A failure of optics

I have no issue with China celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC with a huge military parade. From what I can observe, the patriotic feelings generated by this event seem to be totally sincere. What I do have an issue with, is New York City joining in celebrating the founding of a Communist state by lighting up one of its iconic towers in the colors of the Chinese flag. Seriously, New York?

In the meantime, China’s flag was raised at Boston City Hall, much to the irritation of John Robb. (More details here.)

The Canadians and Australians are beginning to push back against official or quasi-official displays of the Chinese flag. In Toronto:

Dozens came out to support the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China at a flag raising at Toronto city hall, but it was a ceremony that the mayor opted to skip.

Don Peat, a spokesperson for John Tory, told Global News a number of issues between Canada and China were a great enough concern that Tory decided not to attend.

Peat did not elaborate on what Tory’s issues were specifically, but he said Tory “believes in democracy and the rule of law.”

In Melbourne:

Residents in Melbourne are outraged after a police station held a flag raising ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China.

A large crowd gathered at Box Hill station on Tuesday to remember how revolutionary leader Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Anger has been stirred at the celebration marking China’s annual National Day public holiday, in light of Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The station in Melbourne’s east is also in rookie Liberal MP Gladys Liu’s federal electorate of Chisholm, which has a higher-than-average Chinese population.

The Hong Kong-born backbencher’s ties to groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party have already sparked an Australian Security Intelligence Organisation investigation.

This sort of thing will be banned across the West before long.

Our robot future

What you thought you were getting:

What you’re actually getting:

Staffing a Japanese hotel with hundreds of robots didn’t work out quite as well as expected:

It turns out that even robots are having a tough time holding down a job. Japan’s Henn-na “Strange” Hotel has laid off half its 243 robots after they created more problems than they could solve, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

One of the layoffs included a doll-shaped assistant in each hotel room called Churi. Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa can answer questions about local businesses’ opening and closing times, but Churi couldn’t. When hotel guests asked Churi “What time does the theme park open?” it didn’t have a good answer. That was a problem because Churi was supposed to help ameliorate the Strange Hotel’s staff shortage by substituting in for human workers.

Others on the chopping block:

• Two velociraptor robots positioned at check-in were also decommissioned because human workers essentially had to do their jobs for them and photocopy guests’ passports manually.

• Two robot luggage carriers could only reach about 24 of the over 100 rooms in the hotel and failed in rain or snow. They would also often get stuck trying to pass by each other.

Remember this is Japan we’re talking about. If they haven’t figured this out yet, nobody can.

Still, there’s something gratifying about knowing that even robots can get laid off.

Meet the new boss

Did you know that Britain even had a “Supreme Court”? I didn’t:

Britain’s all-consuming debate over Brexit has dragged another of its respected institutions into uncharted territory, as the Supreme Court struck down Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, an extraordinary intervention by the judiciary into a political dispute.

The unanimous decision, handed down on Tuesday, is an unalloyed defeat for Mr. Johnson and will propel Britain into a fresh round of political turmoil. But it is even more significant for what it says about the role of the country’s highest court, which has historically steered clear of politics. […]

At issue was whether Mr. Johnson, in suspending Parliament for five weeks in the middle of a dispute over Britain’s departure from the European Union, had stymied the ability of lawmakers to have a say in that process. The court, in upholding a previous ruling by a Scottish high court, judged that he had.

Not only did the court declare the prime minister’s action unlawful, it also declared the order itself, which Queen Elizabeth II issued at Mr. Johnson’s request, “unlawful, void, and of no effect.” The request, said the court’s president, Baroness Brenda Hale, might as well have been a “blank sheet of paper.”

Stephen Tierney, a professor of constitutional theory at Edinburgh University, said it was “astonishing” that the court had ruled decisively that it “can review something as fundamental as that, done by Her Majesty, as unlawful.”

Amusingly, it looks like the British court is mimicking its nominal counterpart in the US:

The Supreme Court routinely exercises judicial review by actively interpreting the American Constitution.

Britain, however, relies on a partly unwritten set of traditions and conventions that have treated a sovereign Parliament as the supreme power in the land. Once the courts venture into the political sphere and begin to pass judgment on Parliament’s actions, some legal analysts say, there is no going back.

This will end well.

“The largest evacuation since Dunkirk”

It’s hard to think of a more fittingly bizarre metaphor for the state of the world today than this:

Nearly 15,000 Thomas Cook customers have been repatriated so far following the travel company’s collapse, with about 135,000 more still stranded abroad.

It will take about two weeks to bring all the Britons home as part of Operation Matterhorn, the UK’s biggest peacetime repatriation and the largest evacuation since Dunkirk.

Rival travel firm TUI is helping to get people booked on Thomas Cook flights home.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) completed 64 rescue flights on Monday, the first day of the operation, bringing 14,700 people back to the UK.

It is expected to bring back 16,800 people on 74 flights on Tuesday in a flight programme costing at least £100million.

Did I not prophecy the end of tourism? Could Operation Matterhorn be the inflection point marking the start of a new era – the unwinding of global travel?

And most importantly, are you not entertained?

A failure to understand

A disturbing article by David Goldman highlights the American establishment’s failure to correctly ascertain the contours of China’s grand strategy, and the unfolding and soon-to-be highly unpleasant (for the US) consequences of said failure:

Not only the Chinese, but South Korean, Japanese, British and other teams are building the capability to embed quantum communications in the new 5G networks. Not only will China go dark to U.S. signals intelligence; the rest of the world will, too, and in short order. Huawei’s 5G systems will wipe out America’s longstanding advantage in electronic eavesdropping. The U.S. intelligence community spends $80 billion a year, mostly on SIGINT, and the whole investment is at risk. […]

Huawei owns 40 percent of the patents related to fifth-generation broadband, largely because it spent twice as much on research and development as its two largest rivals (Ericsson and Nokia) combined. The strategic challenge to the United States comes not from Chinese technology theft, obnoxious as that is, but from Chinese innovation backed by state resources. The American intelligence community realized too late that China had gained the upper hand, and convinced the Trump administration to try to postpone the 5G rollout until it could work out what to do next. The failure is of such catastrophic proportions that no one in a position of responsibility dare acknowledge it for fear of taking the blame.

Domination of E-Commerce and E-Finance

Huawei’s vision of a global broadband market under its domination is hardly a secret. This is a case where China has advertised its intentions while the United States ignored the issue. Since 2011, the company’s website has promulgated an “eco-system” enabled by broadband networks that in turn would bring in Chinese e-commerce, e-finance, logistics, and marketing—in short, the whole array of business and financial services that will integrate the labor of billions of people into the greater Chinese model.

The world will become a Chinese company store: Chinese banks will lend the money, Huawei will build the broadband network and sell the handsets, Alibaba and JD.Com will market the products, Ant Financial will make micro-loans, and Chinese companies will build airports and railroads and ports. […] Among other things, Huawei is building most of Mexico’s new national broadband network, including 5G capability, in a consortium with Nokia financed by a group led by Morgan Stanley and the International Finance Corporation. Huawei also dominates telecommunications infrastructure in Brazil and other Latin American countries. China’s tech dominance in America’s neighborhood, remarkably, has occasioned no official comment from Washington.

In my view, this is far more alarming than what Gertz envisions. He writes, “China will control all deals and win any business arrangements it seeks by dominating the information domain and thus learning the positions of bidders and buyers. All Chinese companies will be given advantages in the marketplace.”

That simply isn’t the way things work. China will lock whole countries into Chinese hardware through state-financed national broadband networks, including Brazil and Mexico, where construction is underway. It understands the network effect that made Amazon and Facebook dominant players in the U.S. market, and will use its financial and technological head start to establish the same sort of virtual monopoly for Chinese companies throughout the Global South.

China envisions a virtual empire, with military deployments to protect key trade routes, starting with oil from the Persian Gulf. China’s navy established its first overseas base in Djibouti last year. Meanwhile China has invested heavily in high-tech weaponry, including satellite killers. During the first minutes of war, the United States and China would destroy each other’s communications and reconnaissance satellites. But China has a network of thousands of high-altitude balloons around its coasts, too many for U.S. forces to destroy.

And the money quote:

As we examine the details, the picture of a Soviet-style communist regime bent on world domination falls apart. China’s concept of world domination is so different from what we imagine that it has halfway come to fruition before we noticed it.

Quite.

Countries need manufacturing

Integrated circuit manufacturing

Alan Tonelson explains why, briefly:

Not that economists have been killing it in recent decades in properly evaluating the importance of manufacturing. But if Woodward had bothered to consult one, the odds would have been higher that he’d have encountered the idea that industry is kind of important for any country seeking to build or maintain a world-class military. Or” that it’s historically been the U.S. economy’s leader in productivity growth (although as RealityChek regulars know, it’s recently been losing its mojo on that score). Or that it boasts one of the nation’s biggest employment multipliers – meaning that the creation of each American manufacturing job generates an outsized number of jobs elsewhere in the economy compared with employment increases in most other sectors. Or that manufacturing accounts for the lion’s share of American business research and development spending.

Another one bites the dust

Societies tend to get what they deserve. A society that burns its geniuses at the stake because they uttered controversial opinions is a society that will eventually cease to have geniuses, or at least, will cease to be harnessing its geniuses in a productive way.

The eccentric and possibly mentally ill genius who pioneered GNU software, without which Android phones, cloud computing and Amazon.com would not exist, has just lost his job because he expressed an opinion, in an email, that some people disagree with. As far as I can tell, that was his only crime.

I won’t link to the story because it’s too depressing. All I can say is that if America is so desperate to remove productive people from society, because the originality or eccentricity of their ideas is perceived as a threat, then we absolutely deserve to become a colony, economic or otherwise, of saner and more competently managed foreign powers. And that is exactly what will happen.

Important article on 5G

An article [PDF] by British philosopher Jeremy Naydler examines the global push to roll out 5G, and its staggering scope and implications:

In November this year (2018), the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized the rocket company SpaceX, owned by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, to launch a fleet of 7,518 satellites to complete SpaceX’s ambitious scheme to provide global satellite broadband services to every corner of the Earth. […]

Other companies, including Boeing, One Web and Spire Global are each launching their own smaller fleets, bringing the total number of projected new broadband satellites to around 20,000 – every one of them dedicated to irradiating the Earth at similar frequencies.

Why this sudden flurry of activity? The new satellite fleets are contributing to a concerted global effort to ‘upgrade’ the electromagnetic environment of the Earth. The upgrade is commonly referred to as 5G, or fifth generation wireless network. […] It amounts to geo-engineering on a scale never before attempted. While this is being sold to the public as an enhancement of the quality of video streaming for media and entertainment, what is really driving it is the creation of the conditions within which electronic or “artificial” intelligence will be able to assume an ever-greater presence in our lives.

[…] the introduction of 5G will also require hundreds of thousands of new mini mobile phone masts (also referred to as “micro-cells” or “base stations”) in urban centres throughout the UK, and literally millions of new masts in cities throughout the rest of the world, all emitting radiation at frequencies and at power levels far higher than those to which we are presently subjected. […] Not one inch of the globe will be free of radiation.

Given the scale of the project, it is surprising how few people are aware of the enormity of what is now just beginning to unfold all around us. […]

The question we should ask is whether we also want increasingly intense exposure of the natural environment and all living creatures, including ourselves, to more and more electromagnetic radiation. Is it likely that this does not entail any adverse health consequences, as both government and industry claim? […]

Is the general public even remotely aware of the scale of this effort? Has anyone outside the industry been sold on the benefits, nay the necessity, of blanketing the planet with 5G?

Does anyone seriously think that we need faster mobile internet, that this will somehow improve our lives? Are any politicians or public officials even trying to make this argument?

Have we conclusively established that constant, ubiquitous exposure to extremely high frequency electromagnetic radiation will not have adverse effects on human health?

Is the public (of any country) ever going to be asked what it thinks about this, or will the rollout be a fait accompli before anyone is even aware of what has happened?

Questions that urgently need asking, given the speed and apparent desperation with which our 5G future is being prepared.

Luttwak attack

For your amusement and edification, a link dump of interviews with, and an essay by, the great strategist Edward Luttwak, aka the Machiavelli of Maryland.

First, an interview with Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun in four parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The interview addresses the emerging US-China Cold War and the role Japan will/can play in it. Excerpt:

Maybe China is trying to make allies and friends through One Belt One Road Initiative?

Good luck to them. Good luck to them because that will not help them with Malaysia — Malaysia has caused them a bit of a problem — nor with Indonesia, nor with the Philippines, nor with Japan.

The only country which the Chinese can get is Korea — South Korea. The South Koreans do not like being independent. They were under Chinese rule, then they were under Japanese rule, then they were under American rule, and they don’t like to be independent. They just don’t.

Not everybody likes to be independent. They are too divided themselves. They are more comfortable having somebody else. So, the South Koreans are willing to go under the Chinese rule.

The only reason they don’t do it is because of North Korea. North Korea is the protector of Korean independence, not South Korea.

If the South Koreans were interested in being an independent power, they would not be quarreling with Japan, given the fact that their security depends on Japan 100%. The Americans could do nothing in Korea without Japanese cooperation. So, the fact that they are anti-Japanese means that they are not interested in real foreign policy, they are not interested in being independent, and so they can afford to shout about comfort women and this and that because they are not serious. They are not serious about it.

One of our problems in Korea is that we don’t like North Korean nuclear weapons, but North Korean nuclear weapons guarantee the independence of North Korea and therefore guarantee that Chinese influence cannot extend over the Korean Peninsula. Because if it were up to South Korea, it would [allow Chinese influence].

You know, the South Koreans are not interested in resisting Chinese domination because they are not interested in being independent. The Vietnamese are determined to be independent of China and they are quite confident that they can defeat any Chinese action against them. The South Koreans are not confident, but also they are not interested in defending. They are really not interested in being independent. Otherwise, they wouldn’t behave the way they do.

Right. That might not be not good news for the United States and Japan. The common perception is that, in order to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, we need some kind of trilateral cooperation including South Korea.

Listen, South Korea faces immediate military dangers from North Korea. For example, their rockets — there are cheap rockets aimed at the Seoul area. Today, there are anti-rocket systems that are not expensive and work very well. South Korea doesn’t buy them. Today, you can buy anti-rocket interceptors.

Like Iron Dome?

Like Iron Dome. You can go and buy it, okay? You can go to Lawson’s and you buy it.

Why don’t they buy it? Because they are not really interested in self-defense.

When they have money, they do something like build a helicopter carrier and call it “Dokdo.” Do they need a helicopter carrier against North Korea? No.

So, in other words, their actions are not the actions of people who either want to defend themselves or to be independent. They don’t.

They just want to transition profitably from being protected by the United States to being protected by China. That is the only thing that they are interested in.

Not everybody wants to be independent. In that sense, the North Koreans are. Because of the politics of the Kim family, they want to be independent.

But South Korea does nothing.

Luttwak’s intriguing conclusion: a divided Korean peninsula with North Korea in possession of nukes may be the best possible scenario for the US.

Next, a review of the book Japan in the American Century in the London Review of Books:

With [Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] that means much more than phrase-making, as Pyle explains in detail: his Japan now accepts real responsibilities, e.g. to repel any attempt by China to act on its fanciful claim to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea instead of begging the Americans to do so, e.g. preserving a dialogue with Putin in order to give him a reason for limiting Russia’s support for China (at one point Obama called Abe to try to persuade him to cancel an upcoming meeting, but he didn’t budge). It was not just a question of asserting personal leadership. To change long-settled habits of passivity, Abe established a National Security Council that is not just a gathering place for representatives of the foreign, defence and intelligence bureaucracies, as in most other countries, but an actual policy-making body operated by its own staff, the National Security Secretariat. It has been remarkably effective from the start, formulating Japan’s first post-1945 national security strategy and leading successful negotiations with the Chinese.

Finally, a lengthy interview on China and the logic of strategy in War on the Rocks. Excerpt:

Brad: So you’re the National Security Advisor to the new president, we see what China has done over the time that Xi has been in power, what should the U.S. policy toward China be?

Edward: Well it has to be engagement, but of a new kind. It’s an engagement in which United States simply becomes extremely positive on everything positive, and extremely harsh on anything negative. The famous, or perhaps not-so-famous Micron case in Taiwan, where a Fujian regional authority invests money to build a copy of a Micron plant, a shadow plant. And then they go and hire, offer triple salaries to any Micron employee who comes over to them carrying a laptop or server, or memory stick or whatever it is with Micron information. They get caught by doing all …

That should have led to a drastic response while at the same time trying to be positive when anything can be positive. In other words, one has to have a duality.

Brad: What would a drastic response look like?

Edward: Well a drastic response is very simple. To this day, the People’s Republic of China, with its many accomplishments, cannot produce an integrated circuit that is even remotely competitive. No Chinese intellectual property, integrated circuit or chip … as you know super computers, laptops, phones, all of what we call electronics, anything you’re going to build artificial intelligence on, does rest on integrated circuits or microprocessors or chips or whatever you call them. Those things, in order to be competitive, not just commercially but functional, for things like don’t generate so much heat that they melt down your battery kind of thing, those things, the Chinese are not able to do without using foreign intellectual capital and they can’t manufacture them. They have to be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation or the other people who can work on what’s called 7 nm, which is seven nanometers, which is seven billionths of a meter, right? They can’t do it.