The calamity in China which, as opposed to the Burmese regime, the government is trying to ease brought to mind a laconic, yet searing exchange I heard when I was there a year and a half ago. Someone in our party who had been in Shanghai several times in the past few years observed that he "couldn't recognize the city from the last time and certainly not from the time before." And a somewhat world-weary Chinese woman responded, "there's no guarantee that these buildings have been constructed according to any safety codes whatsoever."

That's apparently what happened -- or, rather, didn't happen -- with the school buildings in Szechuan. And many good women (and men) of Szechuan are now bereft of their one government-allotted child. We will see how the Olympics pan out. And the freedom protests. And the food shortage. And the Muslim troubles. And the Tibetan risings.

If you've read Karl Wittfogel's commanding 1957 book Oriental Despotism (not many people have), it might occur to you that the regime may be losing its mandate of heaven.