This is a guest post from Warner Brown, a frequent contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation who works in urban development in Shanghai.
Why do millions of Chinese care about a fictitious meth cook from New Mexico? The television drama series Breaking Bad, which depicts embattled high school chemistry teacher Walter White's transformation into a crystal methamphetamine kingpin and airs its final episode on Sunday, has unquestionably become a cultural phenomenon in the United States (viewership reached 6.6 million for the series' penultimate episode last week). But it has also attracted a relatively large audience in China, where it's known as jueming dushi -- "The doomed drug master." An average season of Breaking Bad receives over 10 million views on streaming sites like Sohu.com, more than double that of other recent acclaimed American dramas like Mad Men. (It's still a fraction of the 159 million views that The Big Bang Theory's most recent full season received in China.)
Like YouTube, Chinese video streaming sites include comments sections. And Chinese fans fill the comment threads for each Breaking Bad episode with hundreds of responses, which help explain what the show means to Chinese viewers. Commenters on early episodes, for example, tend to be skeptical about the series' premise: Walter, who receives a cancer diagnosis while holding down two jobs and caring for a son stricken with cerebral palsy, is compelled by poverty and circumstance to begin cooking crystal meth. As one Chinese commenter put it, "A teacher has a house with a pool and a car -- why does he still have no money and have to go work extra hours in a car wash, and in the end cook drugs?"
He didn't address Vladimir Putin directly, but he sure came close.
In an address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning, President Obama pressed the case for diplomatic responses to the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. And he pledged that the U.S. will remain engaged in the post-Arab Spring Middle East "for the long haul, for the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation" (Asia pivot? What Asia pivot?).
Then came the wink and the nod to Vlad.
"I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it," Obama said. "Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all."
The "some" who disagree sounded an awful lot like Vladimir Putin, who trolled Americans early this month by trashing the concept of American exceptionalism in a New York Times op-ed opposing U.S. military intervention in Syria. "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," he wrote. "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The panic over an alleged al Qaeda plot went into overdrive Monday night, when ABC News reported that terrorists in Yemen were experimenting with a new and virtually undetectable bomb-making technique: dipping their clothes into liquid explosive that then dries and can be ignited.
The cries of doom began almost immediately after the story went online. But people shouldn't have been so quick to scream. A clothing bomb would almost certainly never work, explosive experts tell Foreign Policy.
From bombs in underwear to the derriere, the explosive-device masters in al Qaeda's Yemen branch have been sowing fear and panic for several years now. But their dastardly techniques, while technically impressive, have not been shown to consistently have their desired effect: killing lots of people.
It's not clear from the report that this latest alleged device, which one anonymous official called "ingenious," is directly linked to the recent terror threat that led to the closure of more than 20 U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts. But the use of sophisticated explosives fashioned into hard-to-detect devices fits a pattern of Yemen's bombmaker craftsmen, and one in particular.
Late Tuesday, U.S. officials announced the extradition of Colombian drug kingpin Daniel "Loco" Barrera Barrera to New York City, where he will face the first of three arraignments in the Southern District of New York on Wednesday on charges that include conspiring to launder money and import cocaine to the United States -- counts that, taken together, could land him in jail for the rest of his life.
The indictments against Barrera (the first of which is included below) are searing, alleging that since 1998 El Loco ("the crazy one," a.k.a. "Arnoldo" or "Germán") has worked intimately with two terrorist organizations (Colombia's left-wing FARC and right-wing, now-defunct AUC) and presided over a Colombia-based cocaine manufacturing and trafficking syndicate that produces just under 800,000 pounds of the drug each year. That's roughly the maximum takeoff weight of your typical Boeing 747.
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is no stranger to controversy -- what with all the flying sandwiches she's dodged and gender battles she's waged. But apparently she can't even catch a break after ceding power to Kevin Rudd following a dramatic leadership shakeup within her party this week. On Friday, Madame Tussauds in Sydney planted a wax figure of the toppled premier, resume in hand, in a line at a job center in the city. "Just like the original real-life model, Gillards wax replica appeared stoic in even the most challenging of circumstances," Australia's Daily Telegraph observed.
Madame Tussauds via Getty Images
Back in 2008, Barack Obama's rollicking overseas tour hit a snag. The Democratic presidential candidate, James Mann later wrote in The Obamians, wanted to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that would showcase his widespread popularity in Europe and capacity to rehabilitate America's reputation abroad. But Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's foreign policy advisor, was having none of it. He quickly lodged a complaint with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's staff.
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We're learning tonight that Michael Hastings -- the 33-year-old journalist whose 2010 Rolling Stone profile of a remarkably unguarded Gen. Stanley McChrystal cost the top commander in Afghanistan his job -- died in a tragic car crash on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Hastings may be best known for exposing McChrystal's critical views of the Obama administration, but he also painted memorable portraits of Gen. David Petraeus and American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl (a blunt, aggressive, and controversial reporter, Hastings also got in the occasional sparring match with the State Department).
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Guardian
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