The Life of Xi, World’s Most Underrated Country & Who Wants Self-Driving Cars the Most

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we majored in mathematics in college. One upper division class we took in our junior year focused on complex numbers. We were in a haze all semester unable to grasp the concepts, but we dutifully crunched our equations and got an A nonetheless, making us suspicious of good grades ever since. We were reminded of this when reading the article, The Peculiar Math that Could Underlie the Laws of Nature. It features the mathematician Cohl Furey who does understand complex numbers and uses them to explain fundamental forces of the universe. But Cohl Furey, it turns out, is also a fan of New Orleans, which in an alternate, more sane universe, (one explained by complex numbers apparently) would be at its center. Like many trailblazers, Furey’s theories were disbelieved at first but “she told a colleague that if she didn’t find work in academia she planned to take her accordion to New Orleans and busk on the streets to support her physics habit.” We still don’t understand complex numbers but we do understand New Orleans. So even as we explore the Life of Xi, identify the world’s most underrated country and determine who wants self-driving cars the most, we present the video below in honor of Furey’s work to understand the laws of nature. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the string theory of international news and data, but more understandable.

The Honeypots, Latin Girls, 9th Ward Fest

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Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

The Life of Xi

China is changing profoundly under President Xi Jinping. As we have noted in this space, Xi is more assertive on the world stage, inaugurated the ambitious One Belt One Road Initiative, has instituted a corruption crackdown (your definition of “corruption” may vary) and has introduced far more censorship into Chinese society, especially on the Internet. And, of course, President Xi has taken a more central role in governance, including eliminating the two term presidential limit. And now comes data that Xi receives more mentions in the People’s Daily (the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party) than any Chinese leader since Mao. As you see in the graph below provided by China data tweeter Air Moving Device, “Comparing Xi to previous Chinese leaders in terms of People’s Daily front-page mentions, Xi is close to being mentioned every single day, which is Mao’s record during the Cultural Revolution.” Of course, who knows if Xi will maintain this rate of mentions for as long as Mao did or if Xi will march down the dark roads Mao trod, or one hopes, instead hike up sunnier, more beneficial paths.

The World’s Most Underrated Country?

Ethiopia is bucking troubling world trends and in doing so is sneakily competing for the title of world’s most underrated country. It has been the fastest growing economy in Africa for the last ten years, is the 12th largest country by population and has young demographics (40 percent of the population is under the age of 14), which is important for continued GDP growth and innovation. And in the last two weeks not only has Ethiopia formally ended hostilities with its former combatant, Eritrea, but this week Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has called for the country to become a multi-party democracy. Reuters reports that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff tweeted, “PM Abiy concluded: Given our current politics, there is no option except pursuing a multiparty democracy supported by strong institutions that respect human rights and rule of law.” The PM’s party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (always be suspicious of parties that combine the words “people, revolutionary and democratic”), has maintained power since 1991. But the winds are a changing and Ethiopia could become Africa’s first economic Lion similar to the tigers that once rose out of Asia. Our fingers are crossed.

Who Wants Self-Driving Cars the Most?

We have long asserted that because of regulatory and cultural factors, self-driving cars are likely to first take off commercially in countries other than the United States.A new survey by Ipsos buttresses our assertion. IPSOS surveyed 21,000 people across 28 countries and found that the United States came in 18th among country populations who “would own a self-driving car as their main form of use.” Malaysia came in first, followed by Peru, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. In fact, developing countries favored the use of self-driving cars far more than developed countries, perhaps reflecting their worse traffic and unfamiliarity with Uber (We joke! Kind of). Among those countries’ populations who “would not use a self-driving car,” Germany tops the list, followed by Great Britain, Canada, France and the United States. If we are to guess, we predict self-driving cars will first become ubiquitous commercially in Singapore, followed by China.

Update: Waymo and Walmart aim to prove us wrong

Solar in India, Doctors and Truck Drivers and Who is Most Inclusive

Memory is a funny thing. It is remarkably unreliable. We have a memory that we once met one of the Russian interpreters for Mikhail Gorbachev but for the life of us we don’t remember the circumstances. We think it may have been on one of our business trips to Russia many years ago. We are fairly certain the interpreter worked the Reykjavik Summit for Gorbachev when he and Reagan agreed to radically reduce nuclear armaments, but we have no memory of any stories the interpreter told us of Reykjavik, or anything else for that matter. This seems odd and makes us question whether we really did meet this person. There have been many studies that show eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. But so often we take eyewitness testimony as gospel. If I ever testify in a trial, don’t believe me, or at least verify what I say. It’s like the lyric from the song, Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues: “Don’t believe anyone and most of all don’t believe me.” What you can believe, however, is how coal has been hit in the Solar Plexus in India, AI medical progress in China and the surprising news about which countries are most inclusive. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, hoping to someday meet and talk with one of the two interpreters who worked the Helsinki summit.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Coal Hit in the India Solar Plexus

Since practically the inception of INTN, we have pointed out the Moore’s Law-like increase of solar power generation. New data from India shows this trend continuing. You’ll notice in the chart below that solar generation nearly doubled from 2016 to 2018 (there was a blip reversal from 2014 to 2015).  You’ll also note that the generation of new coal plants are falling off a cliff. That’s because, as James Wimberely points out, “new solar can beat existing coal on price by 20%.” Even more important for the future, gains in storage efficiency and price continue to make remarkable progress: “With the rate of decline in battery prices, they will be competing directly with peakers [INTN: power plants for peak demand times] in a few years and beating them consistently by the mid-2020s. The energy revolution is in full swing even if not everyone is recognizing it.

Doctors and Truck Drivers?

There is much fear mongering about China. China’s closed markets are a concern, as are its continued and deepening censorship. But fears of China’s rapidly developing AI capability are misplaced. The world’s economy is a bakery not the standard metaphorical pie. When China, or any other country, develops new technology it will benefit the world, not just themselves. We are not competing over finite slices of pie–the more bakers the more treats. Case in point is the joint ventureof a Singaporean tech company, Hanalytics, and China’s prestigious Tiantan Hospital that has developed a medical AI dubbed Biomind. “After months of deep learning, the machine was ready for a competition against 25 experienced doctors at Beijing’s China National Convention Center testing their ability to analyze images of the brain.” Spoiler alert, Biomind won. Quite easily. Biomind and the doctors competed both on detecting brain tumors in brain images and on images related to strokes. “When the results came in, Biomind beat the doctors squarely in both rounds. In round one, it correctly answered 87% of the questions, versus 66% for the doctors. In round two, it won by 83% to 63%.” The machines will only get better, more adaptable and able to do more medical procedures. Humans? We’ll still be running the medical equivalent of four minute miles. This will be a challenge for human employment but that would be the case whether AI is developed in China, the U.S. or Burkina Faso.

Who is Most Inclusive?

Immigration and border disputes around the world are illustrative of our seemingly divisive age. But even in today’s climate, some countries are more inclusive than others. It won’t surprise you that according to an annual IPSOS Global Advisor survey, Canada is the most inclusive country in the world. But you may be surprised, given recent developments, to see the United States ranked second. In fact, on the question on how accepting people are for naturalized citizens, the U.S. tops the rankings. The IPSOS index scores countries on inclusiveness “reflecting social acceptance of diversity as it applies to religion, immigration, sexual orientation and gender identity, political views, and criminal background.” They surveyed 20,000 people in 27 countries. Of these 27, and we’re not sure how they picked these three cubed number of countries, Saudi Arabia came in last, just behind Malaysia and Serbia.

Mexico, Lead and Violence, Boxing Office China, Where is the Corruption

We traveled on business to Eastern Washington state earlier this week. Because the area is sparsely populated, when we finished our dinner meeting we drove outside the small town to gaze at the star-lit sky, something usually obscured in city-lit Seattle. But nature, ever mysterious, hid the stars with a layer of clouds. It was a windy night and we patiently waited for the sky to reveal itself. Of course, nature is full of revelations, three of which we discovered over the last week when we learned spiders can flyants pass the mirror test and Panamanian monkeys can use tools. Wait, spiders can fly?!!! Yes, arachnophobes out there, spiders use the positively charged atmosphere and their negatively charged webs to fling themselves into the air, often traveling miles at a time. Are you frightened? Not nearly enough. And, yes, ants are one of only nine known animal species that recognize themselves in a mirror. And Panamanian monkeys have recently been discovered to use stones to smash nut shells. No word on whether an obelisk has been discovered in that part of Panama. So while humans distract themselves with short-term, inane distractions, political, cultural and otherwise, remember there’s a whole universe out there waiting to be understood better. And in that manner, as we await a break in the clouds, we present the real reason for Mexico’s elevated violence, insights from China’s box office, and where in the world there’s the most corruption.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, closing our agape mouth whenever we are outside now that we know spiders can fly.

Spiders Spin Balloons to Fly Away | National Geographic

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Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Mexico, Lead and Violence

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a relatively easy election for president in Mexico a few weeks ago. Mexicans want change, including and especially because of the crime and violence in the country. In fact, in declaring victory election night, AMLO (as he is known, which is a strange acronym for a politician to adopt–“Am low”—granted that’s in English, but still), said, “We are absolutely certain that this evil [corruption] is the principle cause of social inequality and of economic inequality,” he said. “Because of corruption, violence has erupted in our country.” We take no position on whether AMLO (it is easier to type than his full name!) will be a good or bad president, but in regards to crime we again remind ourselves of the role lead plays in the rise and fall of crime. Our go-to person on this is Kevin Drum who recently wrote, “Mexico didn’t start to phase out leaded gasoline until 1990, and average blood lead levels were at or above 15 μg/dl until then, especially in rural areas… Mexico…had a generation of kids born as late as 2000 with BLLs this high. The fact that violence is endemic 18 years later is no big surprise. In another decade, things should be a lot better.” We predict a decade from now, when violent crime is way down in Mexico, there will be many claiming credit, including possibly AMLO, but not enough attention will be paid to the elimination of lead from the environment as the cause.

Boxing Office China

The cultural trends in movies used to be a good barometer for a country. That’s changed a bit with the explosion of other media, but two recent developments in China’s cinema are still worth taking note of and perhaps illustrative of its challenges as it continues to step up to the top rung of influential countries. Last week, Chinese authorities called for the capping of movie stars’ salaries“The salaries of on-screen performers should be capped at 40% of the total production costs, according to a joint notice from five government agencies. Leading actors should receive no more than 70% of total wages for the cast, according to the announcement, published in Xinhua.” The unintended consequences of this directive will be fascinating to watch play out: Scene 1: a fancy house with an actor lying by the pool. She gets off the phone with her agent who has negotiated a contract that works around the pay restrictions. And, cut. Scene 2: Male actor in the executive lounge at the airport preparing to fly outside of China for a role that pays more than the restriction allows. And cut. This new directive takes place at the same time that one of the most popular movies in China is a black comedy based on a true story of a leukemia patient smuggling cancer drugs from India into China. Such imported drugs were previously taxed at draconian levels. We expect most people, including officials, will miss the connection between these two China movie articles. Incentives/disincentives often are ignored in policy makers efforts to shape the world to their desires.

《我不是药神》Dying to Survive || 曝国际版预告 双面徐峥异国寻药 金钱欲望戏剧性彰显

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Where is the Corruption

We see corrupting influences every day, or at least they’re splashed across our screens. But what are the least and most corrupt countries? Transparency International’s recentlyreleased annual Corruptions Perception Index aims to provide the answers. The least corrupt countries last year were New Zealand, Denmark (also ranked the happiest country in the world—is there a correlation?), Finland, Norway and Switzerland. The most corrupt? You can probably guess the axis of the crooked: Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. The best performing region is Europe, the worst are Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It turns out a free press is important to shooing corruption away. According to the report, “Further analysis of the results indicates that countries with the least protection for press and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also tend to have the worst rates of corruption.” Support your local journalist and you will save money on bribes.