- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

Publications are filled with stories about Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain — which is one reason, with the exception of a rather surprising piece in the April GQ on Mr. McCain’s daughter, Meghan, we’ll pass over all the electoral coverage.

I’m not too sure just how happy Mr. and Mrs. McCain are feeling about the double-page full-color shot of their very attractive 23-year-old daughter, a laptop on her knees, the fingers of her right hand curling around a bottle of Bud Light. She gets her own cover line: “Is the White House Ready for John McCain’s Daughter?” The article by Greg Veis is titled “Raising McCain.” A bright yellow readout identifies Miss McCain as “a socially liberal John Kerry voter who loves ‘Superbad,’ Dita Von Teese, Bud Light (see right hand), and campaign blogging.”

It continues: “Trouble is, this self-described ‘Daddy’s girl’ will do — and say — almost anything to help her 71-year-old father win the White House.” Not exactly a mean piece, but it’s really not the kind of material you would want to see in print when you’re running for the presidency. Given the always extremely ladylike demeanor of the candidate’s wife, Cindy, you can imagine without too much trouble the dialogues exchanged post-publication in the privacy of their home.

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Leaving the presidential election aside, a topic that’s certainly getting generous coverage by the media, there is, of course, China. The 2008 Olympic Games are a prime and, of late, a nearly daily item for coverage. Will Western countries boycott participation in the event? James Fallows in the April Atlantic brings up the matter of China, the Games and the Internet in “The Connection Has Been Reset.” Mr. Fallows raises the question of how Western visitors returning back home will feel by noticing how “China’s Internet seems surprisingly free and uncontrolled.”

“What about Wikipedia, famously off-limits to users in China? They will probably be able to reach it. Naturally the visitors will wonder: What’s all this I’ve hard about the ‘Great Firewall’ and China’s tight limits on the Internet?” Mr. Fallows reports that Olympic-era visitors will discover not the absence of China’s electronic control but its new refinement — and a special Potemkin-style unfettered access that will be set up just for them just for the length of their stay.

He makes clear he’s not giving any names or any identifying details of any Chinese citizens with whom he may have discussed the subject for fear of putting them at risk for severe punishment. Still, you have an uneasy feeling that Chinese authorities are certainly tracking every contact the author may have had during his recent visit.

Mr. Fallows also raises some disturbing and damning questions in his last paragraph: “How long can this go on? How long can industrial growth continue before the natural environment is destroyed? How long can the super-rich get richer, without the poor getting mad? … The Great Firewall poses the question in another form: How long can the regime control what people are allowed to know, without the people caring enough to object? On current evidence, for quite a while.”

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As for “the super-rich getting richer,” consider the lot of the granddaughter of the vice premier of China during most of the 1980s, Bao Bao Wan. One of the first Chinese women to debut at the Crillon Ball in Paris in 2003, she is now viewed — according to the April W — as “a social darling, gossip-page fodder, pop philosopher and, now, jewelry designer.”

After a privileged childhood filled with servants, chauffeurs and dinner guests including high-ranking communist officials, she begged her family to send her abroad — to Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. to finish high school before enrolling at Sarah Lawrence College. A splendidly ironic quote from Bao Bao Wan rounds off the feature piece: “We were never from money. My grandfather never cared about material things.”

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Another article well worth your attention about people most of us have never heard of is a story on the Hazaras — who make up one-fifth the population of Afghanistan. The April issue of National Geographic tells the tale of these folk, long considered outsiders. Yet six years after the fall of the Taliban, life has changed radically for these “outsiders.” A Hazara woman is the first and only female governor in the country. The best-selling American novel “The Kite Runner” (made into a 2007 Oscar-nominated film) depicted a fictional Hazara character.

It is there that in 2001, the Taliban blew up the 1,500-year-old, huge Bamian Buddha statues. Today, the people are hoping to rebuild what was so wantonly destroyed. The story of the Hazaras is a deeply, impressively moving one. We should be grateful to National Geographic for bringing it to our attention.

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