Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Examining Stone Age art using Stone Age lighting


I was intrigued to read how Stone Age art - paintings on the walls of caves - took on an entirely new perspective when viewed using the sources of light that would have been available to the artists, rather than modern lighting.

In the wide chambers and narrow passageways of Isuntza I Cave in the Basque region of Spain, the researchers tested torches, stone lamps and fireplaces — nooks in cave walls. Juniper branches, animal fat and other materials that Stone Age humans would have had at hand fueled the light sources. The team measured flame intensity and duration, as well as how far away from the source light illuminated the walls.

Each light source comes with its own quirks that make it well suited to specific cave spaces and tasks ... Torches work best on the move, as their flames need motion to stay lit and produce a lot of smoke. Though torches cast a wide glow, they burn for an average of just 41 minutes, the team found. That suggests several torches would have been needed to travel through caves. Concave stone lamps filled with animal fat, on the other hand, are smokeless and can offer more than an hour of focused, candlelike light. That would have made it easy to stay in one spot for a while. And while fireplaces produce a lot of light, they can also produce a lot of smoke. That type of light source is best suited for large spaces that get plenty of airflow, the researchers say.

For Intxaurbe, the experiments confirmed what he has seen himself at Atxurra cave in northern Spain. In a narrow Atxurra passageway, Paleolithic people had used stone lamps. But near high ceilings where smoke can rise, they left signs of fireplaces and torches. “They were very intelligent. They use the better choice for different scenarios,” he says.

. . .

A lack of the right lighting also played a part, Intxaurbe and colleagues say. By simulating how torches, lamps and fireplaces lit up a virtual 3-D model of Atxurra, the team saw the cave’s art with fresh eyes. Using just a torch or a lamp from below, the paintings and engravings stay hidden. But lit fireplaces on the ledge illuminate the whole gallery so that anyone on the cave floor can see it. That suggests the artists may have wanted to keep their work hidden, the researchers say.

Cave art wouldn’t exist without harnessing fire. So to unravel the mysteries of subterranean studios, it’s key to understand how prehistoric artists lit their surroundings. “Answering the small questions in an accurate way,” Intxaurbe says, is a path toward answering a main question about Stone Age people, “why they painted these things.”

There's more at the link.

When you think about it, that's a very interesting insight.  We're used to works of art created in well-lit studios, painted in natural light or artificial light that approximates natural light.  Our Stone Age ancestors didn't have that luxury.  They had to not only translate what they'd seen outside their caves, in the light of day, into symbols and images that would be meaningful in the low, fitful light of the sources available to them;  they also had to ensure that their communities could understand and appreciate their efforts to portray the world outside the caves.  In a culture that existed before languages developed, where expressing abstract concepts was probably unheard of, what were they trying to convey through their art, and how were they trying to convey it?



Mike Rowe: "Your Work Isn't Your Worth"


That's the title of a very interesting video interview that Mike Rowe, of "Dirty Jobs" fame, gave to Trinity Broadcasting Network last month.  I highly recommend that you take the time to watch it.  It's only nine minutes long, but encapsulates the dilemma of our current workforce, and young people planning to enter that workforce.

Sobering thoughts, particularly if you have children planning what they want to do with their lives.


Devastating evidence of the danger of COVID-19 vaccines


We spoke recently about the VAERS data for COVID-19 vaccines in the USA, and noted:

In just the first four months of this year, the U.S. government has recorded more deaths after COVID vaccinations than from all other vaccines administered in the United States between mid-1997 and the end of 2013. That’s a period of fifteen and a half years.

There's much more at the link.

In Europe, similar data is gathered and analyzed by the European Medicines Agency and Eudravigilance, the "European Database of Suspected Adverse Drug Reaction Reports".  Guess what?  They're reporting exactly the same trend in Europe as we're seeing in this country.  In brief, as of 24th July 2021, they report no less than 19,790 deaths and 2,062,703 "injuries" (i.e. non-fatal adverse reactions) to all COVID-19 vaccinations.  The raw data is shown below;  click on the image for a larger view.  I'm obliged to Gab user Don for compiling the combined chart, which I've verified by going to the Eudravigilance Web site.

We don't know what caused all of those casualties.  They're simply lists of people who died, or exhibited adverse reactions, after getting the vaccination.  We can't be sure whether the vaccine caused the reaction, or whether the injury came from some other cause (e.g. a motor vehicle accident, or a heart attack caused by some other disease, or whatever).  That'll take further investigation, which is doubtless ongoing at the moment.  Nevertheless, the raw, unfiltered numbers are a cause for very serious concern.  If even a quarter of them are caused by the vaccines (which is probably a very conservative estimate), that's a catastrophically large number.  Some may object that compared to the tens of millions who've been vaccinated, it's actually small by comparison - but that's cold comfort to those who've died or suffered adverse reactions.  "Oh, you're just a statistical anomaly!  Get over it!"  Yeah, right!

Note, too, that neither VAERS nor Eudravigilance are isolated sources, contradicting others.  Almost every authoritative source I've been able to find is confirming that deaths and serious adverse reactions after COVID-19 vaccination are rampant.  To cite just one more headline:  "5,522 People have Died within 28 days of having a Covid-19 Vaccine in Scotland according to Public Health Scotland".  It's far from the only example.  Given that level of nastiness, nobody in his or her right mind should trust the vaccines at their present level of development.

I'm not anti-vaccine at all.  If you can show me a guaranteed effective, guaranteed non-dangerous vaccine against COVID-19, I'll take it in a heartbeat.  However, right now, considering the reported side effects, there is no such vaccine.  I refuse to be stampeded into accepting the current, apparently flawed products out there.  When both VAERS and Eudravigilance report the number of problems and issues that they are, that's a great big red flashing DANGER sign, as far as I'm concerned.  The fact that the vaccine manufacturers will only do so if they have legal immunity from any adverse reactions to their product is another.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the powers that be are on the brink of imposing swingeing sanctions on anybody who refuses to be vaccinated.  It may be that we'll soon be forbidden to enter shops, cinemas, hospitals, or any other public buildings unless we can prove that we've been vaccinated.  I suspect some of the "freer" states, like Texas, will resist this;  but if the head office of a supermarket chain orders its shops to implement such a policy, there's not much a state can do about it.  I'm sure millions of freedom-minded Americans will resist, but it'll become increasingly hard to do so.

I can only suggest planning ahead, and figuring out ways to resist such pressure.  Perhaps those who've been forced to get the vaccine in order to keep their jobs can do the shopping for those who haven't.  Perhaps community pressure on shops and other institutions can persuade them to respect people's individual rights.  On the other hand, the pressure may become so overwhelming that it's no longer possible to resist.

If that happens, note carefully the names and other pertinent information of every single politician, bureaucrat and administrator who imposes such a requirement on us.  If, as a result of their policies, people die or suffer serious health issues, then hold them accountable by any means available.  Shun them.  Make them social pariahs.  Refuse to do business with them, refuse to serve them in shops, refuse to allow them to enter into normal human society.  I won't advocate for direct retaliation against them, but I'm sure some will think long and hard about that - to which I can only point out that "two wrongs don't make one right".

I think it's abundantly clear by now, on the basis of official statistics, that the COVID-19 vaccines are much more dangerous than their predecessors for other illnesses.


Monday, July 26, 2021

"America Has Lost the Trade War with China"


That's what Charles Hugh Smith believes.  He adds, "The real pain has yet to begin".

Whether we like to admit it or not--mostly not--the American economy is entirely dependent on manufacturing in China. America's short-sighted obsession with increasing profits to fund buybacks and golden parachutes for corporate insiders and vast fortunes for financiers has led to a dangerous dependency that has handed China tremendous leverage, which China is now starting to make use of. (And why not? Wouldn't the U.S. start using the same leverage if it could?)

A long-time U.S. correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons recently shared his experiences with parts shortages and price increases from previously reliable suppliers in China. Here is his account of the disruptive shift in the supply chain of essential parts from China to the U.S.

China is laying siege to the USA by slowing down production and delivery of goods. It doesn't take much to hang up US production, just one missing item can do it. So much stuff is sourced through China they can affect all supply chains. Semiconductors are just the canary--because the chains are so long and complex, and specialized materials are required, etc. But it is happening everywhere.

I have a little manufacturing company and I am seeing this in supply lines. I sent an order to China for printed circuit boards (US prices are astronomical because of various factors). They don't get back for a week, then they quote, then I send money, then they sit on it, then I call and they say they are having problems with some process... etc. But all the suppliers are like this, it is not an isolated incident. They are sandbagging.

So just as in laying siege, the attackers have the food outside the castle and wait for the people inside to starve.

As prices rise the Chinese manufacturers take bigger profits so the slowdown effects on that end are mitigated. For products they do not have a monopoly on, like PC boards, they slow down. for things like LCD displays and NFeB magnets, the items become unavailable (try buying magnets on Amazon).

I have to say this is a brilliant idea on China's part, and no one on this side has realized the situation yet. This plan is straight out of Sun-Tzu. implications? inflation and shortages will continue for a long time... maybe forever. The only long-term solution is repatriation of manufacturing to the US. But it is going to cause some serious hurt, vastly more than the sanctioning of Chinese tech companies.

i just sent a request for quote for some radio chips I use to Alibaba. they are $1 each and there are many vendors. I sent notes to 2 vendors i used before and after 4 or 5 days got a ping back that my requests were cancelled. i wound up getting the parts--for 2x the price-- from Hong Kong, which at the moment seems to be something of a channel to the mainland. But I expect they will close that leak pretty soon.

. . .

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. Essential parts and feedstocks become unavailable for all sorts of flimsy excuses, prices double, triple, then double again, and since we've allowed our entire economy to become dependent on a handful of sources for these essentials because that dependency maximized profits, then there are no alternatives.

There's more at the link.

I keep an eye on developments like that whenever I can, and overall I'd say they bear out the picture painted by Mr. Smith's correspondent.  For example, a local air-conditioning contractor was hired to install new air-conditioning systems in a nearby high school.  They ordered more than 150 units, to be installed on the roof of the buildings in a complex pattern and networked together.  The units were supposed to be delivered during the first week in June . . . but they didn't arrive.  The manufacturers in China first pleaded COVID-19 as an excuse, then blamed shippers for delays in getting the goods across the Pacific Ocean.  They finally arrived last week - and they're supposed to be installed and running by the time school reopens in three weeks' time!

A friend who works for that contractor says they're going to be running almost 24/7 at breakneck speed to get the job done.  Meanwhile, if any of their other customers have an A/C emergency, they probably won't be able to help them - they'll have to refer them to other companies for support.  That, in turn, may damage their long-term relationship with those customers.  So, supply problems from China have turned into an albatross around their neck, disrupting almost every aspect of their normal operations.

I'm noticing similar delays in getting parts and components in other industries.  For example, certain car parts are now so hard to get - particularly computer chips - that I know some folks whose vehicles will be out of action for literally months until their servicing dealers can get replacements.  Meanwhile, they're having to rely on co-workers to hitch a ride, or even hire cars medium- to long-term if their jobs rely on their having their own transport.  Similarly, if you work with firearms, you'll have noticed that many accessories such as red dot sights and telescopic sights - almost all made in China in the low- to medium-budget price ranges - are sometimes in short supply, possibly forcing you to buy a different model from what you wanted.  Other injection-molded plastic components like stocks and handguards may be subject to long delays, or just vanish from vendor Web sites altogether until one day they reappear without explanation.  I've taken to keeping a few critical items in reserve, even though I don't need them at once, just so that if I do, I don't have to wait.

Reading Mr. Smith's views in the light of last Saturday's discussion of China's grand strategy to displace the USA's influence, it's not hard to see many points of convergence.


A deadly landslide in India


In the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, through which the Himalaya Mountains pass, a landslide in the Kinnaur district killed nine and injured several others.  The fast-moving rocks struck and destroyed the Batseri bridge.  The rockslide was caught on video by a visiting tourist, who must have been scared out of his wits at what he saw unfolding right in front of him.  He was certainly in danger.

A tip o' the hat to reader Chip A. for sending me the link to that video.

I'd have hated to be in the path of that landslide.  I've no idea how fast those rocks were moving, but when you look at what just one of them did to that bridge . . . not a healthy place to be!


Memes that made me laugh 68


... plus a couple that made me think, gathered from the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.

More next week.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sunday morning music


I'm sure older readers, and those into progressive and synthetic rock from the 1970's, will remember the Dutch group Focus.  It was formed by flautist Thijs van Leer, and was known for its zany, way-out music, even in those days of intense competition to be the zaniest.  It's still going strong, albeit after a lengthy interruption.

Here's their breakout hit, "Hocus Pocus", in a live performance from 1973.  Thijs van Leer is on keyboards, flute and vocals.

However, many people don't know that despite his zaniness with Focus, van Leer was (and still is) also a very good classical flautist.  He composed and/or recorded many pieces for the instrument, producing several albums under the general title "Introspection" followed by a number:  1, 2, 3 and so on.  They've sold millions of copies in Europe, although they're less well known in the USA.  You'll find most of them on Amazon.

A collection of selections from the albums, totaling two and a half hours of music, was released in 2007 under the title "Introspection:  The Collection".

The collection has been uploaded to YouTube, a gift for all those who enjoy his music in general and classical-style flute in particular.  His own compositions and other modern works are interspersed with classical pieces.  The track listing and start time for each are as follows:

00:00 Pavanne (Op. 50) (Gabriel Fauré)
05:48 Rondo (Rogier van Otterloo)
08:50 Agnus Dei (from Mass in B minor) (Johann Sebastian Bach)
13:48 Focus I (Thijs van Leer)
17:47 Erbarme Dich (from St. Matthew Passion) (Bach)
25:13 Focus II (Van Leer)
29:30 Introspection (Van Otterloo)
35:44 Goyescas No. IV (Enrique Granados)
41:15 Rondo II (Rogier van Otterloo)
44:14 Introduction (Domenico Cimarosa)
48:40 Siciliano (Johann Sebastian Bach)
51:02 Focus III (Thijs van Leer)
55:48 Larghetto & Allegro (Georg Friedrich Händel)
1:00:09 Introspection II (Rogier van Otterloo)
1:03:34 Sheep May Safely Graze (Johann Sebastian Bach)
1:07:54 Mild Wild Rose (Thijs van Leer)
1:13:05 Reigen Seliger Geister (Christoph Willibald von Gluck)
1:20:52 Rondeau (Henry Purcell)
1:22:41 Adagio (Remo Giazotto, Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni)
1:28:39 Brother (Roselie van Ler, Thijs van Leer )
1:34:06 Sicilienne (Gabriel Fauré)
1:41:11 Rondo III (Rogier van Otterloo)
1:43:39 He Shall Feed His Flock (Georg Friedrich Händel)
1:49:29 Focus V (Thijs van Leer)
1:54:10 Arcangelo (Arcangelo Corelli)
1:56:34 Instrospection 4 (van Otterloo)
2:01:58 Rondeau des enfants (Van Leer) 
2:04:52 Grave, allegro, adagio, allegro uit Sonate in e (Georg Friedrich Händel)
2:12:32 Le tango (van Leer) 
2:15:58 Air (Georg Philipp Telemann)
2:20:04 Pastorale (Domenico Scarlatti)
2:22:32 Sicilian en allegro (Georg Friedrich Händel)



Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Snippet: China, the USA and the "Long Game"


Rush Doshi's new book, "The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order", is an in-depth study of what has brought China to where it is today, and what it plans to do in the short to medium term to take over America's leadership role in the world.

It's not light or easy reading, but it's very informative.  There's perhaps no single factor likely to affect geopolitics and international relationships over the next century or so as important as China and its policies.  The sheer mass of its population, its economic clout, and its growing military presence - already equalling that of the USA in Asia, and likely to exceed it in the short term - makes that a certainty.  The next decade will be critical in determining how that works out over the rest of the 21st century.

Here's part of the Introduction from the book, summarizing its approach and laying the foundation for its analysis.

It was 1872, and Li Hongzhang was writing at a time of historic upheaval. A Qing Dynasty general and official who dedicated much of his life to reforming a dying empire, Li was often compared to his contemporary Otto von Bismarck, the architect of German unification and national power whose portrait Li was said to keep for inspiration.

Like Bismarck, Li had military experience that he parlayed into considerable influence, including over foreign and military policy. He had been instrumental in putting down the fourteen-year Taiping rebellion—the bloodiest conflict of the entire nineteenth century—which had seen a millenarian Christian state rise from the growing vacuum of Qing authority to launch a civil war that claimed tens of millions of lives. This campaign against the rebels provided Li with an appreciation for Western weapons and technology, a fear of European and Japanese predations, a commitment to Chinese self-strengthening and modernization—and critically—the influence and prestige to do something about it.

And so it was in 1872 that in one of his many correspondences, Li reflected on the groundbreaking geopolitical and technological transformations he had seen in his own life that posed an existential threat to the Qing. In a memorandum advocating for more investment in Chinese shipbuilding, he penned a line since repeated for generations: China was experiencing “great changes not seen in three thousand years.”

That famous, sweeping statement is to many Chinese nationalists a reminder of the country’s own humiliation. Li ultimately failed to modernize China, lost a war to Japan, and signed the embarrassing Treaty of Shimonoseki with Tokyo. But to many, Li’s line was both prescient and accurate—China’s decline was the product of the Qing Dynasty’s inability to reckon with transformative geopolitical and technological forces that had not been seen for three thousand years, forces which changed the international balance of power and ushered in China’s “Century of Humiliation.” These were trends that all of Li’s striving could not reverse.

Now, Li’s line has been repurposed by China’s leader Xi Jinping to inaugurate a new phase in China’s post–Cold War grand strategy. Since 2017, Xi has in many of the country’s critical foreign policy addresses declared that the world is in the midst of “great changes unseen in a century” [百年未有之大变局]. If Li’s line marks the highpoint of China’s humiliation, then Xi’s marks an occasion for its rejuvenation. If Li’s evokes tragedy, then Xi’s evokes opportunity. But both capture something essential: the idea that world order is once again at stake because of unprecedented geopolitical and technological shifts, and that this requires strategic adjustment.

For Xi, the origin of these shifts is China’s growing power and what it saw as the West’s apparent self-destruction. On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Then, a little more than three months later, a populist surge catapulted Donald Trump into office as president of the United States. From China’s perspective—which is highly sensitive to changes in its perceptions of American power and threat—these two events were shocking. Beijing believed that the world’s most powerful democracies were withdrawing from the international order they had helped erect abroad and were struggling to govern themselves at home. The West’s subsequent response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, and then the storming of the US Capitol by extremists in 2021, reinforced a sense that “time and momentum are on our side,” as Xi Jinping put it shortly after those events. China’s leadership and foreign policy elite declared that a “period of historical opportunity” [历史机遇期] had emerged to expand the country’s strategic focus from Asia to the wider globe and its governance systems.

We are now in the early years of what comes next—a China that not only seeks regional influence as so many great powers do, but as Evan Osnos has argued, “that is preparing to shape the twenty-first century, much as the U.S. shaped the twentieth.” That competition for influence will be a global one, and Beijing believes with good reason that the next decade will likely determine the outcome.

As we enter this new stretch of acute competition, we lack answers to critical foundational questions. What are China’s ambitions, and does it have a grand strategy to achieve them? If it does, what is that strategy, what shapes it, and what should the United States do about it? These are basic questions for American policymakers grappling with this century’s greatest geopolitical challenge, not least because knowing an opponent’s strategy is the first step to countering it. And yet, as great power tensions flare, there is no consensus on the answers.

This book attempts to provide an answer. In its argument and structure, the book takes its inspiration in part from Cold War studies of US grand strategy. Where those works analyzed the theory and practice of US “strategies of containment” toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War, this book seeks to analyze the theory and practice of China’s “strategies of displacement” toward the United States after the Cold War.

To do so, the book makes use of an original database of Chinese Communist Party documents—memoirs, biographies, and daily records of senior officials—painstakingly gathered and then digitized over the last several years from libraries, bookstores in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and Chinese e-commerce sites (see Appendix). Many of the documents take readers behind the closed doors of the Chinese Communist Party, bring them into its high-level foreign policy institutions and meetings, and introduce readers to a wide cast of Chinese political leaders, generals, and diplomats charged with devising and implementing China’s grand strategy. While no one master document contains all of Chinese grand strategy, its outline can be found across a wide corpus of texts. Within them, the Party uses hierarchical statements that represent internal consensus on key issues to guide the ship of state, and these statements can be traced across time. The most important of these is the Party line (路线), then the guideline (方针), and finally the policy (政策), among other terms. Understanding them sometimes requires proficiency not only in Chinese, but also in seemingly impenetrable and archaic ideological concepts like “dialectical unities” and “historical materialism.”

Argument in Brief

The book argues that the core of US-China competition since the Cold War has been over regional and now global order. It focuses on the strategies that rising powers like China use to displace an established hegemon like the United States short of war. A hegemon’s position in regional and global order emerges from three broad “forms of control” that are used to regulate the behavior of other states: coercive capability (to force compliance), consensual inducements (to incentivize it), and legitimacy (to rightfully command it). For rising states, the act of peacefully displacing the hegemon consists of two broad strategies generally pursued in sequence. The first strategy is to blunt the hegemon’s exercise of those forms of control, particularly those extended over the rising state; after all, no rising state can displace the hegemon if it remains at the hegemon’s mercy. The second is to build forms of control over others; indeed, no rising state can become a hegemon if it cannot secure the deference of other states through coercive threats, consensual inducements, or rightful legitimacy. Unless a rising power has first blunted the hegemon, efforts to build order are likely to be futile and easily opposed. And until a rising power has successfully conducted a good degree of blunting and building in its home region, it remains too vulnerable to the hegemon’s influence to confidently turn to a third strategy, global expansion, which pursues both blunting and building at the global level to displace the hegemon from international leadership. Together, these strategies at the regional and then global levels provide a rough means of ascent for the Chinese Communist Party’s nationalist elites, who seek to restore China to its due place and roll back the historical aberration of the West’s overwhelming global influence.

This is a template China has followed, and in its review of China’s strategies of displacement, the book argues that shifts from one strategy to the next have been triggered by sharp discontinuities in the most important variable shaping Chinese grand strategy: its perception of US power and threat. China’s first strategy of displacement (1989–2008) was to quietly blunt American power over China, particularly in Asia, and it emerged after the traumatic trifecta of Tiananmen Square, the Gulf War, and the Soviet collapse led Beijing to sharply increase its perception of US threat. China’s second strategy of displacement (2008–2016) sought to build the foundation for regional hegemony in Asia, and it was launched after the Global Financial Crisis led Beijing to see US power as diminished and emboldened it to take a more confident approach. Now, with the invocation of “great changes unseen in a century” following Brexit, President Trump’s election, and the coronavirus pandemic, China is launching a third strategy of displacement, one that expands its blunting and building efforts worldwide to displace the United States as the global leader. In its final chapters, this book uses insights about China’s strategy to formulate an asymmetric US grand strategy in response—one that takes a page from China’s own book—and would seek to contest China’s regional and global ambitions without competing dollar-for-dollar, ship-for-ship, or loan-for-loan.

The book also illustrates what Chinese order might look like if China is able to achieve its goal of “national rejuvenation” by the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. At the regional level, China already accounts for more than half of Asian GDP and half of all Asian military spending, which is pushing the region out of balance and toward a Chinese sphere of influence. A fully realized Chinese order might eventually involve the withdrawal of US forces from Japan and Korea, the end of American regional alliances, the effective removal of the US Navy from the Western Pacific, deference from China’s regional neighbors, unification with Taiwan, and the resolution of territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. Chinese order would likely be more coercive than the present order, consensual in ways that primarily benefit connected elites even at the expense of voting publics, and considered legitimate mostly to those few who it directly rewards. China would deploy this order in ways that damage liberal values, with authoritarian winds blowing stronger across the region. Order abroad is often a reflection of order at home, and China’s order-building would be distinctly illiberal relative to US order-building.

At the global level, Chinese order would involve seizing the opportunities of the “great changes unseen in a century” and displacing the United States as the world’s leading state. This would require successfully managing the principal risk flowing from the “great changes”—Washington’s unwillingness to gracefully accept decline—by weakening the forms of control supporting American global order while strengthening those forms of control supporting a Chinese alternative. That order would span a “zone of super-ordinate influence” in Asia as well as “partial hegemony” in swaths of the developing world that might gradually expand to encompass the world’s industrialized centers—a vision some Chinese popular writers describe using Mao’s revolutionary guidance to “surround the cities from the countryside” [农村包围城市]. More authoritative sources put this approach in less sweeping terms, suggesting Chinese order would be anchored in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its Community of Common Destiny, with the former in particular creating networks of coercive capability, consensual inducement, and legitimacy.

Some of the strategy to achieve this global order is already discernable in Xi’s speeches. Politically, Beijing would project leadership over global governance and international institutions, split Western alliances, and advance autocratic norms at the expense of liberal ones. Economically, it would weaken the financial advantages that underwrite US hegemony and seize the commanding heights of the “fourth industrial revolution” from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, with the United States declining into a “deindustrialized, English-speaking version of a Latin American republic, specializing in commodities, real estate, tourism, and perhaps transnational tax evasion.” Militarily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would field a world-class force with bases around the world that could defend China’s interests in most regions and even in new domains like space, the poles, and the deep sea. The fact that aspects of this vision are visible in high-level speeches is strong evidence that China’s ambitions are not limited to Taiwan or to dominating the Indo-Pacific. The “struggle for mastery,” once confined to Asia, is now over the global order and its future. If there are two paths to hegemony—a regional one and a global one—China is now pursuing both.

This glimpse at possible Chinese order maybe striking, but it should not be surprising. Over a decade ago, Lee Kuan Yew—the visionary politician who built modern Singapore and personally knew China’s top leaders—was asked by an interviewer, “Are Chinese leaders serious about displacing the United States as the number one power in Asia and in the world?” He answered with an emphatic yes. “Of course. Why not?” he began, “They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world—on track . . . to become the world’s largest economy.” China, he continued, boasts “a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, with a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number one in Asia, and in time the world?” China was “growing at rates unimaginable 50 years ago, a dramatic transformation no one predicted,” he observed, and “every Chinese wants a strong and rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced, and technologically competent as America, Europe, and Japan.” He closed his answer with a key insight: “This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force. . . . China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.” China might want to “share this century” with the United States, perhaps as “co-equals,” he noted, but certainly not as subordinates.

Why Grand Strategy Matters

The need for a grounded understanding of China’s intentions and strategy has never been more urgent. China now poses a challenge unlike any the United States has ever faced. For more than a century, no US adversary or coalition of adversaries has reached 60 percent of US GDP. Neither Wilhelmine Germany during the First World War, the combined might of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany during the Second World War, nor the Soviet Union at the height of its economic power ever crossed this threshold. And yet, this is a milestone that China itself quietly reached as early as 2014. When one adjusts for the relative price of goods, China’s economy is already 25 percent larger than the US economy. It is clear, then, that China is the most significant competitor that the United States has faced and that the way Washington handles its emergence to superpower status will shape the course of the next century.

What is less clear, at least in Washington, is whether China has a grand strategy and what it might be. This book defines grand strategy as a state’s theory of how it can achieve its strategic objectives that is intentional, coordinated, and implemented across multiple means of statecraft—military, economic, and political. What makes grand strategy “grand” is not simply the size of the strategic objectives but also the fact that disparate “means” are coordinated together to achieve it. That kind of coordination is rare, and most great powers consequently do not have a grand strategy.

When states do have grand strategies, however, they can reshape world history. Nazi Germany wielded a grand strategy that used economic tools to constrain its neighbors, military buildups to intimidate its rivals, and political alignments to encircle its adversaries—allowing it to outperform its great power competitors for a considerable time even though its GDP was less than one-third theirs. During the Cold War, Washington pursued a grand strategy that at times used military power to deter Soviet aggression, economic aid to curtail communist influence, and political institutions to bind liberal states together—limiting Soviet influence without a US-Soviet war. How China similarly integrates its instruments of statecraft in pursuit of overarching regional and global objectives remains an area that has received abundant speculation but little rigorous study despite its enormous consequences. The coordination and long-term planning involved in grand strategy allow a state to punch above its weight; since China is already a heavyweight, if it has a coherent scheme that coordinates its $14 trillion economy with its blue-water navy and rising political influence around the world—and the United States either misses it or misunderstands it—the course of the twenty-first century may unfold in ways detrimental to the United States and the liberal values it has long championed.

Washington is belatedly coming to terms with this reality, and the result is the most consequential reassessment of its China policy in over a generation. And yet, amid this reassessment, there is wide-ranging disagreement over what China wants and where it is going. Some believe Beijing has global ambitions; others argue that its focus is largely regional. Some claim it has a coordinated 100-year plan; others that it is opportunistic and error-prone. Some label Beijing a boldly revisionist power; others see it as a sober-minded stakeholder of the current order. Some say Beijing wants the United States out of Asia; and others that it tolerates a modest US role. Where analysts increasingly agree is on the idea that China’s recent assertiveness is a product of Chinese President Xi’s personality—a mistaken notion that ignores the long-standing Party consensus in which China’s behavior is actually rooted. The fact that the contemporary debate remains divided on so many fundamental questions related to China’s grand strategy—and inaccurate even in its major areas of agreement—is troubling, especially since each question holds wildly different policy implications.

Like it or not, the USA is already overmatched by China in Asia and Africa, and may well become the same in South America before long.  We're investing most of our economic substance in domestic concerns, whereas China is devoting trillions of dollars to securing resources overseas and buying influence and favor in foreign capitals.  The cumulative effect is unlikely to be favorable to US interests.

This book provides a useful summary of where we are, and attempts to postulate a road ahead for China.  How we respond to that will, in large measure, determine whether or not the USA remains a "Great Power" at all, or sinks into decline the way the other "Great Powers" of the World War II era and before have done.


Friday, July 23, 2021

And the winners are...


We have two winners in our recent raffle for two Glock pistols.

  • The Glock 45 and Swampfox Optics Kingslayer sight were won by A. J., who hails from a city in or near the Atlanta, Georgia metroplex.  They're on their way to his local firearms dealer as you read these words.
  • The Glock 19 and ammunition were won by a lady who doesn't even want her initials used, and says she lives "within 50 miles" of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  She's apparently going through a divorce at present, and doesn't want anyone to know that she will shortly have the means to defend herself;  so she's asked me to send the firearm to a dealer in a town some distance from her home.  She'll collect it there and go through the necessary background check, in the hope that others won't find out about it unless and until she needs it.  Of course, I was happy to oblige.

My grateful thanks to everybody who participated in the raffle.  You've helped pay off medical bills and keep our financial heads above water.


The student loan time-bomb


I wasn't aware that, in part because of pandemic relief legislation, only about 1% of student loans are currently being repaid.  That's supposed to change in October - but how many borrowers can afford to resume payments?

In the 2020 CARES Act, Congress gave student-loan borrowers a temporary break from repaying their loans. President Trump extended that twice and President Biden once, with loan payments now set to resume Oct. 1, 2021.

Borrowers could have kept paying if they wanted to, but almost nobody did. As Tom Lee of the American Action Forum recently explained, the portion of borrowers repaying their student loans dropped from 46% at the beginning of 2020 to 1% today. The portion of borrowers in forbearance rose from 10% to 57%. The rest include borrowers who are still in school, who have gotten deferments or who have defaulted.

. . .

America’s $1.4 trillion in federally backed student debt has become a cultural and generational flashpoint as politicians debate what, if anything, to do about it. Liberal Democrats feel some or all of the 40 million student-loan borrowers deserve relief, since the average amount owed per borrower has exploded to nearly $37,000. The growth in average balances has far exceeded inflation or income growth. The hardest cases are students who take on debt but never get a degree or the extra earning power that comes with it.

The economic case for canceling student debt is extremely weak, however. It would be a massive handout to a subset of Americans with better economic prospects than others, with no similar benefit for those worse off or those who already paid what they owe. "It would be a terrible thing to do,” says Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “Making those handouts and excluding the people who have never been to college is totally inequitable. What about people who start borrowing tomorrow? Are we going to forgive debt every few years?”

There's more at the link.

I'm from an old-fashioned school.  I completed every one of my university qualifications through part-time and/or distance learning, paying my way every year and never carrying any student loan debt.  I ended up with four of them, every one hard-earned.  I honestly don't understand how any student can willingly contemplate going into debt for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, to earn a qualification that won't produce a salary sufficient to repay those study loans.  It makes no sense to me at all.  I can't figure out how young people today can't see this problem for themselves, but apparently they can't.

I hope very few of you, dear readers, are facing this dilemma right now, but I'm sure some of you are.  How are you planning to cope with it?  Can you afford to cope with it in this post-pandemic business environment?  Please let us know in Comments, so we can learn from each other.


The Democrats' ultimate end game - making our vote meaningless


This is how those who stole last year's Presidential election (and probably stole control of the Senate in the same way) plan to keep their ill-gotten gains.

In February, Biden signed an executive order which included one of the most blatant efforts to roll out a voter turnout operation across the span of the entire federal government.

The Interagency Working Group on Promoting Naturalization brought together the heads of agencies to figure out the best way to create as many new Democrat voters as possible. The agencies included the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Department of Defense, and the USDA.

This month, the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization was released. The Obama administration had its own project for turning aliens into citizens as quickly as possible in order to get them on the voting rolls, but the new strategy goes beyond anything Obama tried to do.

The new strategy begins with using DHS to assemble all the available data on the "potential naturalization-eligible populations" and breaking it down by age, sex, and zip code, as well as other demographic details, to target "outreach".

By "outreach", the working group of agencies headed by Biden appointees means converting aliens into citizens.

That data will allow the government and a spectrum of “partners”, most of them Democrat allies, to target resident aliens the way a corporation targets potential customers of its products.

Except that the data is coming from the government and the product is voting for Democrats.

While citizenship is in theory non-partisan, the strategy makes it clear that it's targeting potential Democrat voting blocs such as refugees, asylum seekers, and agricultural workers, not to mention “underserved and marginalized communities” through "community-based organizations". What that means is that the federal government is going to be pumping even more money into Democrat community groups to encourage them to turn resident aliens into citizens for a massive voter turnout operation funded by taxpayers.

The federal government won't just be financing a Democrat turnout operation, it's mobilizing all of its resources to provide the data and the logistics across a variety of federal agencies.

But the money potentially won't just be coming from the government.

One of the more curious items mentions exploring "the feasibility of accepting private donations to support the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant Program". If Congress won't allocate enough money, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Democrat mega-donors might.

The resulting "public-private partnership" would combine Democrat mega-donor cash with federal government resources for a voter turnout operation that would put the government even more firmly under the control of the Democrat donor class in order to rig the next elections.

The new strategy begins with turning refugees into resident aliens and turning aliens into citizens by utilizing the resources of the immigration system. That's not dramatically new, but the goal of the new strategy is to have every component of the government push citizenship.

The strategy doesn’t just run the expected informational campaigns through the post office or museums, but it also uses parts of the government that the aliens are expected to interact more closely and meaningfully with, like HUD, SSA, and the Department of Labor, to function as citizenship offices. Some federal agencies are barely doing their actual jobs, but will now also be tasked with finding new voters to help the Democrats survive a backlash from existing voters.

But the strategy doesn't stop there. Instead the Biden administration is going to encourage Mexico and other countries to promote the benefits of American citizenship to their own citizens.

The strategy proposes to engage in "outreach to foreign embassies and consular networks that may be interested in providing information and resources on citizenship" ... Biden intends to “partner” with foreign governments to encourage their citizens to get citizenship in this country and reap all the benefits that would entail because it means more money taken from taxpayers and sent overseas, and it means more votes for the Democrats.

It’s a win-win for socialists on both sides of the border, and a huge loss for American taxpayers.

There's more at the link.

The article is essential reading to understand how our current Administration is systematically destroying our constitutional republic and corrupting democracy into a pointless, meaningless myth of freedom.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you what this means for our future as Americans.  In so many words, a huge new swath of voters who are not American in anything other than name will help determine our future.  They will have little or no loyalty to our constitution, history, culture, or anything that we think of as American.  They will simply be "harvested" from the millions of illegal aliens already among us and currently pouring across our southern border.  Instead of "cannon fodder" they'll be "ballot fodder" or "voter fodder".  They'll obediently vote the way their community organizers tell them to vote, aided by donations from big business and Big Tech to persuade them to do anything rather than think for themselves.  They'll be puppets, voting on command, just as many of our inner-city residents have already become.

Don't think of this as "only" ten or eleven million illegal aliens, either.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

For years on end, I’ve read that the population of America’s “undocumented” — a euphemism that seems to upbraid the receiving country’s bureaucrats for failing to issue its woefully overlooked residents the proper papers — is 11 million. With the artificial precision that often attends these unverifiable figures, which derive their authority from sheer repetition, some journalists will quote the number as 11.3 million ... That 11.3 million figure originates from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey.

. . .

A TRIO of academics affiliated with MIT and Yale University set about trying to reproduce that oft-quoted statistic by other means ... even with all the inputs rigged at improbably low levels, the model still generated a population of illegal immigrants in the US of 16.7 million — 50 percent higher. 

The modelers were astonished. As an on-again, off-again New Yorker, I’m not. 

Yet the full range of their model’s outputs is more astonishing still. Accepting, unlike most journalists, that their data contained a large degree of uncertainty, the authors ran their model with a variety of credible inputs literally a million times. The results within a 95 percent probability lay between 16 million and 29 million, with 22.1 million as the mean — or twice as many illegal immigrants as the Census Bureau figures imply.

Mind, that Yale/MIT model produced half a million results in excess of 22.1 million, with a multitude spitting out estimates in the vicinity of 35 million or more. That would be more than 10 percent of the total American population, which experientially sounds about right.

Again, more at the link.

Folks, they're moving ahead with this strategy at breakneck speed.  They want it implemented and in action well before the next elections in 2022, which may produce enough votes to take away Democratic Party control of the Senate and House - if they're counted honestly, that is.  I fully expect electoral fraud on a monumental scale, to allow the Democrats to retain control of the legislative branch of government while they implement this swamp-the-electorate program until it's too late to stop them.

Once they've got another reliable block of voters whom they can manipulate with welfare and entitlement programs, to add to the blocks they've already got, it won't do any good for the rest of us to vote for what we want.  We won't get it, because our votes will be swamped by those of special interest groups.  The Democrats won't even need to use electoral fraud any longer, because they'll control enough voters that it won't be necessary.

There's no way in the short term for us to prevent the Biden administration from moving ahead with this diabolical scheme.  Oh, the Senate may put a few roadblocks here and there, but even if they withhold funds for it, the plan explicitly calls for using private donations.  Billionaire oligarchs can dip into their pockets and fund their pet "control the vote" wet dream, and the American taxpayer won't be able to stop them.

The one thing we can do right now, and I hope and trust many of us will do, is to identify every single person who's involved in this scheme.  Note their names and every other bit of identifying information you can get.  Mark them all, from the highest executive levels to the lowest of low-level bureaucrats and community organizers, for future attention.  If things go from bad to worse, we'll need to know who to hold accountable for their betrayal of our American values.  It starts by knowing who they are.

I'm not advocating any sort of illegal or extra-legal action against them, you understand.  Some of us still believe in the rule of law, conspicuous though it may be by its absence in many cases these days.  Nevertheless, accountability there must and will be.  What form that will take is currently unknown, but I have no doubt it'll happen in due course.

I think my friend Larry Correia has his finger on the pulse of popular opinion among a great many Americans, so I'll give him the last word.

A friend of mine who is a political activist said something interesting the other day, and that was for most people on the left political violence is a knob, and they can turn the heat up and down, with things like protests, and riots, all the way up to destruction of property, and sometimes murder… But for the vast majority of folks on the right, it’s an off and on switch. And the settings are Vote or Shoot F***ing Everybody.  And believe me, you really don’t want that switch to get flipped, because Civil War 2.0 would make Bosnia look like a trip to Disneyworld.

With every illegitimate, un-American move the Biden Administration and the Democratic Party make, that switch is getting closer and closer to being flipped.  If they continue on their current path, sooner or later, that's going to happen . . . and they're going to rue the day they made it inevitable.