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Sunday surprise — mourning, a global view

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — starts with an anthro DoubleQuote inspired by this morning’s readings & a Steve Martin tweet — though in sensitive times it might be best not to chuckle, let alone guffaw, at strangers’ strange ways ]
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One: The tearless eye of a NASA camera on the occasion of the Challenger blow-up:

One of our reporters, who happened to be at a distant nasa base at the time, tells us that afterward a television monitor for nasa’s own internal satellite service kept on its screen a view from a camera on the beach at Cape Canaveral which had been following the spacecraft’s ascent. Now that camera simply stared searchingly out over the blue-gray sea to where it met the blue-gray sky, like a sailor’s widow gazing endlessly at the horizon. Twenty-eight years into the space age, the sea is as much a symbol of eternity as the sky. Both have swallowed up the Challenger and its crew, leaving behind a double emptiness of sea and space.

Two: The professional Ghanaian substitute for tearless eyes:

Here’s an account in the news:

Ami Dokli is the leader of one of the several groups of professional mourners in Ghana. In a recent interview with BBC Africa, she said that some people cannot cry at their relatives’ funerals, so they rely on her and her team to do the wailing. Dokli and the other women in her team are all widows who, after their husbands died, decided to come together to help others give their loved-ones a proper send-off to the afterlife. But crying for strangers is not the easiest thing in the world, so professional mourners charge a fee for their services, the size of which is in direct relation to the size of the funeral. If it’s a big funeral, their tears cost more.

And here’s an American FB version of the ad Steve Martin’s tweet captured:

Do you want to boost your funeral? Hire me….the professional mourner to come and cry at the funeral. Below are the “Summer Special” prices:
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1. Normal crying $50,
2. Bahamian hollering $100,
3. Crying and rolling on the ground $150,
4. Crying and threatening to jump into the grave $200,
5. Crying and actually jumping in the grave $1000

That’s my DoubleQuote for the day.

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A clutch of videos:

Ghanaian Professional Wailing mourners:

Promotional — funerala with a white lady mourner, extra:

Ghanaian troupe of Dancing Pallbarers:

Chinese professional mourning performer:

N’Orleans Second Line:

A Modest Proposal

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

by J. Scott Shipman

Our Navy has not experienced war against a peer competitor since 1945. War at sea differs significantly from what our Marine Corps and Army brothers have learned over the last 17 years. Naval warfare is attrition warfare, for at sea there is no place to hide. To quote the late strategist Herbert Rosinski: “At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”

The United States Navy doesn’t have enough submarines (or surface ships, for that matter). Our highly capable fleet of SSNs is the best in the world, but we’re retiring the old LOS ANGELES Class boats faster than we’re replacing them with the VIRGINIA Class. These new submarines are expensive (~$2.5B USD) and the high costs are translating into fewer platforms with the number of attack boats shrinking from 50 today to as low as 42 by 2030—with only about 25 projected to operate in the Pacific—while China is building both SSKs and SSNs at a pretty aggressive rate with up to 70 attack boats on the horizon.

Under current forces structure plans and budgets the USN cannot afford the number of platforms needed to meet existing security threat requirements. Given our top-heavy force of large multipurpose warships, most are too expensive to send in harm’s way—but that does not change the need for presence. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.” Costs are limiting our numbers, thus our presence. As marvelous as the VA Class is (and it is a true marvel), it can’t be in two places at once.

The USN attack submarine force is all nuclear. These ships are complex and take years to construct—and only two shipyards are currently certified to build them. If many predictions are correct, in a future great power war we cannot assume the sanctuary of CONUS and these shipyards would make irresistible targets.

Our ally Japan may hold a potential subsurface solution which could be an almost “turn-key” solution to the USN’s presence crisis and the growing threat of China. The Japanese Soryu class submarine (pictured above) is the most advanced conventional submarine in the world and the first to transition to ultra-quiet lithium batteries for submerged operations. Further, these boat could be built for at least half the price of a VA Class.

Japan faces a common adversary in China, though without a Pacific Ocean buffer. What if we made a deal with the Japanese government to license the Soryu class design? Further, as part of the deal, construct boats for their navy in our shipyards. We would gain needed numbers and our ally would gain an “extra” production yard. This seems a great way to reassure our allies, increase our subsurface numbers, and send a message to the world that our bonds as allies are deep and resolute. This line of thought is not unprecedented, as we are building the next generation of SSBN (the COLUMBIA Class) in collaboration with the UK.

Whatever the USN decides (and doing nothing is a decision), time is growing short for alternatives and more of the same isn’t affordable.

Sunday surprise — Li Bai and the Song of Songs

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all about a scarlet thread and some corks in a current ]
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I have plenty of idle time between naps, and was binge watching The Churchmen on Netflix. Plus it’s a Sunday..

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As you know, I track “twins” in events and quotations, mainly for sheer aesthetic pleasure, but also partly as an analytic tool — believing as I do that “two is the first number” and often a leading-edge clue to pattern, meaning, significance.

I’m used to finding others who have noted these twins or “DoubleQuotes” as I call them — “DoubleQuotes in the Wild” — but I’m not sure I’ve ever run across a clear description of someone else noting them, let alone in a scholarly manner that bridges the secular west and spiritual east — but lookee here!

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Amazing indeed! And what a line! Your lips are like a thread of scarlet! worthy of Li Po, worthy indeed of the Song of Songs!

I’d have been very chuffed if I’d run across the same doublet between Li Bai – better known to me as Li Po — and the Song of Songs — which, by the way, is Solomon’s.

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Li Po, who, drunk and out in a shallow boat, saw the moon reflected in the Yellow River, leaned over to kiss it, and drowned..

Solomon — but you know the story — seated in judgement, ordered a child be cut in two when two women claimed to be its mother — then commanded it be given to the one whose shocked pure love begged him to deliver it to the other.. wisdom as the test of love!

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The discoverer of the binary “Your lips are like a thread of scarlet!” is a brilliant, generous-hearted, flawed founder and leader of a seminary in France who displeases ambitious Vaticanisti, is offered a choice of disgrace (on account off his flaws) or (as an “out”) a posting to an obscure but copacetic position in Shanghai..

A conversation ensues, in which he discusses his options with the nun who serves as his assistant:

The nun ancourages him to consider the Shanghai option..

That option has a certain seductive charm — following that scarlet thread.. but it represents being “bought off” rather than sticking by one’s guns come what may, and somehow weathering the consequences.

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Our nun reflects:

And that’s an interesting idea.

At first glace it seems fatalistic — but that current moving the corks — the seminarians, the nun herself, the priest she serves, an ambitious president of the Franch bishops, various monsignori and a pope – maybe Christ, too? — has its own flows and undertows — a priest’s flaws included. It’s a complex system.

The corks are afloat in a complex system. A scarlet thread traces its curve in the complex system, from contemporary France to eighth- century China.

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And when you’re afloat in a complex system — as we all are — “go with the flow” may be sound advice. That’s why the “corks in a current” idea seems so interesting to me. Sunday surprise!

Surveillance

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — gift horse, Trojan horse, back door — take your pick ]
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DoubleQuote!

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Liz Sly, reporting from Beirut:

U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging

An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.

Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. [..]

In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around. [..]

The Pentagon has encouraged the use of Fitbits among military personnel and in 2013 distributed 2,500 of them as part of a pilot program to battle obesity.

Unanticipated consequences..

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Amira El Masait, from Rabat:

After Building New AU Headquarters, China Spies on Addis Ababa Facility By Amira El Masaiti

In 2012, the Chinese government “graciously offered” African States a gift and constructed the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The act of soft diplomacy proved to be a rather self-serving maneuver to spy on the activities and discussions being conducted by leaders of the exclusive continental group.

In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

The glass tower $200 million complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

Shoulda looked that gift horse in the mouth..

“Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.

But at least, “The Chinese have nothing to listen to. They have never colonized us. They have supported the struggles of independence on the continent and help us economically today,” an AU official told Le Monde anonymously.

Another official believes that, “They are not alone.” In fact, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British intelligence agencies (GCHQ) have had their share of surveillance on the AU building, according to documents which were extracted by Le Monde, in collaboration with The Intercept.

Aaah!

T. Greer on the Geopolitics of Rising India

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Friend of zenpundit.com, T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage had an outstanding post on the implications of Indian power relative to an increasingly aggressive China. It’s one of the better pieces I have read on the topic in some time.

Leveraging Indian Power The Right Way

Now that the affair in Doklam has come to a close, analysts of various stripes are trying to make sense of what happened and what lessons can be learned from the episode. One of the smartest of these write ups was written by Oriana Skylar Mastro and Arzan Tarapore for War on the Rocks. They’ve titled their piece “Countering Chinese Coercion: The Case of Doklam,” and as their title suggests, Dr. Mastro and Mr. Tarapore believe the strategy employed by the Indians in Dolkam can be generalized and should be deployed to defend against Chinese coercion in other domains. They make this case well. I agree with their central arguments, and urge you to read the entire thing without regret.

However, there is one paragraph in their analysis that I take issue with. It is really quite peripheral to their main point, but as it is a concise statement of beliefs widely held, it is a good starting point for this discussion:

Over the longer term, India should be wary of learning the wrong lessons from the crisis. As one of us has recently written, India has long been preoccupied with the threat of Chinese (and Pakistani) aggression on their common land border. The Doklam standoff may be remembered as even more reason for India to pour more resources into defending its land borders, at the expense of building capabilities and influence in the wider Indian Ocean region. That would only play into China’s hands. Renewed Indian concerns about its land borders will only retard its emergence as an assertive and influential regional power. [1]

From the perspective of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the other redoubts of freedom that string the edges of the Pacific rim, the rise of the Indian republic is a positive good. We should do all we can to aid this rise. Here both the demands of moral duty and the exacting claims of realpolitik align.

I’ve phrased these ideas with more strength and moral clarity than the dry and jargon laden language of professional policy normally allows, but the sentiment expressed hits close to how most D.C. politicos think about the matter. The rightness of a rising India is a bipartisan consensus. Far less thought is given to what shape that rise should take. This is not something we should be neutral on. The contours of India’s rise matter a lot—not only for them, but for us, and ultimately, for all who will inherit the world we will together build. It might seem a bit grandiose to claim that the future of Asian liberty depends on the procurement policies of India’s Ministry of Defence… but this is exactly what I am going to try and convince you of.   

Read the rest here.

Greer gives very pragmatic advice to American policymakers courting India as to reasonable expectations and to the Indian defense establishment as to where Indian defense dollars would give PLA generals the greatest fits. This is sensible as both groups are likely to overreach: America too quickly pressing India for defense commitments it can neither afford nor politically digest and India seeking a naval contest with China for nationalist prestige at the expense of other critical defense needs.

China will build its own cordon sanitaire against itself by the relentless bullying and interference in the internal affairs of all its major neighbors in the Pacific Rim, friendless other than for two rogue state clients, Pakistan and North Korea and impoverished Cambodia. Our job is to assist China’s neighbors, including great powers India and Japan, in accelerating their acquisition of the military capacity to resist Beijing’s coercion; if it is less than an East Asian NATO, that’s fine. What matters is a robust counterbalance that has to be reckoned with in Beijing’s calculus.


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