Archive for the 'General' Category

Both sides now

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

As usual, we listened to Ian Masters and his guests on our jog. For the first time, we came to appreciate their genuine belief in Russia collusion. After all, wouldn’t both sides do whatever it took to win, assuming they thought they could get away with it? And indeed, via Lifson and Greenwald, we learn that the nastiness has been bi-partisan and of long standing. Things might change a bit if some very senior miscreants wound up in jail, but that hasn’t happened, except for an event or two in a long time.

Bonus brain damage: Sharyl Attkisson has a detailed timeline that might make you dizzy.

Other reading

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Freud, Lippmann – these are pieces about the long decline of American culture, though we disagree because we think that things were pretty much ok until the 60’s. Neo-Neo has a good piece on the current mess. The Alinsky factor. And Sollozzo, or maybe another Turk.

20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets and thus…

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

As we were just saying, there are quite a few planets in the galaxies we know about so far. And thus — aliens! But not the naughty kind.

Suddenly a staccato burst split the air

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

There are many interesting reads today, but we’ll begin with this very dense piece at ZeroHedge. The title of this post arises from a commenter who said that this whole mess is beginning to sound like a Robert Ludlum novel with all the FBI, MI6, CIA etc. mess and intrigue. We’ve read a number of those Ludlum books and don’t remember much except every few pages there’d a a new Boom!, Bang!, or staccatto burst. We can’t keep up with all this.

Mini-fun bonus: a new book about the president.

China’s naval plans

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

From page 63 of this:

From a naval perspective, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is pursuing a mix of high-end and low-end ships and submarines. This strategy would allow the PLAN to spread out across the vast Pacific Ocean in sufficient numbers to locate and interdict U.S. ships. At the high end, China is investing in aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines and large surface combatants equipped with advanced radars, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and surface-to-surface missiles…Backed by a growing arsenal of longer-range and more sophisticated air and missile weapons, the Chinese navy will have a highly capable and numerically larger maritime force by the middle of the next decade. If this situation comes to fruition, it could make the projection of U.S. naval power cost prohibitive in the western Pacific, undermining the credibility of our alliance commitments.

Given my estimate that the future size of the PLA Navy will be about 550 warships and submarines by 2030 – twice the size of today’s U.S. Navy, it is clear the U.S. Navy is at great risk of not being adequately sized or outfitted to meet our national security commitments in the Indo-Pacific, let alone around the globe. Therefore, to accomplish all of the above missions, to provide a credible deterrent against PRC hegemony and to be able to fight and win wars at sea, the U.S. Navy must get bigger.

As I stated at the beginning of this paper, I am an intelligence officer, not a U.S. Navy force structure expert, but the evidence that a strategic gap between the U.S. Navy and PLA Navy is on the verge of exploding over the next decade and a half is overwhelming. As such, it seems clear to me that to keep even a modicum of parity with the Chinese, the U.S. Navy will require more than 355 ships.

Interesting reading. Why on earth should anyone think that China doesn’t want, at a minimum, regional hegemony over everything in the South China Sea’s area? HT: PJ

Mini-bonus: the media beclown themselves daily.

Tourism, current account, and forex reserves

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Economist:

China was a leading culprit in global economic imbalances. Whether blame was ascribed to its undervalued yuan or its frugal people, the problem seemed clear. China was selling a lot abroad and buying too little back. One data-point summed this up: its current account surplus reached 10% of GDP in 2007, well above the level that is generally seen as reasonable. Far less attention has been paid to its steady decline since then. In the first quarter of 2018 China ran a current-account deficit, its first since joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

China still exports many more goods than it imports, to the tune of nearly $500bn annually. But its share of global exports appears to have peaked. At the same time its trade deficit in services is getting bigger, largely thanks to all its tourists venturing abroad. At bottom, a current-account balance is the difference between a country’s investment and savings. When China had a big surplus, its savings, at 50% of GDP

If China’s current-account deficits become more frequent, it will have to run down its foreign assets or borrow more from abroad to pay for its consumption. Should its external liabilities—that is, money it owes the rest of the world—increase rapidly, that might signal greater financial vulnerability. But as long as the increase is moderate, it could actually help China by boosting the yuan’s global profile.

China’s forex reserves stopped growing a long time ago, and are way down now. We still think that 2% GDP growth forecast is nutty, however.

Hadn’t noticed this before

Friday, May 18th, 2018

As you know, we have a very active soundtrack of music often playing in the background. It’s very eclectic and features everything from the Brahms string quartets to, at this moment, Ahab the Arab. Jeesh! It’s probably playing because we’ve been pursuing a business venture like another fellow went after a whale. In any event, we’re mentioning this because of Scott Johnson’s reflections on John Lennon on Mother’s Day. We had never thought about how sad many of the songs he wrote were. Oh well, we have now.

Soundtrack update: Puffing Billy; Let’s ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred’s 2 feet; so long, small fry. A better time in many ways.

Wrong song

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

So the FBI crooks called their criminal secret plan to get rid of Trump Crossfire Hurricane, eh? Wrong song. It should be — very, very appropriately — Sympathy for the Devil, about which we’ve written several times, currently asking if the young today could even understand the historical references. Answer: no way. Bonus: Camille Paglia’s thoughts from a long time ago.

As Spock would say, fascinating

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

The Atlantic channels Spock:

the technological advance that most altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which allowed the search for empirical knowledge to supplant liturgical doctrine, and the Age of Reason to gradually supersede the Age of Religion. Individual insight and scientific knowledge replaced faith as the principal criterion of human consciousness. Information was stored and systematized in expanding libraries. The Age of Reason originated the thoughts and actions that shaped the contemporary world order.

But that order is now in upheaval amid a new, even more sweeping technological revolution whose consequences we have failed to fully reckon with, and whose culmination may be a world relying on machines powered by data and algorithms and ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms…at a conference on transatlantic issues, the subject of artificial intelligence appeared on the agenda. I was on the verge of skipping that session—it lay outside my usual concerns—but the beginning of the presentation held me in my seat.

The speaker described the workings of a computer program that would soon challenge international champions in the game Go. I was amazed that a computer could master Go, which is more complex than chess. In it, each player deploys 180 or 181 pieces (depending on which color he or she chooses), placed alternately on an initially empty board; victory goes to the side that, by making better strategic decisions, immobilizes his or her opponent by more effectively controlling territory.

The speaker insisted that this ability could not be preprogrammed. His machine, he said, learned to master Go by training itself through practice. Given Go’s basic rules, the computer played innumerable games against itself, learning from its mistakes and refining its algorithms accordingly. In the process, it exceeded the skills of its human mentors. And indeed, in the months following the speech, an AI program named AlphaGo would decisively defeat the world’s greatest Go players.

As I listened to the speaker celebrate this technical progress, my experience as a historian and occasional practicing statesman gave me pause. What would be the impact on history of self-learning machines — machines that acquired knowledge by processes particular to themselves, and applied that knowledge to ends for which there may be no category of human understanding? Would these machines learn to communicate with one another? How would choices be made among emerging options? Was it possible that human history might go the way of the Incas, faced with a Spanish culture incomprehensible and even awe-inspiring to them?

The most unusual thing about the piece is that the author is 94 years old. So that’s what the humans are up to here. But there are an awful lot of heres. The universe has 200 billion galaxies, maybe more, and the Milky Way alone has 100 billion planets. (Our family had a 1963 galaxie convertible, which as far as we know, stayed on earth; we enjoy the Milky Way, but prefer Snickers.)

So there are something like 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets, give or take. So if a mere one in a billion planets is habitable, that’s 20,000,000,000,000 planets that may have life on them. (Our math may be off by a few zeroes but what the heck?) So there are quite a few space aliens, enough to easily inhabit the outer limits. No doubt quite a few of these space aliens have already visited earth. If you doubt that, consult Scott Johnson.

In any event, we don’t have any specific thoughts on AI, except that we thought we saw evidence of it over fifty years ago.

Hmmmm

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

We’re not going to comment on North Korea now. Let’s wait and see what happens. Having said that, a little paranoia would not be unusual in NK. Bonuses: this is a very long piece and it takes some study to figure it all out. On the other hand, this doesn’t take a lot of concentration to figure out the message.

Some bonus entertainment things from Nick Danger, Third Eye, and our soundtrack: how about the time we shouted out at the beginning of a college screening of some movie “It’s his sled.” Or the time C,S,N, or Y intoned prior to some song in a concert we attended, “here’s one you’ll never hear on AM radio” (it peaked at 14 BTW). Toad was good, but we got bored (duh) at a Hendrix concert.

Today’s chuckle

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

SCMP:

China’s growth will slow to 2% by the end of the next decade from 6.9% last year, a London-based research firm has predicted, painting a gloomy picture for the world’s second biggest economy. The report presents an unusually bearish view on the future of China’s $12 trillion economy and casts doubt on its growth model at a time when a growing number of institutions – including the International Monetary Fund – are agreeing with Beijing’s assertion that the country will continue to report steady, albeit slightly slower, expansion.

The country has reported almost uninterrupted strong growth in the last four decades, evolving from an economic backwater to a global powerhouse. It recorded the first acceleration in seven years with annual growth of 6.9% in 2017, accounting for nearly one-third of global growth.

China’s expansion last year outpaced most developed countries – such as 2.3% in the United States and the euro zone – but was slightly lower than India’s 7.1%. Beijing does not expect a sharp deceleration. Cai Fang, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a prominent government think tank, told the South China Morning Post in March that economic growth was expected to remain above 3% through 2050.

So China’s economy grew 13x in the last twenty years but will come to a near standstill shortly. Ok then. And that’s not the only chuckle for zim and zir.

Beware of those parading their moral superiority

Monday, May 14th, 2018

John Kelly said some sensible things, and of course was belittled, ridiculed, and called a fool and a liar. As standards continue to decline in US education, why the faux or perhaps real outrage? We’ve formulated a thesis recently (duh!) that those preening their moral superiority are pretty much the opposite of what they claim. We linked to Thomas Sowell on a related matter, and that seems to be what’s happening. As always, we go back to the iPod thing and the fact that the youthful consumers of wealth and great longevity today are in major portion fools who have never created a job, invented anything, or otherwise contributed to their historically aberrant good fortune. Guilt breeds blame, or something like that. (Final point: what plane does the Gorina fly on?)

China 2025

Monday, May 14th, 2018

DW:

Chinese economic policy still reverts to a planned model. The meticulous planning extends to China’s own economic expansion aims, something in evidence in the “Made in China 2025″ strategy paper. Presented in 2015, that document lists 10 key areas in which China intends to become a world leader by 2025. The scope of ambition is huge; aerospace, industrial robots and software, high-speed trains, electromobility, the modernization of power grids, medical tech, semi-conductors — it’s all in there.

Many of these industries are ones in which the Germans have led for years. Beijing is working hard on building an Industry 4.0 vision to rival Germany’s. But unlike in Europe’s economic powerhouse, China’s digitization drive is being led by the state rather than coming organically. And every two years, the decisions of the Chinese leaders are put to the test and re-adjusted if necessary.

In several sectors — telecommunications, high-speed trains, power generation — China is already well on the way to achieving its 2025 goals. “China is well on the way to becoming one of the world’s leading manufacturers of robotics and alternative powertrain vehicles,” says Jaqueline Ives from the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin. “The problem areas are industrial software and the semiconductor industry.”

Many of these industries are ones in which the Germans have led for years. Beijing is working hard on building an Industry 4.0 vision to rival Germany’s. But unlike in Europe’s economic powerhouse, China’s digitization drive is being led by the state rather than coming organically. And every two years, the decisions of the Chinese leaders are put to the test and re-adjusted if necessary.

In their attempts to establish a world-leading semiconductor industry, the Chinese are experiencing strong resistance from the US, particularly with regard to planned acquisitions of American chip companies. In April, the US imposed a seven-year ban on US companies supplying components to Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE.

In addition, recent takeover attempts have failed, such as the $146-billion (€122-billion) bid from Singapore-controlled Broadcom to take over US chip giant Qualcomm. US President Donald Trump banned the sale himself, saying US national security interests were threatened by such a large scale technology transfer to Asia. Meanwhile, Broadcom’s corporate headquarters have relocated back to the USA.

The semiconductors example illustrates just how carefully China is planning things. Via the state-controlled “China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund,” the government hopes to provide an additional €25 billion in 2018 to help Chinese companies buy high-tech chip companies around the world, according to Bloomberg.

Re ZTE via NYT: President Trump tweeted on Sunday that he was working with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to prevent the collapse of the Chinese electronics giant ZTE, which shut down major operations after being sanctioned by the United States Department of Commerce last month. “Too many jobs in China lost,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

Precisely

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Thomas Sowell.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Monday, May 14th, 2018

SCMP:

I only met John Bolton once, back in the President Bush days when “neo-cons” strode the world assuring us that our hearts should rest at ease with the United States as the world’s policeman. I remember three reactions: first, that he held some very unhinged views of what is going on in Asia in general, and China in particular. Second, someone with such strongly held fanaticisms is scary. And third, thank goodness he does not have practical power in Washington. Now he sits at Donald Trump’s elbow, alongside the similarly scary Peter Navarro, author of Death by China, and I barely dare think in any detail about what is going to happen next.

Puh-leeze.

“the catastrophe of existence”

Monday, May 14th, 2018

At 6:25 of this video. We heard this fellow being interviewed a few times and were not impressed, but he’s pretty good when he gets going.

Another funny bit

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

Happy Sunday!

Humorous silly moment

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

This and this.

Something different

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

One of our friends from Harvard Business School is our Section B section mate Roy Schoeman, raised Jewish and now a devout Catholic. (He taught at HBS for some time.) Speaking personally, your correspondent goes back a long way in the Catholic religious practices, having pretty much memorized the Latin Mass as an altar boy at ages 7-10 or so in the 1950’s.

For high school, we went to the Portsmouth Priory (now Abbey) School, and had some serious discussions about choosing the monastic life, which a number of the monks recommended to us. (We’re pretty happy things went in another direction, since our son just got married to his loving and beautiful wife on 4/22/18.)

Anyhow, we emailed Roy the other day about some terrible problems: Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and so forth have killed hundreds of millions of people — why is that consistent with a fair and loving God? For that matter, what goes on in the billions of other galaxies and planets with somethings like humanoids? Lord Acton says that most great men are bad men — is that not itself evidence that the Creator screwed up in the universe’s design?

As a faithful Catholic, Roy’s response was, in part, to cite the thousands of miracles performed at Lourdes and elsewhere, as well as in the New Testament itself, underlining the truth and charity of Christianity. Fair enough, even if you think only some of these miracles are true. To be fair, Roy has an extensive bibliography of research showing the miracles to be miracles, which we can make available to any reader.

We pause to point out that we listen to Dennis Prager a lot, a devout Jew who says many of these horrible questions will be addressed the day you show up for the afterlife, which is a fair enough response. Afterlife would cure a billion things, but why is it pretty secret? — billboards advertising the benefits of “afterlife” would be cool and popular.

The point of this piece is the following: at present we do not believe, or more precisely feel, that the beauty of the many miracles (assuming that they are all 100% true) outweigh the horrors inflicted by the Stalins, Pol Pots, etc. of the world. To say that such things will be cured in an afterlife, as Dennis says, gives almost no comfort, since there are very few billboards on the highway of life advertising this afterlife.

This is of course way off usual Dinocrat blah-blah, but with billions of galaxies with their millions of planets with humanoids or some such, there ought to be some things to connect us better if there is a God, and certainly something better and much more billboard-like than changing water into wine at a marriage at Cana.

New weirdness every day

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

NYT:

The administration’s challenge — the American ambassador to Germany has already said that German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations now — might prompt Europe to go further. The European Union could, for instance, announce the withdrawal of member-states’ ambassadors from the United States. Isn’t this what states do when diplomatic partners breach solemn agreements, expose them to security risks and threaten to wreak havoc on their economies? That is, after all, what the administration is threatening to do by courting the risk of a Middle Eastern war and applying secondary sanctions to European companies. Depending on the American response, European capitals might even follow up with expulsion of American ambassadors. It would be hard to fault these moves as irresponsible

Expelling US ambassadors in Western Europe irresponsible? Heaven forfend! HT: PL. BTW, the news that Kim’s nuke test facility exploded is breaking through.