Monday 31 May 2021

Comedy gold: the economics of internet irony | The Spectator

 If you're looking for proof we live in a computer simulation, consider the farcical story of dogecoin. Named after an internet meme about a talking dog, the joke currency was created as a parody of bitcoin. Dogecoin has no practical uses, yet online investors have ploughed billions into it. 'We thought it would just make the viral rounds on social media,' said founder Jackson Palmer. Last week the valuation passed $68 billion — more than Kraft Heinz and Ford. Palmer is now worth several hundred million dollars. Not bad for a Twitter gag. Read on...

Friday 28 May 2021

'Three reasons China is losing its allure for the foreign business community' | SCMP

Friends in China have told me for quite a while that they're prepped for quick departure, should things worsen: that is, if the anti-foreign sentiment or gets worse. It's been worsening for some time, not just now, with Covid.

Adam Dunnett is head of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China and gives us some sobering stats about the rapidly declining number of foreigners in China -- meaning here Mainland China, not we expats in Hong Kong. He thinks this exodus is not good for anyone, as they're of China-literate business people who can be bridges to the West. One of the key changes for the worse, seems to me, is the change in the tax law which put many in the top tax bracket. Dunnett:

China talks big about its internationalisation and openness. It has the foreign capital, brands, technology and trade. What it lacks, crucially, is a significant foreign community.
New census numbers show the foreign population has increased in the past decade, but not by much. The 845,697 of us foreign residents still make up less than 0.1 per cent of the total population, with foreign communities in “international hubs” such as Shanghai and Beijing making up less than 1 per cent of their populations.
By comparison, the foreign populations of Seoul (2.8 per cent), Tokyo (4.2 per cent), New York (23 per cent) and London (37 per cent) show how far China’s internationalisation still has to go. Underscoring the problem further is that the foreign populations in Shanghai and Beijing have dropped 22 per cent and 41 per cent respectively over the decade.
Estimates by the European, American and Canadian chambers of commerce suggest that foreign nationals within their respective business communities have dropped by 30-40 per cent throughout China in the past five years.
China is simply losing its allure in the eyes of its foreign business community, a trend driven by three main factors – economic, political and administrative.

There's more... 

Thursday 27 May 2021

Cummings savages Hancock (and Boris and Ministers and Civil Servants and...)

Beware! 5 hours! Click screenshot to go to vid

Wow, it sure was a humdinger! Dominic Cummings' evidence yesterday 26 May, to Parliament’s Science & Technology Committee looking into "lessons learnt" from how Westminster handled the pandemic.

And one of the lessons, if a cheap shot, is "don't get on the wrong side of Dominic". He was savage on the Health Sec, Matt Hancock: a “liar” who should have been fired for “criminal and disgraceful behaviour”. And on Boris (“unfit for the job”) and on the Civil Service is "not fit for service".

But that's a little unfair. For I thought he gave good testimony. Honest, self-critical and insightful. (not everyone agrees....)

There's plenty of reporting out there, so I won't repeat that. Just in the British press, going left to right: The Guardian, The Independent,, BBCDaily Mail, The Sun.

Just some of my own observations:

Cummings was very critical of himself for not hitting the "panic button" earlier than 14 May 2020. And gave a credible explanation for why he didn't. There were also other things he said "I got completely wrong". Good on him for that; I believed him.l

Thursday 12 May 2020 was "like Independence Day" in the Oval Office, with Dr Warner (who he'd brought in to look at the science) playing the part of Jeff Goldblum. Apart from the emerging pandemic, they'd been asked by Trump to join the US in bombing Iraq (on that very day!), and by Boris's "girlfriend" to sort out and issue relating to her dog (Dylan?). Wow! This was the day they decided they had to go from Plan A (herd immunity) to Plan B, which was to become the first lockdown a week later. 

He described Boris as having played down the coronavirus -- it was "just another swine flu", according to Boris. Me: we also downplayed it at the time, having gone through the 2002 SARS. We were planning on a trip to Alaska as late as early March. The rest of the world was too. Think Pelosi and De Blasio in the US, taking part in Chinese New Year celebrations, urging people to go out in crowds. So, Boris wasn't alone then. 

I didn't know that Boris was so anti-lockdown as Cummings testified. Since March last year he's seemed very keen to launch lockdowns, but that's not the case, says Dominic, he was always wanting to keep the UK open -- "I should have been like the Mayor in Jaws and kept the beach open"  he says Boris said. 

Vaccines: I'd heard before that vaccines had been developed really quickly, in weeks after discovery of the virus. Cummings confirmed that in the UK they had a vaccine "within hours of getting the DNA of the virus". The delay was due to procedures and protocols not designed for the emergency we faced.

His criticism of the ingrained problems in the Civil Service ring true -- I've had experience of them myself in the Australian Public Service, where for a time I was at senior levels, dealing Ministers and CabSec's.  Oz is actually pretty good, but even there it was difficult to move them off the system of jobs going to the next in line. (We did that in 1990, in a major reshuffle of Austrade, but it was against a strong tide of "this is the way we've always done things". Reform is needed and Cummings' points were powerful and well made. 

Questions the Committee didn't ask:

Was the Swedish model considered? The one neither complete lockdown nor "let the virus rip", but telling people to socially distance, wear masks, etc, protect the vulnerable (elderly) but otherwise get on with it.

What was the influence of the Imperial College of London's modelling by Neil Ferguson? Modelling that has proved wanting, but which many believe had critical influence on the government. 

Why the strict binary? Cummings repeatedly said it was a choice between strict lockdown or having the virus spread unchecked. But there is a wide variety of approaches around the world: just look at the 50 states of the US. There are certainly "lessons to be learned" there, and it's not always -- indeed not often -- the case that the stricter and quicker the lockdown the best the effect. I've written about this often, and done some original analysis

In short, I think this is Cummings' biggest blind spot. At the beginning he says "I got xxx completely wrong". Why can he not be wrong about this? It's non-binary!

Why was the Barrington Declaration not even mentioned? Protect the vulnerable (targetted protection), urge social distancing and masking, but otherwise let the public get on with it.

Cummings said that had there been no lockdown there would have been: (1) people self-locking down, therefore (2) impact on economy (that Boris had been trying to avoid by not locking down), as well as (3) complete closure of the NHS because of the large number of cases. But I don't get it. He wasn't challenged on that statement, especially the one about the NHS, at any point? Why? Why would there have been a complete close down of the NHS? 

LATER (10:30am GMT): Watching UK Parliament live, Matt Hancock giving his side. It’s clear the government has decided to circle the wagons. It’s fascinating to watch it happening in real time. A master class in how to handle extremely damaging allegations (lying, costing thousands of lives).

Tuesday 25 May 2021

China Zoomers Zizzing (aka “lying flat”, 躺平, Tang Ping)

China’s Gen Z, aka Zoomers, born 1995-2010
Shanghai, Bund, looking at Pudong
“Lie flat”. 躺平. 
A growing number of China’s Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010, are embracing a “laying flat” attitude about work and life as they throw in the towel in the face of tough competition and opt for a simple, frugal and lonely life. Article
The Zoomers version of Wu Wei, the venerable Taoist philosophy of “do nothing”. But in a productive way, Wu Wei, that is. I wrote something about this in re Zhuangzi.
Can’t help thinking it’s the kids of one-child families, since the One Child policy of 1980 raised millions of “princelings”.  Can the poor afford to “Lie Flat”? That’s what my mates in China tell me, anyway. Such as they know. They’re Boomers, ok? 
Also can’t help thinking that these Zoomers rather like some of the Zoomers elsewhere, eg, esp, the US. Deciding not to compete. To chill. To chillax. We used to call it “dropping out”, man. Is it so different?
By the way, the Chinese of “lie flat”, not in the article, is 躺平, or Tang Ping. And the English should be “lie” not “lay” as they have in the article. Lay is transitive. You lay a table. You lie down. 

Monday 24 May 2021

"Covid lab-leak hypothesis just got a big credibility boost"

Click screenshot to go to video-cast

Another fascinating show from Bret and Heather's Darkhorse podcast. From the show notes

In this 80th in a series of live discussions with Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying (both PhDs in Biology), we discuss the state of the world through an evolutionary lens. In this episode, we once again discuss the “lab leak” hypothesis for the origins of SARS-CoV2, as this week a letter published in Science has helped it gain yet more credibility in mainstream scientific circles. We then discuss ivermectin, a decades-old drug with a well-established history of efficacy against many human pathogens. What is its mechanism of action? What do Covid case rates in Africa, against a background of on-going prophylactic use of ivermectin for other conditions, suggest about its possible efficacy against Covid? Is it safe for children? Also, what does the FDA require of a new drug or treatment to grant Emergency Use Authorization? Does Merck have an opinion on the matter? How about the media?

For those interested in delving as deep as Bret and Heather have gone, there are the links to the Science in the notes. 

I've written many times about the "lab-leak hypothesis", which remains that: a valid hypothesis until it is falsified. The big issue they're pointing to in this podcast is the eminence of the scientists asking for more investigation into the lab-leak hypothesis. "More investigation” should probably be replaced with "some investigation”, as so far pretty much no investigation at all has been done.

Knowing if the coronavirus was or was not a result of a lab leak is important: 

If it was, it means the "gain of function" research being done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology ought be stopped. 

If it was not, then the sort of research being done at the WIV needs to be ramped up. 

How we handle the next viral pandemic depends on this. "Denial" is not the same as "debunk" -- as some seem to think when they say it's a conspiracy theory with no merit because it's been "debunked" (because China denied it). It has most certainly not been debunked; indeed is gaining scientific currency. I think the lab leak deniers push this line because it was Trump who first suggested it and, of course, Orange Man Bad. And then the media just went along. It was "debunked" and if you believed it, you were a conspiracy theorist. That stance itself has now been dealt a blow, because....

ADDED: "Covid lab-leak hypothesis just got a big credibility boost", New York Magazine

While there are still some dopey articles that think it’s a good idea to do science by Vox Pop. It is utterly irrelevant what the public “thinks” may be the origin of the virus, especially since, to the extent they’ve been told anything, it’s that it didn’t come from a lab leak. (Yet, even then less than half think it wasn’t a lab leak, despite all that volume of media coverage attempting to discredit it)

Hottest days and hottest months on record

I read today that yesterday's temperature here in Hong Kong was a record since records started being kept in 1848. It was 36.1 at Repulse Bay, though the Observatory site says it was "just" 35. That's 95 degrees in the old currency, so not even a century. Still, it feels hotter cause of the humidity, averaging around mid 70's%. Still, again, that's the highest May temp since 1884, ie, a record. 

This comes after April that also had the highest April temperatures, ever.

Kinda scary. [Article]

PS: I remember our drive from Cape Town to Cairo back in 2011. In Sudan it was mid 40s, I recall regular temperatures of 44C. But it didn't feel even as hot as Hong Kong. Because the humidity was 22%.  [Sudan posts]

Meantime: 21 Ultra Marathon competitors *died* of cold during a race in Gansu.... 21(!). In one race....

ADDED: I’ve just watched all the news channels. There’s a lot about the Italian cable car disaster that killed 14.  Not a peep about the 21 dead in an ultra marathon. I wonder why. 

Of course the main story is the Belarussiian state hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius in order to kidnap Roman Protasevich, a young Belarusian reporter they didn’t like. There’s no way Putin didn’t know and approve this “outrageous and illegal” (EU) act.

Sunday 23 May 2021

Li Shu 隶书 “Clerical Script”(aka “Chancery Script”) Book arrives


The latest in my collection of calligraphy books
The Li script is one of the earliest standard writing styles in China, dating back to around 300BC. There's plenty more online, like here. It's the latest style I'm studying in my calligraphy efforts. I've done a fair bit of classical Chinese texts in Cao Shu, or grass-cursive script, and in Kai Shu, the traditional or standard script, kind of like copperplate writing, more here.

I'm working on a piece of calligraphy, a classical Chinese saying about turning 70, for a friend who just has. I've decided to do it in several styles. And send all off. It's a fair bit of work. The practice, the practice. Then I've added to the task: by carving my own stone seals. If you've ever seen a Chinese painting or piece of calligraphy, you'll usually see a red mark at the bottom, right or left. Sometimes several of these seals. So, courtesy Mx Amazon, I've got a soapstone carving kit and have done several. It's both easier and more difficult than I thought. Easier in that you can quickly get carving. Harder in that to get something really good is going to be tough. So I'm just calling my efforts "guai zhuang", or "weird seals", an honourable way of carving, kind of free form, kind of devil-may-care.

This is the third of my latest batch of books on different calligraphic styles, put out by the Jiangxi Art Publishing co, in China. They give you various versions of each character as done by famous calligraphers over the ages. These are works of great scholarship. Or at least of great effort. 

Here's a typical page, with the character Gao (高), meaning "high" or "tall", as done by 15 different calligraphers. 

You might call a few of these "guai zi", "weird characters", done
deliberately strangely off, like naive kids' work, like the bottom
left by Wu Weihan
And here's a pic of my study, with the latest batch of calligraphy brushes, ink, papers, carving tools, seals, etc...

Painting on the all is by Yu Chen. The one above the filing cabinet by
Ding Yan-yong, the one by the window by Zhong Biao. Chairs and
tables Chinese. Outside is our bamboo garden. So, all-up, pretty much Chinese

China getting old before it gets rich?

So demographers say. Implications: will not overtake the US total GDP, let alone GDP per person. Less GDP = less able to project military? Or at least = having to stretch more. Also = less bragging rights!

This trend is still little known or recognised. Good on SMH for doing so. 


Demography, it’s said, is destiny. Now that China has published its first national census in a decade, what’s its destiny to be? It’s a bit awkward, actually, for President Xi Jinping’s vaunted “China Dream”. Because he has promised “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” when the official statistics show it is on the way to becoming one of the fastest ageing countries on earth.

We alreadyknew that China was heading for a population collapse. That’s why Xi dumped the One Child Policy in 2015. The advent of the Two Child Policy did have the desired effect. The number of births surged. But only for one year. [More…]

Thursday 20 May 2021

Israel Ironies: "In one tunnel, out the other"

Hamas won election for a 4-year term... 16 years ago.  They cancelled
recently scheduled elections because they thought they'd lose.
It's Hamas that's the problem. They've ruined Gaza
ADDED (21/5): You can be left wing and pro-Israel, anti-Hamas. As shown in Discussion: The Israel v Palestine Crisis, by Jerry Coyne. Much discussion, mostly people of the left.
And there are Palestinians who don't much like Hamas: "Hamas, not Israel, is to blame for the latest bloodshed" by Bassem Eid

I was listening to ABC Radio Canberra this morning, the midday news bulletin, talking about the rockets and bombs in Gaza, and Tel Aviv. To give them their due, they were trying to be even-handed, dear old Auntie. They had the requisite number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli bombs, and of course these are tragic; how could they not be? Even as we find they are children killed by collapsing tunnels: tunnels Hamas has spent the last decades building -- instead of, say, schools and hospitals -- to hide and move the rockets they rain down on Israel.... 

The report noted that Biden was pressing Israel to "scale back" towards a cease-fire. No mention that Biden had not demanded the same restraint from Hamas, but there you have it, that's par for this course. 

Then for balance, the ABC turned to some young Israelis who pointed out that Hamas always wants a cease-fire, after a week or so of shooting rockets at Israeli civilians. They welcome a cease-fire because they want to re-arm. Good point, and well made by these young Israelis; though no doubt there will be some who will lambast them for "smearing" Hamas with false accusations. Still, there is indeed a pattern there

The ironic bit? The very next story was how the US had just sent a representative to a meeting on the "Iran deal". That is, how to revive it after Trump pulled the US out of it. And what's part of the renewed deal? The US removing sanctions on Iran. Those sanctions involve a lot of money. And where does that money go? To buying rockets, to ship them to Gaza, so they can find another excuse to funnel them through the tunnels and loose them on Israeli citizens.

Please do let us recall that that aim of Hamas is the complete destruction of Israel. Not co-existence, not a two-state solution, not "land for peace", none of that nonsense. Nothing but complete destruction of Israel is their aim ("from the River to the Sea"). And, by the way, killing as many Jews as possible along the way (check out the Hamas Charter, Ch7). That's why they target rockets at civilian centres, whey they deliberately aim at civilians and why they deliberately aim to kill children.  Hamas have said this openly: that they get their rockets from Iran. Great, isn't it? Cease-fire, to load up with more Iranian rockets. 

Israel then reacts to the rockets -- entirely in self-defence --  and the world is in shock. How dare Israel? (sometimes, more sinisterly, "how dare the Jews?"). Bibi remains unmoved, the wily fox. He's got domestic political concerns, of course. But while he remains the boss, he must try to protect his citizens. How can he not? Which the IDF does by trying to destroy infrastructure, avoiding civilian deaths as much as possible. 

So, it's surely an irony, is it not, that we have pressure for peace, or at lest a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. While at the same time, the same Biden people, are engaged in giving more money to Iran, the main provider of the very missiles that Hamas use to break cease fire after cease fire.  

ADDED: I've seen in various Palestinian-leaning places, sneering reference to Israel "defending" its citizens. As if that's somehow illegitimate, somehow wrong, somehow just "the jews" making excuses. This so nasty, so ill-intentioned, but it's also very effective, as it gives that side of the fence the right tone and the right rebuttal to wield against those of us who take the Israeli side. It's the equivalent to a "talking point". Oh, yeah, that "self defence" thing?! Of course, you'd say that, you oppressor...

Wednesday 19 May 2021

To tackle coronavirus vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong, lift the mask mandate

My letter to South China Morning Post was published this morning. There are plenty of others saying the same thing. If we believe the vaccines are effective, in both stopping you getting Covid and stopping you transmitting the virus (and they are), then vaccinated people should be allowed to get out and about as they wish, including international travel to anywhere that will accept them. If unvaccinated people feel at risk: go get the vaccine, it's free and easy. Or mask up. But don't stop others, who are protected from catching and transmitting, from getting on with life. That's the simple message.
But our government is too supine, and folds in front of every effort to frustrate the encouragement of vaccinations. Trying to mandate vaccinations for those wanting to renew their contracts is labelled "discriminatory" and the government folds. Instead of suggesting, say, that both the employer and the employee should be vaccinated for renewal of contract to be valid. 
The fact remains: vaccinations are the only way out of this; so the more that get vaccinated the better. However it happens and whatever incentive it takes (like a lottery!).

The text, from online link here:

Covid-19 vaccinations in Hong Kong are free, convenient, easy to book in an efficiently run system, and extremely effective. So why don’t people get vaccinated?

There are a variety of reasons. Concerns over vaccine safety and side effects are the fault of governments around the world pausing vaccinations for infinitesimal side-effect risks on the principle of an “abundance of caution”, rather than taking a “balance of risk” approach, while the media carried scare reports of deaths after vaccination, which exaggerated their occurrence. It didn’t help that French President Emmanuel Macron early on threw shade at the AstraZeneca vaccine, irresponsibly and incorrectly. All this led to understandable hesitancy.

Yet the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines are overwhelmingly positive, as the experience of highly vaccinated countries is showing. Everyone ought to be lining up to get their jabs.

Our family is fully vaccinated, and we confirm the experience of writers to these pages that the process is simple, friendly and efficient. There is really no excuse for not getting the jabs, but many remain “hesitant”.
Illustration: SCMP

One way to improve uptake is to make life more convenient for those of us who are vaccinated (and to stare down those who cry “discrimination” at any attempt to encourage uptake). For example, the government could do away with the mask mandate entirely. Those of us who are vaccinated don’t have to worry – the risk is not zero, but is extremely small.

Those who are unvaccinated have a simple choice: get vaccinated! It’s free, easy and effective. Or take the risk. Wear a mask if you wish. But do not expect those of us who are vaccinated to keep wearing masks because you refuse a simple and effective vaccination. Why should we who have done the right thing have to keep considering those who refuse to do the same? This move could boost our vaccination rate.

The world has vaccinated 1.4 billion people. It’s high time hesitant Hongkongers get the jabs.

Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay

The impossible particle


A cosmic ray research facility on the Tibetan Plateau has detected the brightest yet of a type of light particle so strong that no law of physics can explain it.… The Chinese experiment, which discovered more than a dozen photons, could help dispel scepticism over oh-my-God particles’ existence.

First the Impossible Burger*. Now the Impossible Particle. Aka “the Oh-my-God”  particle.

I don’t understand why these don’t get the same attention as the discovery of the Higgs Boson (aka the “God particle”). After all, we’re talking about things that confound the known laws of physics, here.

Maybe it’s because it’s China. And from a facility on the Tibetan plateau. The bit in Sichuan. But that itself may be “problematic”. Anyway, I don’t get it.

Read on…

China’s Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory 
Which discovered the new type light particle 

*ADDED: I’ve had Impossible Burgers, the vegetarian burger. It’s delicious. But: (1) they’re twice the price of the same-size burger made with minced beef. More importantly: (2) they have a load of salt and way higher carbs than the meat equivalent.  In sum: they are worse for your wallet and your body than a proper home-made meat burger.  (By “proper” I mean ethically raised and ethically processed meat, no added salt or other nonsense additives. Just some choooed onion; and otherwise keep it simple).

This may seem a stretch from cosmic rays, bit not so much. One of the reasons I was eating the non-meat burger was because I know we have to get off meat production to reduce greenhouse gases (livestock and agriculture produce about a quarter of CO2 emissions). But it turns out they’re not that good for you, and also not so carbon friendly cause they’re still razing forests to plant soya. The long term in that one has to be laboratory made meat. So we can save the planet for no one sapiens to be able to discover more God and Oh-my-God particles. 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Neil Ferguson on Covid, Lockdown and Authoritarianism

Click image to go to the video
I do like the sayings and writings of professor Niall Ferguson. He's a good populariser, an approachable public intellectual. This is a good review of the errors made in handling the pandemic, the predictable, and the predicted. The big one being: we knew early on this was a disease that killed the elderly. Why didn't we focus on protecting them? Instead we went into full-on panic mode and shut down everyone. Ferguson calls this the "pandemic of the mind". [BTW, his wife they talk about without naming, is the redoubtable Ayaan Hirsi Ali]

Both the Triggernometry lads, Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, and the prof himself, go off-piste when they talk about China, about which they appear to know very little: only what they've read, nothing from on the ground, or from knowledgable sources. I wrote a comment: 
Good sensible talk. But.... Re China and pandemic responses (@30:00 et seq): FF and KK (and prof NF): you all need to study up on the place, preferable with a visit post-pandemic. I live now in HK, have lived, studied and worked in China, have friends and relatives there.
It's not at all the dystopia you imagine, of robot-citizens doing exactly what Beijing tells them. Pre-Covid it's been as lively a place as London in the swinging sixites. (really!). It's easy (and right) to hate on China (on Beijing, really) for its many faults and crimes, and I've done so on a blog for many years -- treatment of Uygurs, censorhip, etc -- but at an individual level it's basically a free country. Even the Neighbourhood Committees are no longer as sinister as NF makes them seem, or as they were when I was ensnared by them in the 1970s. They were, and remain, critical to pandemic control, a bit like Neighbourhood Watch only better, more systematic, more focused -- they do more than just crime watch, and in this case were the front line in implementing pandemic control measures. See here
Beijing -- hated as it is, including by me -- didn't foist their handling of Covid on any other country. They simply said "this is what we've done"; I remember, in January 2020, watching it day-by-day very closely and I *remember*. They shut down whole provinces. Hundreds of millions of people. Set up their own "Nightingale hospitals" in less than a week. But they never said "you ought do this too". There's no dispute it's been successful. Today they hold county-level officials accountable. If they don't keep the virus under control, they're fired. Do we see this level of accountability elsewhere?
I'm no China fan-boy or China apologist, no matter how much it may seem so. It's just that I don't like hearing less than fully-informed opinions, even when they're espoused by the Triggernometry lads, who I've been following for years (and dearly love!)

Monday 17 May 2021

What’s happening with COVID-19 in China? Are they getting vaccinated? Why do we never hear about cases in China on the news?

From here
It's a question occurs to me too from time to time. And when it does, I ring a friend or colleague living in China -- we can't go there in person as the borders remain closed. 

These living-in-China folks confirm what's said by Hua Liu at Quora. Things are back to normal in China, have been for some time. Even better than "normal": pent up demand for buying and travel has led to splurges jumps in both -- May Day holiday travel this year was 120% of last year's and retail sales are also sharply up.

And yet we hear nothing of it in the west -- at least not in the MSM, the likes of CNN, BBC, DW, NYT, WaPo. Perhaps Hua Liu is right: it's down to China doing so well that other governments are embarrassed. I

Certainly if the situation is indeed as it appears to be, China has handled the virus better than any other country, full stop.

We can continue to hate on China for good reasons: their treatment of the Uygurs (and I've been banging on about that here for years), for censorship, for lack of speech, Xi Jinping the dictator, no democracy and so on. But credit where it's due: having mishandled the virus in the early days (who didn't?) and criminally hidden data and info (right up to today, restricting international investigations into the origin of the virus), it has since hardly put a foot wrong, at least in terms of control and prevent. Extensive testing in the early days, and now rapid deployment of vaccines, with continued testing and tracing, have had remarkable effects. 

The pictures at Hua Liu's post tell the story.

Bias disclosure: Quora tends to be rather pro-China. So bear that in mind. That said, most of the contributors have deep experience and knowledge of China. And there are those, especially in the comments, who are critical of China. Given the amount of negative news on China in the MSM -- almost all anti-China these day, even post-Trump -- it's useful, surely, to have something on the other side of the story, especially if it's well informed. 

Sunday 16 May 2021

Japanese director went deep into one of the poorest area in China丨Beyond the Mountain

Click above to go to video
Into south-western Sichuan. A province of over 80 million. Check out the steps, at 70-degree angle, and heaven help if you slip, it's all the way to the bottom....

An interesting doco. This, mind, is one of the poorest areas of China. Watch through at least to the part where we see the new apartments of the villagers, at a cost of $450 per family member. They're not too bad! Especially versus the awful climb up the hill that they used to have to do a couple of times a day -- and some oldies still do. The climb, the steps, are frightening. 

I've been to Sichuan several times, mainly to the big cities, Chengdu the capital and Chongqing when it was still part of Sichuan -- it's now a municipality reporting direct to Beijing, a bit like Washington DC, or Canberra. My first trip was in 1976 and I remember to this day my first taste, in Chengdu, of Dandan Mian 担担面 (aka Dan Dan Noodles) from a street stall. They were and remain... magic. I have a secret recipe for the soupy sauce, which makes the best DanDanMian in Southern China, or at least the best in Hong Kong. 

I've always enjoyed trips to Sichuan. It's quite a place, and out west gets very wild and mountainous, explorers’ country. 

I've always thought "Sichuan" (四川) meant "four rivers", since, well, "si" (四) means "four" and "chuan" (川) means "river" (you can even see the rivers in the ideograph 川). And it's what I was taught when I went there as a student in 1976. Silly me: going back to refresh my memory on the names of the four rivers, I find that there's an alternative explanation about the origin of the name "Sichuan". This alternative has a much more complex origin and is made up of multiple sources. 

But I don't know. To assume the much more complex etymology on the basis of one book by one scholar seems to be stretching it a bit. I'm going to use Occam's Razor here and go with the simpler explanation being the one. So, for me at least, it continues to be "Four Rivers". The rivers, btw, are Jialing, Jinsha, Min and Tuo.

‘ We really need an inquiry into how Sage forced Britain into lockdown’ | Fraser Nelson

As I’ve been saying for over a year now. The data show no correlation between the stringency of lockdown (as measured worldwide by an Oxford university tracker) and Covid outcomes, whether total cases or deaths per million. Similarly in the United States where the 50:states are run almost half half by Republican and Democratic governors, where the former tended to less stringent and the latter to more stringent measures (aka NPIs or Non Pharmaceutical Interventions), there are no correlations. In the UK, as Nelson points our, three studies have shown that cases had peaked before lockdown measures (NPIs) were introduced.  

This most certainly needs an enquiry. And soon  

The article is here, but as it’s of public interest, I copy it below the fold with thanks to the Telegraph:

Saturday 15 May 2021

The Case Against Bitcoin

This week's cyberattack on Colonial Mutual demanded ransom
payment in Bitcoin
Michael W. Green, Peter Thiel’s former portfolio manager, says that the crypto narrative is built on half-truths and a nonchalance about the security provided by the nation-state

I've never quite got Bitcoin and I doubt J does, so we don't have any investment in it. Are we the silly ones for missing out, or the wise ones for not buying today’s tulips

The other day I took notice when Charlie Munger said Bitcoin is a "threat to our civilisation". Charley is one half of Charlie and Warren, as in Warren Buffet, my long-time hero, guiding hands of the behemoth Berkshire Hathaway and so I paid attention. 

Then just a few days ago, Elon Musk stopped Tesla taking Bitcoin as payment, mainly because of its environmental damage -- apparently it takes a huge amount of electricity to create, which I did not know.

So, here is, courtesy Bari Weiss and her Substack, giving Michael Green space to argue the anti-Bitcoin argument. Peter Thiel, by they way, was the co-founder of PayPal with Musk, another fascinating story. 

I found this piece by Green interesting and powerful. Very much worth a read. [Here is the Wayback link]

Points 2 and 3 struck a chord with me. The US is rightly excoriated for its international misadventures, many illegal, many of which have killed thousands. Thinking Vietnam, South America, Iraq, Afghanistan. But, as Green says "imagine the counterfactual" (his emphasis). Without America, the world would be poorer. And Russia, Iran and China are not replacements we should want. /Snip:

2. I am not an apologist for American hegemony and all the behaviors it has enabled. But imagine the counterfactual. Over the course of the 20th century, the relative standard of living of those who lived under the protective umbrella of Pax Americana exploded relative to those living under the competing Soviet or Chinese systems. While techno-optimists will suggest that the counterfactual is utopian, the evidence on the ground is far darker. I would encourage a read of the work of Radigan Carter, a pseudonymous (and disenchanted) U.S. special forces operative who has written eloquently on the subject, and has argued that a world without U.S. leadership is a world even he would be afraid of. (Radigan is uncertain about crypto and holds a small allocation.)

3. China, Iran and Russia are playing the dominant role in the world of cryptocurrency. In the last week of April, mining pools based in China accounted for roughly 90% of the processing power (“hash rate”) in the Bitcoin network. Roughly three weeks ago, a power outage in the Xinjiang region of China resulted in a plunge in global Bitcoin processing. Bitcoin mining — the process of record keeping for the “immutable” chain of record on which the Bitcoin network depends — is dominated by entities in countries with the stated objective to harm the interests of the United States. Bitcoin proponents continuously assure us that this is “just about to change,” but the data has not shifted in a meaningful manner in the last five years. This is not a decentralized system. It is centralized in the countries that seek our destruction. [Read on...]

‘Another Group of Scientists Calls for Further Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus’ | NYT

Me, imagining how it went at the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the WHO mission to find out the source of the Coronavirus. 
WHO team (to Wuhan Lab rep): We're not here to investigate your laboratory, but just to ask you a question: did you have a leak of any virus from here?
Wuhan Lab rep: No. 
WHO: Sure?
Wuhan Lab rep: Yes. We checked and we found no evidence of a leak.
WHO: Oh, that's okay then. Lunch, anyone? 

Many many science type folks remain unconvinced by the Chinese denials. Why wouldn't they be, when China has hidden information from the beginning and took so long to prepare for the WHO mission. Doing a bang-up cleaning job, making sure you've cleared out all the evidence can be so very time consuming. 
Perhaps the biggest red flag is that the WHO Mission report, which has to be cleared by China, was so adamant to say a leak was "extremely unlikely", when they didn't even investigate the Wuhan Lab! Or any others.
Finding the source of the virus remains important, if only to direct future research into coronaviruses.
Snip, with my highlighting:
Proponents of the idea that the virus may have leaked from a lab, especially the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China where SARS viruses were studied, have been active this year since a World Health Organization team issued a report claiming that such a leak was extremely unlikely, even though the mission never investigated any Chinese labs. The team did visit the Wuhan lab, but did not investigate it. A lab investigation was never part of their mandate. The report, produced in a mission with Chinese scientists, drew extensive criticism from the U.S. government and others that the Chinese government had not cooperated fully and had limited the international scientists' access to information. [Read on...]

NYTimes: The Spike in Shootings During the Pandemic May Outlast the Virus

But, not a word about BLM, riots, or demands to "Defund the Police"…
A mystery, really.…

Friday 14 May 2021

China Census data coming in: biggest problem is ageing.

Population increase - another Australia every two years,  
but also ten times Australia’s population are elderly
Map at the link is interactive 
China’s population is ageing at an alarming rate. In 2010 there were ten workers for every retired person. In 2020 there were only five. And in a few decades it will be down to 2-1. That’s a massive projected burden on the economy, a huge headache for the government expected to cost in trillions in elderly support. 

Another headache is the move,met of people from the north east and central China to the eastern and southern provinces. That’d be right in our doorstep here in Hong Kong. 

For those projecting a clear run for China’s booming economy and its influence in world affairs, these trends are going to be potholes on the road, at the very least..They are hugely important macro trends. 

Story at SCMP

Avant le déluge

North Paza, Discovery Bay, Hong Kong just now
before a much-needed deluge

Thursday 13 May 2021

I stand with Israel


Israel’s defensive Iron Dome missiles kill Hamas rockets 
NYC Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang said it, “I stand with Israel” and got hammered by the likes of AOC, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the Squad.

Bari Weis picks apart the issues in her The Bad Optics of Fighting for Your Life

Needs repeating: Hamas are the terrorists here. They have no interest in a two-state solution. None. Zero. Nada. אף אחד. They want to destroy Israel. They want One State. Palestine  “from the River to the Sea”. That would be the Jordan river and the sea is the Med. There is no ambiguity here. No mystery. No confusion.  Hamas want to murder all Jews and destroy the only Jewish state in the world (there are 57 Islamic ones) and the only true democracy in the Middle East. The Hamas Charter (Art 7) urges its followers to kill all Jews, “wherever they are”. Hyperbole? No:  watch a senior Hamas figure urge beheadimg Jews. Today. Everywhere. He even tells you where to get a cheap and sharp knife. No, no. Hamas is not a good outfit.

Here’s Weiss:

In the past 48 hours, according to the Israel Defense Forces, more than 1,500 rockets have rained down on Israeli cities. Those rockets are being launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and by Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since Israel unilaterally withdrew from it and forcibly evacuated every last Jewish resident from  the territory in 2005.

Israelis have gotten used to living life in a kind of perpetual war. On Tuesday, Nellie was on a call with a journalist in Tel Aviv who abruptly hung up because the sirens started wailing. A friend sent a photo of his mother crouched in a bomb shelter. All ok, he said. Friends across the country told me about huddling with their crying children in safe rooms. It’s fine, they insisted.

But living like this is not fine: [Read on…]

Decadent US vs. Virtuous China?

I was startled to come across the following tweet my Sohrab Ahmari, someone I'd not heard of, but turns out he's the editor of the op-ed page at the New York Post

click to go to tweet

He deleted it the same day, with the comment:

Taking these point by point: 

(1)  "I'm at peace with a Chinese-led 21st century". 

This begs two questions: 

(i) will it in fact be a "Chinese-led 21st century"? and 

(ii) if it is, could I (could we) be at peace with it?

Niall Ferguson writes this week in Why is the west imitating Beijing? that the west may, kind of inadvertently, stumble into letting China become the world leader, by copying what they're doing. That may be one path to a "China-led 21st Century". 

Mark Tooley is not so sure. He concludes his Decadent US vs Virtuous China? with this observation:

All nations have some natural virtue, including of course China.  But the coercive machinery of dictatorship corrupts national character.  In democracies, there is at least the opportunity for virtue to thrive.  May America amid its sins seek virtue and justice.  And may America never be at peace with a world led by tyrants.

One senses that the world -- China apart -- very much wants the US to retain its preeminent role in international affairs. Remember, the US has many allies. China has none but the maverick and crooked North Korea. No other countries are rushing to be allies. In our region, here in East Asia and down to SE Asia, countries are wary of rather than welcoming to China's new aggression. 

I recall something I heard so many years ago: that American has one word to define it: "Freedom". China has no such single word definition. "Xi's Dream" doesn't cut it. 

A lot of the gloom about America may be precisely because it is so open. Precisely because it allows Freedom of the press. China, by stark contrast, allows no such openness and anyone who tries is soon dealt with.

Tooley notes

America’s warts are always displayed, examined, spotlighted, debated and often exaggerated.  But in this furious self-critique it has a ceaseless energy and dynamism that never quits and ultimately strives for better.  Competing dictatorships, by contrast, hide their faults, fabricate their successes, and silence any truth tellers.

So, I don't buy that it's going to be a "Chinese-led 21st Century". 

But if it were? Would I be "at peace" with it? I may be reconciled. I'm not sure about "at peace". In a sense I'm reconciled already, living as I do in a part of China known as the "Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong". 

But I will only remain reconciled as long as we keep our openness to the international media and international connections to the internet. I know that whenever I visit the mainland I miss terribly those connections, even as I know I can set up a VPN, which is just a hassle. That's the main thing for me. For others, there are different hurdle points. Just today was news that 40% of companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce are planning to move out of Hong Kong "sometime" in the next year, due mainly to the implementation of the National Security Legislation. 

And in any case, I've lived in the actual China. China-China as it were. I've lived in Beijing and Shanghai. And visited nearly all the provinces. And I've had wonderful times there. So that's a bottom line. I could easily be reconciled. Not too sure about "at peace" though. 

(2) "Chinese civilisation, especially if it recovers its Confucian roots, will contain a great deal of natural virtue". I'd say "yes, I agree". But also "that's a pretty big 'if'".  

I've studied the Confucian Analects, in the original classical Chinese, an enormously rewarding and enriching experience, which has one marvelling at its wisdom. But whether China can "recover" these roots is at the very least very doubtful. 

Still, it reminds me -- and us -- that there's much to admire in Chinese culture, and that one can admire this without admiring the current dictatorship in Beijing, under the rule of Xi Jinping. We can most certainly separate out the Chinese people from the leadership in Beijing. Separate out Chinese culture from Beijing autarky.

(3) "My wife is Chinese-born so I don't need lectures on the horrors of the CCP". I don't quite get this. Does he mean that his wife constantly reminds him of the horrors of the CCP? If that's his point, it's not at all universal amongst the "Chinese-born".  I also have a wife who is Chinese-born. But whereas I tend to bang on about the horrors of the CCP, she most certainly does not. There's are range of views out there amongst these "Chinese-born" folks, Sohrab!

But for those -- like me -- who don't like the CCP, even perhaps actively loathe it, or are activists in fighting it, from a distance, they need to bear in mind confirmation bias, especially bias along the lines of "I don't like xxx, therefore xxx will/must fail". That's rather the line of the likes of Gordon Chang et. al. whose loathing of the CCP blinds them, who keep predicting its downfall. This is an inherently unfalsifiable prediction and when it doesn't happen they say "it hasn't collapsed yet". 

Oh dear. I've made no prediction, so I guess it's time to make one. China, under the CCP, will outlast all the current crop of prognosticators, and most certainly me. It may not "lead" the 21st Century, but will continue to grow its economic and military clout. And so will the US. We may yet have to choose sides, as John Mearsheimer powerfully argues. And if that time comes, I'd have no hesitation in choosing -- for all its warts and foibles -- those United States of America.

Coronavirus: ‘vaccine bubble’ incentives aren’t enough, Hong Kong must get creative to dispel rumours, share facts about jabs, experts say

Today’s SCMP
Richard Dawkins the other day put vaccine hesitancy down to Trump. Those terrible Orange Man supporters didn’t know what was good for them, the bigots. But it’s wider than that. Across Europe, the United Staes, and here in Hong Kong large chunks of folks are hesitant to take their jabs.

I put it down to governments themselves.  Early on Macron threw shade on AstraZeneca’s  effectiveness — or lack thereof, according to him. Germany and other European countries halted distribution of vaccines out of an “abundance of caution” when some were connected with blood clots at the rate of under one in a million. No concept of balance of risks — the risk for older folks of getting and dying of Covid is orders of magnitude greater than that of getting a blood clot.

Here in Hong Kong we stopped the rollout of the BionTech vaccine for a while because of some packaging concerns.

In America the robust vaccine jabbing rate — up to 3 million a day — plummeted 75% after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “paused” because of concerns — again — of blood clots.

When you’ve got governments doing all these pauses and cancellations, even if they then restart, the message people take away is “vaccines not safe”. 

Add to that there seems to be no other benefit to getting vaccinated, benefits like travel without quarantine, of foregoing a mask if you want. Joe Biden and VP Harris continue to wear masks. As do influencers in the likes of CNN, even wearing two masks outside when they are fully vaccinated.  

I get why they do that — to keep the message of masking, as most people are still not vaccinated -- but the message is negative, and a disincentive for people to get the jab. Here in HK, even if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re still out in quarantine if you happen to be unlucky enough to live in an apartment block where just one person tests positive. Sure there’s a bit more flexibility in bars for vaccinated people, but it’s so complex bar owners are not bothering. 

The message out by governments needs to be clear and twofold:  

1. The vaccines are incredibly effective and safe. And 

2. When you get it you can go about your life as you used to. (Even if the latter means perhaps a few fewer people mask up. Balance of risks again).

Here’s a list of the reasons people have here in HK for why they’re hesitant (click to enlarge):

From here

The top reason is concerns about safety and side effects. The main cause of that is governments. Not stuff floating around on social media. By governments. By their actions and attitudes. 

By the way: this household is not vaccine hesitant. We're all fully vaccinated (two jabs) with BionTech. We feel fine. But would like more people to get vaccinated, so we can all get closer to moving on. So far, only 15% are single jabbed, to date (14 May)

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Remembering professor Daniel Kane

Danny's lecture on the Kitan language, ANU 2017
Click screenshot to go to video
I knew Danny when he was in the Australian Embassy in Beijing in 1976.

He died recently. There was a memorial service, which I couldn't attend as I'm stuck here in Hong Kong/

Here's part of the wikipedia entry on Danny:

Daniel Kane (Kāng Dān: 康丹) was born in 1948 in Melbourne. Bereaved of his father when young, circumstances constrained him to cut his education short and enter the work force at 15. He left school and joined a bank, working as a teller. There he discovered that he had a talent for languages. Melbourne was a magnet for immigrants from over the world and he found that when they came into the bank, with little effort he could communicate with them. He undertook further education in his spare time and matriculated to Melbourne University with high honours in several languages.

He took a First Class Honours degree there in 1971, majoring in Chinese and was granted a Ph.D. scholarship to the ANU. His Ph.D. was conferred in 1975 with a thesis on the Jurchen language a Tungusic language related to Manchu spoken during the Jin dynasty in North China. He received an M.A. in Asian Studies from the Australian National University in 1976.

Parallel to his academic career, Kane has also had a career in diplomacy. He joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1976 and was posted to Beijing during the early part of the reform period and particularly the period of the Democracy Wall. He was also Cultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing during the 1990s.

Academically he was lecturer in Chinese at the University of Melbourne in 1981 and visiting scholar at the Department of Chinese at Peking University in 1988 and 1993. Since 1997 he has been Professor of Chinese at Macquarie University in Sydney.

He was widowed in 2010 when his wife, the Shanghai scholar of Qing history[1] and Chinese modernization, Yè Xiǎoqīng (葉曉青), died of cancer, after risking her initial recovery from an early diagnosis of cancer to bear their son Ian (易安 (Yìān).[2]

Danny suffered for several years from Parkinson's disease.

I remember meeting Danny in 1976. I quickly discovered that he was a preternaturally gifted linguist. Discovered not from him -- he was a modest man -- but from all others who knew him. One said he was a "genius at languages". I agree.

I found out that he knew, to more than conversational level, not just all the major European languages, French, German, Italian and Spanish -- mere snacks before a main meal  -- but more obscure languages like Mongolian, Chinese from the Tang dynasty, Turkish and Russian He told he he'd learnt Turkish on a holiday there. In a month. And not just a few words, but the language. 

I found later that he knew not only Mongolian, but ancient Mongolian. And he became a scholar of the forgotten language of Khitan, a dead an now "undecipherable" language, which he managed, in part, to decipher. 

His Chinese calligraphy was beautiful. I remember he used to doodle Chinese characters in meetings. Lovely, distinguished characters. Indistinguishable from those of an educated and literate Chinese, better maybe. He was today's Edmund Backhouse, who lived in Beijing in the waning days of the Qing dynasty, and whose Chinese was so good he forged a "diary" of a Qing Dynasty official, all in classical Chinese, a forgery that was not uncovered until the 1970s. It makes a fascinating story, told in "The Hermit of Peking', by Hugh Trevor-Roper.

Danny was a one-off. In the Embassy in 1976 - 80, when I was there, in the political section, Danny went against the consensus when he thought the consensus was wrong. The Embassy in those days, and probably up until today, was not exactly pro-China, but tended to buy into the line of the Chinese government. It's called "going native" and it's a tendency of every Embassy of every country. I'm sure the Embassy folks of those days wouldn't agree -- they were professional diplomats, after all, and there to reflect their professional evaluation of Chinese politics. But Chinese politics was not easy to read in the aftermath of Mao's death in September 1976. And it was all too easy to mis-read it. And to buy into what was being said in the local media. Danny was able to see through that because he was so gifted linguistically that he made connections outside the norm and read more widely in the local media.

I remember that Danny went against the consensus about Hua Guofeng. Hua who? Hua was chairman of China from 1976 to the end of 1978 -- the same title as Mao Tse-tung! -- when he was ousted to make way for Deng Xiaoping. But, according to the Chinese government at the time -- in turmoil to be sure -- Hua was the man who Mao had trusted. "With you in charge, I'm at ease" said a quasi recumbent Mao in posters around Tian'anmen, Mao reclining in a divan, Hua reaching forward, taking the metaphorical torch from the old tyrant. Our Embassy bought that line. Danny did not. He got stick for that -- was mocked as "Genghis Kane" by some -- today you'd call him a "Nazi" because he doesn't agree with you. But Danny was right, about Hua, at least. And I think that was so for a lot about China. He was sceptical about all the CCP said. In that way he's similar to the other great Australian scholar of Chinese from that time -- Geremie Barmé, who I've written about here. (and earlier here).

I'm told that a previous Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Lin Ping, also remembers Danny "Genghis Kane". That'd be -- I'm thinking -- because Lin thought Danny knew too much about China, though of course he didn't give that away. But if there's one thing that makes the Chinese leadership furious it's barbarians know too much.