughin said. “There’s no stabilization mechanism.” (That we know of) The two teams worked independently, preparing papers that were to be published within days of each other. After it was learned that their results were similar, the teams and their journals agreed to release the findings on the same day. The new finding appears to be the fulfillment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed “a threat of disaster.” He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)

 Scientists said the ice sheet was not melting because of warmer air temperatures, but rather because relatively warm water that occurs naturally in the depths of the ocean was being pulled to the surface by an intensification, over the past several decades, of the powerful winds that encircle Antarctica. And while the cause of the stronger winds is somewhat unclear, many researchers consider human-induced global warming to be a significant factor. (“somewhat unclear” “many researchers…” And what do others think who don't join the many? As to “somewhat unclear” what publishable conclusion is there when something is “somewhat unclear”?) The winds help to isolate Antarctica and keep it cold at the surface, but as global warming proceeds, that means a sharper temperature difference between the Antarctic and the rest of the globe. That temperature difference provides further energy for the winds, which in turn stir up the ocean waters. Some scientists believe the ozone hole over Antarctica — caused not by global warming but by an entirely different environmental problem, the human-caused release of ozone-destroying gases — may also be adding energy to the winds. And natural variability may be contributing as well, though scientists do not believe it is the primary factor. (This all adds up to: we have theories and some facts but WE DON'T KNOW, we are theorizing.) The global sea level has been rising since the 19th century, but Antarctica so far has been only a small factor. The biggest factor to date is that seawater expands as it warms. But the melting from both Greenland and Antarctica is expected to be far more important in the future. A United Nations scientific committee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has warned that the global sea level could rise as much as three feet by the end of this century if stronger efforts are not made to control greenhouse gases. The new findings suggest the situation is likely to get far worse in subsequent centuries. (That’s a lot of “ifs” and assumes no balancing efforts.) The effects will depend in part on how much money future governments spend to protect shorelines from a rising sea. Research published in 2012 found that a rise of less than four feet would inundate land on which some 3.7 million Americans live today. Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston are all highly vulnerable. Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the new research but has studied the polar ice sheets for decades, said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said. He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned. “If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out,” Dr. Alley said. “But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”

Question: The studies referred to were published in peer-reviewed journals where peers can judge the value and context of the research. When politicians use this type of evidence and journalists report to a wider audience, what have we accomplished? Is the evidence here conclusive enough to warrant a NYTimes lead. The international edition of newspaper online does not carry the story. Does that say something?