Next on tap – the Chinese Museum of Clean Air?

The sign beneath this outdoor water pump at the Beijing Museum of Tap Water supposedly warns visitors not to drink the water.

The sign beneath this outdoor water pump at the Beijing Museum of Tap Water supposedly warns visitors not to drink the water.

China, you may have heard, has been on a building blitz of gigantic proportions. Apartment buildings, skyscrapers, business parks, gated communities, monuments, museums, theme parks – all the infrastructure needed for burgeoning masses of proletarians turned consumers.

Among all these oversized projects is the humble Beijing Museum of Tap Water. It’s a most peculiar choice of museum subject, given that nobody in that huge, populous country enjoys plumbing that delivers potable water.

That’s right. No drinkable tap water in the whole country.

Even after it’s boiled, there’s too much sediment to drink the stuff. Even with filters, it’s too risky to imbibe.  No filter can eliminate all the pollutants coming out of Chinese faucets, which include sewage, heavy metals, lead, rust, nitrates, nitrites, bacteria, viruses, parasites and extreme levels of chlorine.

According to the website, the museum’s tap-water objects “… are presented in front of the visitors who will truly understand that tap water is hard-earned.”

Imagine what sort of exhibits might be displayed in a Chinese Museum of Clean Air – photos of skylines doctored to scrub away the murky fog that passes for air, an assortment of face masks and sets of lungs blackened simply by breathing. 


When is it okay to say nigger?

Paula DeenAs we all know now, Paula Deen, the doyenne of deep-fried cooking, has turned her career into toast. Blackened it, one might say, with a series of scorching admissions about her use of the word “nigger” and her proposal to throw a plantation-themed party with African Americans portraying slaves.

Amid the uproar, pundits, newscasters and bloggers routinely used the prettified phrase “N-word” when referring to the racist slur Deen slung around. The cautious resort to a euphemism isn’t the most effective teaching tool for conveying how objectionable the term is. If we’re too delicate to even say the word, how can we possibly educate the unenlightened?

Imagine trying to teach sex education using only “the I-word.”

As distasteful as Ms. Deen’s bigotry is, the rabid reactions of her defenders are downright astounding. To those who insist they “don’t understand” why Deen’s attitudes are so harmful, try this little exercise.

Imagine she was accused of disparaging fat people. She goes on TV to protest her innocence. Instead of saying (as she did) that one of her employees is black and asking him to come on out even though he might be hard to see because he’s as dark as the background of the stage set, let’s say she told him “Come on out here, if you can get through the door, and show people how fat you are.”

Or, let’s take the plantation-party plan a step further. Why didn’t it occur to Ms. Deen to suggest including some light-skinned slaves who look an awful lot like Ol’ Massa, played by her brother Bubba and some relatives with spray-on tans? And an overseer with a big whip? And a pack of baying bloodhounds?

Guess that didn’t fit into the happy slaves theme, and unhappy slaves would be no fun at all, y’all.