No one is really sure who to believe after Businessweek's bombshell story on an alleged Chinese supply chain attack against Apple, Amazon, and others.
The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources. In 2015, Amazon.com Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.
IN WATCHING the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history. The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that "peace" seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world. Most of these analyses lack any larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and are predictably superficial. If Mr. Gorbachev were ousted from the Kremlin or a new Ayatollah proclaimed the millennium from a desolate Middle Eastern capital, these same commentators would scramble to announce the rebirth of a new era of conflict.
And yet, all of these people sense dimly that there is some larger process at work, a process that gives coherence and order to the daily headlines. The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.
In general, while I’ve been reading Stuart Kauffmann’s At Home in the Universe, I can’t help but thinking about the cascading extinctions he describes and wonder if political extinctions of ideas like Communism or other forms of government or even economies might follow the same types of outcomes described there? ❧
August 29, 2018 at 09:37AM
Building on this, could we create a list of governments and empires and rank them in order of the length of their spans? There may be subtleties in changes of regimes in some eras, but generally things are probably reasonably well laid out. I wonder if the length of life of particular governments follows a power law? One would suspect it might. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 09:43AM
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 08:53AM
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. ❧
What if, in fact, we’ve only just found a local maximum? What if in the changing landscape there are other places we could potentially get to competitively that supply greater maxima? And possibly worse, what if we need to lose value to get from here to unlock even more value there?
August 29, 2018 at 08:56AM
Hegel believed that history culminated in an absolute moment – a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious. ❧
and probably not a bad outcome in an earlier era that thought of things in terms of clockwork and lacked the ideas of quantum theory and its attendant uncertainties.
August 29, 2018 at 08:59AM
Believing that there was no more work for philosophers as well, since Hegel (correctly understood) had already achieved absolute knowledge, Kojève left teaching after the war and spent the remainder of his life working as a bureaucrat in the European Economic Community, until his death in 1968. ❧
This is depressing on so many levels.
August 29, 2018 at 09:05AM
Paul Kennedy’s hugely successful “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, which ascribes the decline of great powers to simple economic overextension. ❧
Curious how this may relate to the more recent “The End of Power” by Moisés Naím. It doesn’t escape one that the title of the book somewhat echoes the title of this particular essay.
August 29, 2018 at 09:18AM
But whether a highly productive modern industrial society chooses to spend 3 or 7 percent of its GNP on defense rather than consumption is entirely a matter of that society’s political priorities, which are in turn determined in the realm of consciousness. ❧
It’s not so much the percentage on produced defense goods, but how quickly could a society ramp up production of goods, services, and people to defend itself compared to the militaries of its potential aggressors.
In particular, most of the effort should go to the innovation side of war materiel. The innovation of the atomic bomb is a particularly nice example in that as a result of conceptualizing and then executing on it it allowed the US to win the war in the Pacific and hasten the end of war in Europe. Even if we otherwise had massive stockpiles of people or other weapons, our enemies could potentially have equaled them and dragged the war on interminably. It was the unknown unknown via innovation that unseated Japan and could potentially do the same to us based on innovation coming out of almost any country in the modern age.
August 29, 2018 at 09:24AM
Weber notes that according to any economic theory that posited man as a rational profit-maximizer, raising the piece-work rate should increase labor productivity. But in fact, in many traditional peasant communities, raising the piece-work rate actually had the opposite effect of lowering labor productivity: at the higher rate, a peasant accustomed to earning two and one-half marks per day found he could earn the same amount by working less, and did so because he valued leisure more than income. The choices of leisure over income, or of the militaristic life of the Spartan hoplite over the wealth of the Athenian trader, or even the ascetic life of the early capitalist entrepreneur over that of a traditional leisured aristocrat, cannot possibly be explained by the impersonal working of material forces, ❧
Science could learn something from this. Science is too far focused on the idealized positive outcomes that it isn’t paying attention to the negative outcomes and using that to better define its outline or overall shape. We need to define a scientific opportunity cost and apply it to the negative side of research to better understand and define what we’re searching for.
Of course, how can we define a new scientific method (or amend/extend it) to better take into account negative results–particularly in an age when so many results aren’t even reproducible?
August 29, 2018 at 09:32AM
FAILURE to understand that the roots of economic behavior lie in the realm of consciousness and culture leads to the common mistake of attributing material causes to phenomena that are essentially ideal in nature. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 09:44AM
“Protestant” life of wealth and risk over the “Catholic” path of poverty and security. ❧
Is this simply a restatement of the idea that most of “the interesting things” happen at the border or edge of chaos? The Catholic ethic is firmly inside the stable arena while that of the Protestant ethic is pushing the boundaries.
August 29, 2018 at 09:47AM
Hence it did not matter to Kojève that the consciousness of the postwar generation of Europeans had not been universalized throughout the world; if ideological development had in fact ended, the homogenous state would eventually become victorious throughout the material world. ❧
This presupposes that homeostasis could ever be achieved.
One thinks of phrases like “The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” But everything we know about systems and evolving systems often indicates that homeostasis isn’t necessarily a good thing. In many cases, it means eventual “death” instead of evolving towards a longer term lifespan. Again, here Kauffmann’s ideas about co-evolving systems and evolving landscapes may provide some guidance. What if we’re just at a temporary local maximum, but changes in the landscape modify that fact? What then? Shouldn’t we be looking for other potential distant maxima as well?
August 29, 2018 at 09:52AM
But that state of consciousness that permits the growth of liberalism seems to stabilize in the way one would expect at the end of history if it is underwritten by the abundance of a modern free market economy. ❧
Writers spend an awful lot of time focused too carefully on the free market economy, but don’t acknowledge a lot of the major benefits of the non-free market parts which are undertaken and executed often by governments and regulatory environments. (Hacker & Pierson, 2016)
\August 29, 2018 at 10:02AM
Are there, in other words, any fundamental “contradictions” in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure? ❧
Churchill famously said “…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”
Even within this quote it is implicit that there are many others. In some sense he’s admitting that we might possibly be at a local maximum but we’ve just not explored the spaces beyond the adjacent possible.
August 29, 2018 at 10:08AM
For our purposes, it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso, for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind. ❧
While this seems solid on it’s face, we don’t know what the future landscape will look like. What if climate change brings about massive destruction of homo sapiens? We need to be careful about how and why we explore both the adjacent possible as well as the distant possible. One day we may need them and our current local maximum may not serve us well.
August 29, 2018 at 10:10AM
I feel like this word captures very well the exact era of Trumpian Republicanism in which we find ourselves living.
August 29, 2018 at 10:37AM
After the war, it seemed to most people that German fascism as well as its other European and Asian variants were bound to self-destruct. There was no material reason why new fascist movements could not have sprung up again after the war in other locales, but for the fact that expansionist ultranationalism, with its promise of unending conflict leading to disastrous military defeat, had completely lost its appeal. The ruins of the Reich chancellery as well as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed this ideology on the level of consciousness as well as materially, and all of the pro-fascist movements spawned by the German and Japanese examples like the Peronist movement in Argentina or Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army withered after the war. ❧
And yet somehow we see these movements anew in America and around the world. What is the difference between then and now?
August 29, 2018 at 11:46AM
This is not to say that there are not rich people and poor people in the United States, or that the gap between them has not grown in recent years. But the root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist, so much as with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up, which are in turn the historical legacy of premodern conditions. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 11:47AM
But those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies. ❧
and then there are the millennials…
August 29, 2018 at 11:51AM
Beginning with the famous third plenum of the Tenth Central Committee in 1978, the Chinese Communist party set about decollectivizing agriculture for the 800 million Chinese who still lived in the countryside. The role of the state in agriculture was reduced to that of a tax collector, while production of consumer goods was sharply increased in order to give peasants a taste of the universal homogenous state and thereby an incentive to work. The reform doubled Chinese grain output in only five years, and in the process created for Deng Xiaoping a solid political base from which he was able to extend the reform to other parts of the economy. Economic Statistics do not begin to describe the dynamism, initiative, and openness evident in China since the reform began. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 11:58AM
At present, no more than 20 percent of its economy has been marketized, and most importantly it continues to be ruled by a self-appointed Communist party which has given no hint of wanting to devolve power. ❧
If Facebook were to continue to evolve at it’s current rate and with it’s potential power as well as political influence, I could see it attempting to work the way China does in a new political regime.
August 29, 2018 at 12:04PM
IF WE ADMIT for the moment that the fascist and communist challenges to liberalism are dead, are there any other ideological competitors left? Or put another way, are there contradictions in liberal society beyond that of class that are not resolvable? Two possibilities suggest themselves, those of religion and nationalism. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 12:19PM
This school in effect applies a Hobbesian view of politics to international relations, and assumes that aggression and insecurity are universal characteristics of human societies rather than the product of specific historical circumstances. ❧
August 29, 2018 at 12:30PM
But whatever the particular ideological basis, every “developed” country believed in the acceptability of higher civilizations ruling lower ones ❧
August 29, 2018 at 12:37PM
Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again. ❧
Has it started again with nationalism, racism, and Trump?
August 29, 2018 at 12:48PM
A perfect example of a Hamiltonian internet for maximum control
Leading thinkers in China argue that putting government in charge of technology has one big advantage: the state can distribute the fruits of AI, which would otherwise go to the owners of algorithms. ❧
Such thinking has also been gaining some traction in the West, although so far only at the political fringes. The underlying idea is that some types of services, including social networks and online search, are essential facilities akin to roads and other kinds of infrastructure and should be regulated as utilities, which in essence means capping their profits. Alternatively, important data services, such as digital identity, could be offered by governments. Evgeny Morozov, a researcher and internet activist, goes one step further, calling for the creation of public data utilities, which would pool vital digital information and ensure equal access to it. ❧
Syndicated copies to:
When it comes to democracy and human rights, a Jeffersonian internet is clearly a safer choice. With Web 3.0 still in its infancy, the West at least will need to find other ways to rein in the online giants. The obvious alternative is regulation. ❧
When the owner of a thriving bookstore in Hong Kong went missing in October 2015, questions swirled. What happened? And what did the Chinese government have to do with it?
On today’s episode:
• Alex W. Palmer, a Beijing-based writer who has reported on China for The New York Times Magazine.
• As President Xi Jinping consolidates power, owners of Hong Kong bookstores trafficking in banned books find themselves playing a very dangerous game.
• The Chinese authorities routinely coerce detainees into making videotaped confessions that serve as propaganda tools for the government and as warnings to others who would challenge the state.
• Lam Wing-kee, the bookseller profiled in this episode, plans to reopen his bookstore in Taiwan, a self-governing island that is supplanting Hong Kong as Asia’s bastion of free speech.
Traditional paddy rice farmers had to share labor and coordinate irrigation in a way that most wheat farmers did not. We observed people in everyday life to test whether these agricultural legacies gave rice-farming southern China a more interdependent culture and wheat-farming northern China a more independent culture. In Study 1, we counted 8964 people sitting in cafes in six cities and found that people in northern China were more likely to be sitting alone. In Study 2, we moved chairs together in Starbucks across the country so that they were partially blocking the aisle ( n = 678). People in northern China were more likely to move the chair out of the way, which is consistent with findings that people in individualistic cultures are more likely to try to control the environment. People in southern China were more likely to adjust the self to the environment by squeezing through the chairs. Even in China’s most modern cities, rice-wheat differences live on in everyday life.
China has no reason to restrain Kim too soon, or for too modest a price. I keep thinking of the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. This terrifying episode was a very complicated game of diplomatic maneuvering and military posturing, with a thermonuclear exchange between the U.S. and the USSR as the consequence of a misstep. But that apocalyptic situation had one big advantage over the present one: John Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro were all sane, rational beings. The same cannot be said about the two protagonists to the Korea crisis, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. In Kim, Trump has met his match.
This is apparently the article that began Bannon’s ouster from the administration.Syndicated copies to:
With a penstroke, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from Trans-Pacific Partnership, imposed a federal hiring freeze, and reinstated the ‘Mexico City policy’ on defunding international abortion-related services.
I have a sinking feeling that he spent more time actually signing these than he did reading them.Syndicated copies to:
📖 On page 16 of 448 of Dealing with China by Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
A simple preface followed by an anecdote about the beginning of a deal relating to telecom. The style is quick moving and history, details, and philosophy are liberally injected into the story as it moves along. This seems both interesting as well as instructive.
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
“There are some who believe that an immutable law of history holds that conflict is inevitable when a rising power begins to bump up against an established one. But no law is immutable. Choices matter. Lessons can be learned.”
“Prescriptions, after all, are easier to make than predictions.”
“Note taking allows Party and government officials to get quick reads on what went on at meetings they didn’t attend. […] Private meetings with senior government officials without recoring devices or note takers are rare and highly sought after.”
“…the so-called iron rice bowl, the cradle-to-grave care and support guaranteed by the government through the big companies people worked for.”
“The Party had made a simple bargain with the people: economic growth in return for political stability. That in turn meant Party control. Prosperity was the source of Party legitimacy.”
“Messages in China are sent in ways that aren’t always direct; you have to read the signs.”
“It was the nature of dealing with China: nothing was done until it was done.”
—page 14Syndicated copies to:
📗 Started reading Dealing with China by Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
Syndicated copies to:
Picked up a copy at Little Free Library #21797 at 8:29 am
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0421-3 First Edition Hardcover
Winchester really is a magnificent writer. Although I am a bigger fan of some of his other works, this certainly fits well into the rest of his life’s opus. Somehow he manages to cover bits of science, technology, philosophy, history, (his love) geology, archaeology, culture, politics and even uses his flair for travel writing with great ethos and pathos to tell an interesting story.
Aside from the breadth of topics he covers while telling the story of one man’s life’s work, he writes about and discusses topics which should be part of everyone’s personal cultural knowledge. As a small example, he makes mention of one of the real life archaeologists who served as a model for Indiana Jones – though sadly he only makes the direct connection in a footnote which many may not likely read.
Though I had originally picked up the book out of general curiosity (not to diminish the fact that I’m on a quest to read every word Winchester has written), I find that it also neatly fits into providing some spectacular background on the concept of “Big History” (see Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History) as it relates to China’s place in the world. In particular “Needham’s question” (briefly: Why, given China’s illustrious past, did modern science not develop there after the 1500’s?) turned around becomes a interesting illustration on the course of human history and the rises and falls of cultures and societies since the Holocene.
For those who may miss the significance, I was particularly impressed with the overall literary power imbued to the book by the use of the book-ended contrasts of Needham’s Chongqing at the opening of the work and modern day Chongqing at the close. This is one of the few times that the mechanics behind how Winchester, the master of telling often non-linear stories, has been patently obvious to me. I hope one day to unravel all of his other secrets. I can only imagine that in his heavy research of his topics, he somehow internally sees the ultimately magical ways in which he will present the information.
I will note that, in contrast to some of his past works, this one had some better physical maps and photos to go along with the text, although I was highly disappointed in their unusable presentation in the e-book version of the book. (Higher dpi versions would have gone a long way, particularly with the ability to zoom in on them in most e-readers.) For those unfortunate enough to have the e-book copy, I commend picking up a physical copy of the book for better interpretations of the photos and maps included.
Finally, perhaps for Winchester’s benefit, I’ll note that typically I would give this book a full five stars in comparing it will all others, but I’m comparing it only with Winchester’s other works and, so it stands at four, and that only because there isn’t the ability to give tenths or hundredths.
- 12/17/09 marked as: want to read; “Purchased copy from Amazon.com.”
- 12/27/09 Purchased copy from Amazon.com.
- 02/05/10 started reading
- 04/24/10 started reading again
- 04/24/2010 8.81% done or on page 31 of 316; “Simon Winchester has such a lovely writing style and grasp of language. I’m depressed that I’ve finished reading most of his works.”
- 12/03/12 started reading again from the beginning
- 12/03/2012 09.0% done
- 12/10/2012 20.0% done
- 12/17/2012 30.0% done
- 12/20/2012 40.0% done
- 12/31/12 Finished book
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
John Hay, America’s secretary of state at the turn of the twentieth century, remarked in 1899 that China was now the “storm center of the world,” and that whoever took the time and trouble to understand “this mighty empire” would have “a key to politics for the next five centuries.”
Guide to highlight colors
Yellow–general highlights and highlights which don’t fit under another category below
Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word
Green–Reference to read
Red–Example to work through