Innumerate Indians, Irreverent Thais

Supporters of Chen Guangcheng-AP

Dissident U

Is there a bidding war on for Chen Guangcheng? The blind dissident lawyer, whose Houdini-like escape from his boorish incarceration in rural China sparked an almighty Sino-U.S. kerfuffle, has been offered a fellowship by the University of Washington. The Seattle-based institution boasted, in a letter of invitation to him, that its China Studies Program is “one of the oldest and most prestigious” in the country, and promised “a strong collegial and academic environment” where Chen “could be involved in taking, and possibly teaching, classes.” The university’s offer was made days after a come-hither call from New York University, which covets Chen as a visiting scholar at its bustling law school. Where will he go? NYU is close to Chinatown; Seattle is closer to China ...

Alarm Bells in Bangalore?

“A bag is full of 20 bananas and no other fruit. Rajeev draws a fruit from the bag. What is the probability that he will draw a banana?” In a study that has sent shudders through newspaper-reading India, researchers found that 30 percent of the country’s engineers were unable to answer that—and other—elementary mathematical problems. A total of 55,000 students in 250 engineering colleges took part in the survey, which also found that “25 to 35 percent of engineers cannot comprehend English usage even in day-to-day conversations.” Good luck, Rajeev.

The Rushdie of Rap

Music can be a perilous business, as Shahin Najafi, an Iranian rapper exiled in Germany, has learned. An ayatollah in the holy city of Qom fired a fatwa at Najafi after he released a satirical song addressed to Imam Naqi, the tenth imam in Shiite Islam, who lived between the years 829 and 868. The crime? Apostasy. The sentence? Death. The lyrics? “Hey Naqi, hey Naqi, hey Naqi,/Hey Naqi, hey Naqi, hey Naqi/I swear to you on bland and hollow slogans/[That] say ‘Long live’ in the morning and ‘Death to’ at night ...” (These are carefully curated fragments. Rap, even in Farsi, contains much that is unprintable.)

The Fed Sees Red

The U.S. Federal Reserve made banking history when it gave the green light to the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to acquire a small U.S. lender that primarily serves Chinese-Americans. This is the first-ever purchase by a Chinese bank of an American one. Predictably, some American politicians are huffing about how Chinese banks could use their state support to “underprice” their American competitors. This is but the latest chapter in a long history of foreign banks following their citizens and businesses into the U.S. The U.S. doesn’t have an issue with Barclay’s, for instance, or HSBC (the “H” and “S” of which stand for “Hong Kong” and “Shanghai”), so why balk at the ICBC, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the People’s Republic of China? Bottom line: no TARP needed here.

Less Majesty Please

Thailand is a most agreeable country in all respects but one: It still has on its statute books the antediluvian offense of lèse-majesté, under which speech or acts deemed to “insult” the royal family can result in long prison terms. Last year, Ampon Tangnoppakul, a man in his sixties, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending a text message deemed disrespectful of Queen Sirikit. Ampon, who came to be known affectionately as “Uncle SMS,” died in his cell last week after complaining of stomach pains. No police brutality is suspected, but his death has reignited opposition in Thailand to an unconscionable law. R.I.P., Uncle SMS.

francois-hollande-nb20 Jean-Pierre Muller / AFP-Getty Images

Feisty Lady

France’s new first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, zinged this tweet at journalists a day after her partner won the presidential election: “Thank you, colleagues, for respecting our life and our neighbors. Thank you for not setting up camp in front of our home. Thank you for understanding.” Trierweiler’s nickname—at least among those who didn’t vote for her partner—is “Rottweiler.” She clearly knows how to get her message across: not many hacks lingered on the lawn after her tweet.

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