Archive for year: 2018

Accelerating into the Future, No Man is an Island and Our Favorite Story

A few years ago a friend of ours posted a video on Facebook of their then young daughter playing the drums. At one point, the delightfully cute girl does a complicated riff and then flashes a smile at her Dad holding the camera, pleased at pulling off the complicated percussion maneuver. We were reminded of this watching the viral video earlier this week of young miss Yoyoka Soma playing the drums to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.” Yoyoka, who was competing in the 2018 Hit Like a Girl contest, a percussion competition designed to encourage little, old and every other type of drummer girls. Yoyoka, as you see below, is a remarkable drummer, especially for an 8-year-old, but really she bangs the drums well for anyone of any age. John Bonham, the late Led Zeppelin drummer, is her idol. Yoyoka is already able to drum like Bonham, seems to be much better emotionally, and is on her way to becoming a worldwide sensation despite the fact she did not win the contest (??!!!!–hard to imagine someone better than her). The future is in good hands, or at least the future of drumming. Meanwhile, Yoyoka’s crazy good riffs inspire us to examine how the U.S. has created a time machine to the future for China, worry over Saudi Arabia’s hate canal, and present you with our favorite story of the year. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, deciding international cases of international information and data with Solomonic-like judgment.

『Hit Like A Girl Contest 2018』Good Times Bad Times – LED ZEPPELIN / Cover by Yoyoka , 8 year old drummer

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In honor of America’s Independence Day Celebration, INTN will be off next week marinating a variety of international data to throw on the grill and shooting off fireworks of international information that will land on your laps on July 12th. Be prepared for the international BBQ of your life. 

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

Accelerating Into the Future

Many have forecast that as the 20th was the American Century, the 21st is likely to be the Chinese Century. Although we are nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st (yikes, how did that happen?), most felt China would not solidify its leadership until perhaps the 2040s or 2050s. But the current U.S. president’s actions to upturn the global order are accelerating us into the future Marty McFly-like (with hair eerily similar to Doc Brown’s). We have new evidence of the China Power Acceleration (CPA). According to the South China Morning Post, “China and the European Union will set up a working group to revamp the World Trade Organisation to counter US unilateralism.”  Whether this working group can be successful, given the EU has the same concerns about China’s protectionism and closed markets as the U.S. does, is an open question. But the fact that the EU and China are trying is remarkable and would have been unthinkable before the U.S.’s recent trade skirmishes with both regions. Meanwhile, a retired major general in the Chinese army during a panel discussion on the South China Sea called for a rewriting of the international based order to accommodate China’s growth. The article says the Major General claimed “the shortcomings of the rules-based order was they either had limited capacity to accommodate China’s growth or China’s rapid rise meant it had outgrown the rules.” She went on to say, “We and other players have to think of a way to fix this rules-based order to update it.” And finally, in a major foreign policy speech, President Xi said China will “advance power diplomacy” on its own terms.  Like continental drift or losing a sock in the laundry, China’s ascent was inevitable. But U.S. political and policy chaos is an earthquake or dropped laundry basket accelerating it.

No Man is an Island, but a Country?

You may remember that Saudi Arabia has been in a simmering conflict with its neighbor Qatar the past year over a number of issues. That has been covered in the news numerous times. But you may not know that Saudi Arabia is so upset it has plans, in fact is taking bids from private companies, to build a canal on its 38-mile border with Qater and turn the isthmus into an island. According to Business Insider, “reports indicate five international companies have been invited to bid for the project, called the “Salwa Channel,” with a deadline set for Monday. Sources told Makkah, a Saudi Arabian newspaper, that Saudi authorities will announce the winner of the contract deal within 90 days, and hope to complete the canal by the end of the year.” That’s definitely upping, or rather uprooting, the stakes of the Saudi cold war with Qatar. Perhaps more alarming, the Makkah newspaper further reports that “part of the canal would also be converted into a military base and a nuclear waste burial site.” Saudi Arabia is literally trying to turn Qatar into an island with a moat of nuclear waste. Stay tuned.

Our favorite Story Yet: Angry Tea Table Flipping Contest

In an age of anger and outrage, at a time when it is easy to feel helpless and alone, leave it to Japan—the most unique culture in the world—to provide the perfect anecdote. Last week, you see, was the 12th Annual Angry Tea Table Flipping Contest. And yes we are ashamed it took us a dozen years to discover this contest in which “participants must shout a phrase of anger, frustration, passion, or hope, while upending a small table and sending it flying.” How does it work specifically, you ask?  According to Sora News 24, “An elderly woman in cooking garb is seated next to the contestant and when she touches their shoulder and gently asks them to ‘stop,’ that’s their cue to flip out both figuratively and literally.” That is, they flip the small tea table which holds various items, including a plastic fish. Winners are determined both on style points and the distance the plastic fish travels in the air. And what are the participants to shout before flipping the table? “Participants can shout about whatever their hearts desire. Rages this year included a man addressing all women with a ‘What’s wrong with me?!’ On the other hand, affirmations such as ‘I want a job offer’ or ‘I deserve a raise’ could also be heard.” We feel that if this contest was made mandatory worldwide, 73 percent of the problems plaguing this orbiting globe would be solved.

心の叫びで「サンマ」飛ばす 岩手でちゃぶ台返し大会

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All the Beer in India, The Separation, TV vs. Internet

We realize we live in an age where people, including presidents, assert up is down, down is up and cages are chain-linked fences, but nonetheless we rage, rage against the dying of the light of truth, as Dylan Thomas’ ne’er-do-well cousin might write. While stuck in Seattle’s increasingly bad traffic (this is a fact), we listened to someone on the radio discussing Seattle’s expanding homeless problem (also a fact though what to do about homelessness is more complicated) note that the homelessness problem is leading to an increase in crime (not a fact). The news media continues to cover crime like it’s a crisis. But as Kevin Drum points out, it’snot. Crime rates in Seattle, and just about everywhere, are down. Murder, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts and arson are all down from past years. Way down from ten years ago and way, way down (excuse the technical statistics term) from twenty and thirty years ago. Seattle, the United States, much of the world, is far more safe than in the past. And yet we act and talk as if it’s the opposite. Certainly the U.S. president does so for political reasons, it’s advantageous to him if we are scared. What’s the rest of our excuse? As we walk in the park late at night, fearless and confident, we examine all the beer in India, worry about the great separation in China and consider TV versus the Internet. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, avoiding baseball mascots so we can safely bring you news of the world.

*Note we have late breaking news that we could not fit into this week’s edition, but look for our favorite story of the year next week. 

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

All the Beer in India

We are not as worried about climate change as some people. Not because we don’t think it is happening or because we are unconcerned about its effects but because we observe increasing evidence we are going to solve this large problem. Case in point, Anheuser-Busch is starting to brew its beer in India using solar power. According to Quartz, “Anheuser-Busch’s Mysuru plant that brews Budweiser beer will soon be powered up to 80% by solar energy, making it the company’s third facility globally to run on renewable power.” In fact, the world’s largest brewer said late last year that by 2025 it plans to produce all of its beer using solar power. Now if they could only brew beer that’s worth drinking. The point is, of course, that no matter how the U.S. government or other government’s change policy, in the mid-term technology is making renewable energy more affordable than polluting energies. Industry will gravitate to these sources. Now the mid-term may be too long to prevent some of the effects of climate change gas emissions. Ice is already melting rapidly in Antarctica, for example, which will lead to seas rising sooner than anticipated. People are right to be alarmed at the specter of climate change. And we’re worried too but heartened that Canadian scientists have developed a technology that allows them to capture carbon at a cost of $94 per ton (time to impose tariffs on Canadian scientists). At that price they use the captured carbon to produce fuel at $1 per liter, according to the research published in the scientific journal Joule. Climate change is real, its effect possibly devastating, but there are solutions on the way. We don’t advocate complacency but we keep at least one eye on other worries for which there are not yet solutions coming down the pike.

The Separation

China is an amazing place and it deserves praise and notice for its economic development that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty the last thirty years. But China also has  faults and challenges and one that is not receiving enough attention is its treatment of Muslims. A scary and sobering post in The Interpreter, a publication of the Australian Lowry Institute, details the apparent building of concentration camps for Muslim minorities throughout the far west of China. The article claims “recent research by a handful of academics and journalists has meticulously documented the construction of a vast network of “collective re-education centres” across Xinjiang.” The article cites a variety of other research documenting the camps and the abuse of Muslims. We now have a handful of accounts about life inside Xinjiang’s secretive gulag, where detainees are subjected to around-the-clock political indoctrination and forced to denounce their culture and religion. Omir Bekali was detained without a legal warrant and held for eight months in a squalid, overcrowded camp in Karamay. After his release, he told AP News that he was placed in solitary confinement, physically tortured, and deprived food.” This is not something we have tracked very closely–there is limited attention spans for outrages and more than enough outrageous behavior to go around, but this one deserves more of our attention.

Internet vs. TV: The Media Medium Cage Match

We end on a slightly lighter note. Or do we? It depends on your view of TV and the Internet, I suppose. According to the media agency, Zenith, which tracks these things, next year for the first time the world will spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. Personally, we’ve been doing that for years, though sometimes we do both at the same time, especially when watching sporting events. So the world is catching up with us. “People will spend an average of 170.6 minutes a day, or nearly three hours, using the internet for things like shopping, browsing social media, chatting with friends, and streaming music and video in 2019, a recent report by media agency Zenith estimated. That’s a tad more than the 170.3 minutes they’re expected to spend watching TV.” The Internet already rules over what once was derided as the Idiot Box (and yet the reverse Flynn Effect–IQ scores going down–didn’t occur in the age of television but only now in the Internet age)  in Asia and the Middle East but still lags far behind in Latin America and Western Europe. Europeans and Latinos clearly need to watch more cat videos. 

North Korean Three, More on Wealth, Buy Me a Beer

One of the amusements of watching the recently ended NBA basketball playoffs was the theatrical denials by players when they are called for a foul. They roared in disbelief, stomped around the court, screamed at the officials as if they had been betrayed by their very kin. But when replays are showed, nine times out of ten, not only did the player indeed commit the foul, they hit the opponent so hard it would not have been surprising to see them charged with a crime, much less a foul. It appears this NBA grandstanding with referees migrated from soccer, or football as it’s known outside of America. The World Cup begins next week and we will similarly see players emote like a community theater actor hamming it up on stage in Duluth. Unfortunately, politics has also adopted such tactics. No matter how hard we may have struck some entity across the arm, our politicians will deny it. In fact, they are likely to say not only did they not foul, they actually were massaging the arm to make it feel better (or maybe they were accused of an unwanted massage of the arm, in which case they deny the arm ever existed in the first place). For the moment, we ignore the politicians and athlete actors and instead describe our North Korean Three, further investigate where wealth is traveling to and point out the most expensive places for a beer.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, refereeing a world of information and data and preparing for your instant replay reviews.

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

Our North Korean Three

We try to tackle important issues, events and data that are not covered in the news so we’ll leave it to others to pontificate on the significance, if any, of the Trump-Kim meeting. But there are a few things that continue to go unnoticed or are under appreciated in this whole wacky game theory geopolitical derby on the Korean Peninsula.  1) There is still not enough attention paid to the real economic reforms Kim Jong-Un is instituting in North Korea. Since taking power, Kim has allowed far more private enterprise than any of his predecessors. It’s mostly an underground economy but Kim has not tried to dig it out; in fact, he appears to be fertilizing and tilling it. 2) Yes, China borders North Korea, but so too does Russia, albeit a much shorter border than China’s, but still one with strategic resonance. There has been lots of focus on what China wants with regards to North Korea, but given the current U.S. President’s Madam Bovary-like relationship with Russia, there should also be a focus on what Russia wants to happen in Korea. 3) In the absence of humans, strange things happen. The DMZ is a mostly No Human Zone (NHZ?)  which has led to a flourishing of flora and fauna. According to the Smithsonian, “5097 animal and plant species have been identified in the area, including 106 that are labeled as endangered or protected.” In fact, there have been unconfirmed reports of sightings of the endangered Siberian Tiger (crossing over that Russian border?) and the Amur leopard. Nature, like economies and politics, is chaotic (mathematically speaking). A strip of uninhabited land led to unexpected results. What will nascent, delicate economic reforms and Russian interests lead to?

More on the Wealth of Nations

Follow the money they say, which is one reason we are so obsessed with AfrAsia Bank’s annual Global Wealth Migration Review. Last week we examined the haves and have nots. This week we look at where the money’s moving.  Which countries are seeing the largest outflows of wealth? China, India, Turkey and the UK top the list of countries from which the wealthy are fleeing. Perhaps Brexit is having an impact on where rich Brits want to live? There’s certainly been lots of reasons to exit Turkey the last year. China and India, which lead the list of countries from which wealth is fleeing, are a little more complicated. The report argues that outflow from these countries is not a big deal because “they are still producing far more new wealthy people than they are losing.”  Perhaps, but we raise our poor eyebrows a bit when seeing such outflows.  The U.S., Canada and Australia are the top destinations for wealthy Chinese and Indians. These are all 2017 numbers. It will be interesting to see how developments this year affect 2018 outflows and destinations, if at all.

Buy Me a Beer

When we came across a list of the most expensive cities in the world to buy a beer, we were a bit chagrined to note that we had knocked down an ale, lager or stout in most of these places. Our pocketbook is a bit lighter because of it. Dubai leads the list, partly because you can only drink in Western style hotels and other designated areas. We’re a bit surprised to see Boston as the third-most expensive U.S. city for beer. But if you’re looking for inexpensive good beer, travel to Manila (just don’t get involved with the drug trade there), Prague, Johannesburg or Mexico City. The sights are good and the beer is cheap.


A Wealth of Information, World is a Drug and Cockroach Sushi

It’s the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. I’m neither an aficionado of Robert Kennedy (or any other Kennedy for that matter) nor a hater. But I did read this week a remembrance of Kennedy by Conor Friedersdorf, and like most articles about Kennedy this week, it was full of what ifs, as in what if someone had not shot and killed Kennedy in a hotel in Los Angeles the night of the California Primary. But that was not what struck me in reading the article. No, what was remarkable was how the many excerpts of Kennedy’s speeches sprinkled throughout Friederdorf’s long piece, show how much political discourse has degraded over the last fifty years. We are far dumber speakers than we were half a century ago. And I don’t merely refer to our current dumb discourser in chief. In a speech to a black audience the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (tough year that 1968), Kennedy quotes an ancient Greek poet: “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’” Can you imagine any politician quoting an ancient Greek poet today? Or using the elegant, literate language found in the other speech excerpts quoted in the article?  Never mind what side of the aisle you are on or what you believe about any particular issue. We have dumbed down our public discourse and we wonder whether that has led to many of our other problems. We talk dumb and so we act dumb. Or, is it the other way around? As we study up on poetry, ancient and modern, we present a wealth of information on wealth, contemplate who takes the most drugs, and write up the most distressing topic we have ever presented in this space.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, dreaming of Aeschylus as we serve up the international equivalent of limericks.

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

A Wealth of Information

The world continues to become more wealthy though perhaps it is not as evenly distributed as some would like. The annual AfrAsia Bank Global Wealth Migration Report shows that in the last year wealth grew 12 percent worldwide to US$215 trillion. India saw the fastest growth in wealth at 25 percent followed by Malta, China and Mauritius, of all places. According to the report, “Growth rates in Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, USA, Luxembourg and Switzerland were all assisted by the ongoing migration of wealthy people to these countries.” Who did the worst? Pakistan, Nigeria, Venezuela and Turkey lead that dubious list. The reasons for the poor performances differ with Venezuela due to the continuing meltdown of the economy and in Turkey due to a lack of investment over concerns about their political and media crackdown. Over the last decade, the top country for accumulating wealth is Vietnam. We visited there a number of times the last ten years and are not surprised by this young, dynamic country’s performance. The report is chock full of interesting and in some cases surprising information. So much so, that we’ll delve further into the report next week.

The World is a Drug

As we rode our bike for the first time since our multiple knee surgeries, we had to navigate around the shoals of drug dealers and users populating the Interurban Trail. They eyed us and others on the trail suspiciously as if we were trespassing on their land.  It was a bit disconcerting since in our current physical state neither flight or fight is a particularly good option. Of course, drug abuse is not just a problem in Seattle, or even in the United States. In fact, the population with the highest rate of abuse is in Russia. Ukraine and Belarus also have relatively high percentages of their populations abusing drugs and alcohol. So too does the rough and tumble Greenland (Clearly Trainspotting 3 should take place there). In Russia, alcohol is the predominant drug problem which we witnessed first-hand ten years ago while spending time in the Russian Far East seeing young men drinking from bottles of vodka at ten in the morning. Of course, as with many challenges in our world, it is men who rear their glazed-eye heads. As Our World in Data notes, “Substance use disorders are more common among men than women. This is true across all countries, as shown in the (second) chart below which plots the share of males with a substance use disorder versus the share of females.” What ails the men of the world, and is there a drug for it?

Chinese Cockroach Sushi*

There’s no doubt the world is in a foul mood these days with people plenty worried about the future. For some their visage is darkened by fears of climate change. Others worry about the possible arrival of our robotic overlords. Still others remain deeply concerned by the world’s apparent turn from liberal democracy to authoritarianism. But for us, nothing is more dystopian than cockroach sushi–which we’ve recently learned is a real thing in China. We vowed to start fasting when we read in the South China Morning Post of the rapid increase of cockroach farms and factories in China. “The number of cockroach farmers in Shandong alone has tripled to about 400 in the past three years, according to Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association and an entomology professor at Shandong Agricultural University.” Good God, there were already 133.3 cockroach farmers in China in 2015?!!! The article then goes on to describe a new facility where literally billions of cockroaches are born and bred, and it’s not a 1970s walk-up apartment on the lower eastside of Manhattan. In addition to eating the cockroaches, China is also using the insects to eat up the enormous amounts of food waste in the country. “Cockroaches devour virtually everything, and can consume food weighing up to 5 per cent of their own weight each day…There is no better way of processing kitchen waste than feeding it to cockroaches,” says cockroach researcher Li Yanrong. As we type, a new facility is being built that can breed 2 billion cockroaches each year, “powered by artificial intelligence and big data.” What could go wrong? This my friends, is dystopia.

*This is the most horrifying headline we’ve ever written


Charles Dickens in China, Korea’s Future Via East Germany and Heating the Planet

Our thumb is not green, it is not even chartreuse. But we are an admirer of dahlias and a friend of ours, who is a master dahlia grower, kindly provided us some plant shoots of our own this week. They have distinguished lineages, sort of like a race horse, making us nervous that if we mistreat them we will commit the equivalent of killing one of Secretariat’s foals. But plant them we did. Tenderly. Carefully. Following all directions. We were tempted to speak a few encouraging words to the plants but what little dignity we have reared its decorous head. So imagine our horror when the next morning the INTN spouse came in from our front yard and reported, “The dahlias look dead.” We quickly went to inspect them ourselves and they were indeed quite wilted, the dahlia equivalent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. We emailed our friend, the Dahlia Master, and she assured us they will be okay. So as we weed out a Charles Dickens story in China, water North Korea’s future with comparisons to East Germany, and fertilize global warming with air conditioning, we hope you will send nurturing thoughts for our three dahlias. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, a blooming garden of international information and data in a less than concrete world.

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

Charles Dickens in China

Whether you are a racist lawyer, violent cop or unruly sports fan, in our new recorded age, it is increasingly difficult to get away with bad behavior. China, of course, is taking it to a new level with their Social Credit System. You remember reading about it last year, right? How’s it coming? The state-run Global Times reports that since April, Chinese citizens have been blocked from taking 11 million flights and 4.25 million high speed rail trips due to miscreant behavior of one type or another. The nascent system is currently built on a series of black lists where unfortunate (or deserving) citizens find themselves punished for misbehavior such as acting badly on a train or flight (we have long advocated for replacing TSA security lines with clothing monitoring lines—you are not allowed to sit on an airplane seat if you are wearing pajamas, short shorts or a stained sweat suit, for example). Much of the Chinese focus is on debt. Debtors names are published on websites and not allowed to fly or stay at fancy hotels. One province goes one step further. They “play a recorded message when someone tries to call a blacklisted debtor, informing the caller that the person they want to speak with has outstanding debts. And in May, a short cartoon with the photographs of debtors’ faces began playing at movie theatres, on buses, and on public noticeboards with a voiceover that said: ‘Come, come, look at these [debtors]. It’s a person who borrows money and doesn’t pay it back.’” No word on what happens to provinces themselves that are in debt. In the meantime, we await China’s Dickens to chronicle their experiment.

Korea’s Future Via East Germany

In the fanciful game of diplomatic beer pong being played on and with the Korean Peninsula, it is anyone’s guess what happens. But should the two Koreas ever reunify, it is safe to say that many decades will pass before there is a true equilibrium. Germany has spent upwards of 1.7 trillion Euros on its reunification and yet economic, social and cultural differences remain between Western and Eastern parts of the ole Deutschland even 30 years later. Stubborn cultural differences are revealed in a new paper which shows East Germans are much less likely to invest in the stock market than West Germans, even when controlling for income and other factors. And when they do invest, they are more likely to hold stocks in companies in communist or former communist countries such as Russia, China and Vietnam. The paper’s authors note that this inclination is stronger in parts of East Germany that did not have access to Western media. The authors conjecture this is a result of ubiquitous and effective propaganda (see Soviet ad below) up through 1989. We are all hostage to our biases influenced by whatever environment we grew up in. It is a sobering thought which causes us to reach for our Weisen beer.

Heating the Planet by Cooling Off

We recently, when having our furnace replaced, had central air conditioning installed. It’s fantastic although our cat Willow who loved sitting on a vent when hot air blew out, was very confused, upset and startled to have cool air disturbing her ample and yet cute stomach. Areas of the world that most need air conditioning, however, are least likely to have access to it, as you can see in the chart below. India, Africa and parts of Asia usually do not have air conditioning. In fact, as Quartz notes, “328 million people living in the US consume more energy for cooling than the 4.4 billion people living in all of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia (excluding China) combined, according to the IEA report.” But as wealth grows, that will undoubtedly be one of the first things added to commercial and residential buildings, freaking out felines the world over. But that means electricity use will go up with corresponding increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Air conditioning needs to be installed in the developing world for health and productivity reasons. But so too do clean energy sources. Fortunately, those are coming along rapidly.


Coming to China, What are You Worried About and Chinese Nicknames

One semester at Willamette University–Harvard, Stanford and Yale alums feel foolish in the presence of Bearcats–we lived in the Canterbury Apartments. It was coincidentally the same semester we were taking Chaucer from one of our favorite professors, Kim Stafford. Kim had a way of pronouncing Middle English so that it was understandable. His voice was almost Jack Nicholson-like, as were the sharp bend of his eyebrows when reading one of Chaucer’s ribald tales. He made Chaucer as fun for us as it was for someone in 1455. When Stafford learned I lived in the Canterbury Apartments, he said we needed to hold class there while we read through the Canterbury Tales. I readily agreed and one afternoon the whole class squeezed into our apartment and drank Mead wine that Stafford brought (in today’s cuckoo, politically correct world a professor would probably be arrested for such transgressions but we figure the statute of limitations is up) and read through the MIller’s Prologue or some such tale. It was a great afternoon and a class full of learning and fun. So we learned with delight last week that Kim Stafford has just been named the Poet Laureate of Oregon. As we toast a glass of mead to Professor Stafford we speak in rhyme about  studying in China, keep a steady meter about what worries the world and make funny Chaucer-like puns about Chinese nicknames. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, making a pilgrimage through the Pardoners, Summoners, Reeves and Cooks who make our world so amusing, complicated and fascinating.

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

Coming to China

In our continuing effort to understand a world and future increasingly influenced by China, we educate ourselves on education. China now has more African students studying at its higher education institutions than any other country, including the former leader, France. The U.S., of course, has traditionally had more international students, whether from Africa or elsewhere, than any other country (the U.K. is second). That has helped project American culture and values into the world, as well as provided top international talent for the country. The U.S. still has the most international students though the numbers have flattened in the Trump era. China, not surprisingly for an emerging world power with grand ambitions, is hosting an increasing number of international students, from 291,000 in 2011 to nearly 500,000 today. China aims to increase that number even more for a variety of reasons, including growing future world leaders with ties to China. Says Wang Huiyao, director of an influential Chinese think tank, “There are more than 300 world leaders including presidents, prime ministers and ministers around the globe that graduated from US universities, but only a few foreign leaders that graduated from Chinese universities, so we still need to exercise effort to boost academic exchange and educate more political elites from other countries.” The coming decades will see a very different world under very different influences than today’s.

What Are You Worried About?

Are we on the right track or are we, as Dr. John rasped, in the right place at the wrong time? In a survey by IPSOS, which tracks views of people around the world monthly, only a few countries’ populations feel they are on the right track. China stands out as an outlier with 90 percent feeling things are headed in the right direction. Nearly 73 percent of Indians also have a good vibe of where things are heading. But almost all other countries are like Han Solo—they’ve got a bad feeling about this. In fact, only 40 percent of the world’s population thinks things are on the right track. The IPSOS survey also asks what are people’s top worries. This varies quite a bit from country to country. In Japan it’s inequality, in Turkey it’s terrorism and in Brazil it’s corruption. By the way, a PEW Global poll finds that nine of ten international scholars rate climate change as their top worry. That threat does not rate high among the average Joes, Wangs, Kims and Singhs of the world. Of course, this is why action confronting climate change proves elusive.

Pancake Emperor and Chinese Nicknames

We are a keen observer of the NBA playoffs which are pivoting to the Championship round as we write. Chinese are also great fans of the NBA (we were once stalked by hotel workers in Beijing bugging us for info after having lunch in the hotel restaurant with a former NBA player). So with delight we were pointed to a Deadspin article on the fantastic nicknames the Chinese have created for NBA players: “At their best, Chinese nicknames always seem to combine both affection and shade, producing monikers that both fans and haters can get behind.” Thus Charles Barkley is called a fat pig, but he’s a flying fat pig (飞猪)—high praise, since the character for “flying” normally is reserved for players who take their game above the rim.”  The article points out the visual nature of Chinese characters provides for clever puns and multiple meanings. For example, Lebron James, who travels a lot without being called for it, “is dubbed ‘Six-Step Bron’ (六步郎), using three characters that also sound like ‘LeBron.’ But our favorite is Stephen Curry, which unfortunately is not safe for work. You must click on the link for that glorious nickname and explanation when you get home tonight.

Moore No More, Transportation Speeds Ideas and Smiles Help the World

We recently stumbled upon the below video of the opening of Saturday Night Live’s first show after September 11th.  I hadn’t seen it in years. Context, the context of our times, deeply influences what we see. In 2001, I would not have noticed that every one of the firefighters and police officers surrounding then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was white and male. Today, it was one of the first things I noticed.* Shortly after watching the video we learned of the passing of Tom Wolfe, the most important writer of the last half of the 20th Century. He was an extraordinary writer and I enjoyed seeing him speak at an event in Washington, D.C. upon the publication of his influential article, Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast. What I most remember about the event is Wolfe’s brilliance and how during the audience Q&A, everyone prefaced their questions with poseur soliloquies to show how smart they were, unknowingly illustrating Wolfe’s theory that how people act is based mainly on their concern for their status. But, Wolfe, for as great a writer as he was, had a blind spot when it comes to issues of race, diminishing his importance this decade. The most important** American writers of the 21st Century so far are Andrew Sullivan and Ta Nehisi Coates. Note the adjective. Surely the most important writers of this century will be non-American, perhaps Chinese or Indian. So as we crack open our copy of Bonfire of the Vanities and discover what we notice today that we didn’t back then, we determine whether Moore’s Law still has the right stuff, examine the radical chic of high speed rail and mau mau who smiles the most. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, an international newsletter in full.

*Some would say my noticing is what is wrong with America today, others would ask what took us so long, therein one of America’s current ideological walls
**That we call a writer “important,” btw, does not mean we agree with or endorse all their ideas

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

Moore No More

Last year we discussed how Moore’s Law—the doubling of transistors on an integrated circuit occurs every two years—appeared to be over. Today we offer more evidence. Intel recently announced it is delaying mass production of its 10 nm processors until 2019. It has had problems over the last few years in producing the 10 nm processors. As you can see in the chart below, up until 2011, every two years there has been a doubling of transistors in Intel processors. And then….Moore no more. It’s easy in all the political chaff to miss the important stories of our world. If Moore’ Law is at an end, then many of the innovations we are eagerly anticipating—autonomous vehicles, more rigorous AI, and others—may not be coming as soon as people think, nor the associated worries of technology-induced job losses. Perhaps we will conquer this slow down in Moore’s Law through quantum computing or other technologies, and of course, there are other ways to improve computers besides shrinking transistors. Or, perhaps we are now in an era of technological stagnation. The answer to this question is far more impactful than just about anything you are seeing on the news or discussing at cocktail parties.

Transportation Speeds Ideas

Business Insider recently did a story on China’s high speed rail network, the largest in the world. The author “took China’s fastest “G” train from Beijing to the northwestern city of Xi’an, which cuts an 11-hour journey — roughly the distance between New York and Chicago — to 4.5 hours.” Here in Seattle, where we hang our soggy shingle, there is talk of creating a high speed rail line between both Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, Oregon. It won’t happen. To construct it is tragically expensive—it costs two to three times more to build such infrastructure in the U.S. than in Europe. It’s a shame since a new paper details how important fast transportation is to an economy and innovation. The paper by researchers at the National Bureau for Economic Research notes that “High skilled workers gain from face to face interactions. If the skilled can move at higher speeds, then knowledge diffusion and idea spillovers are likely to reach greater distances.” They used data from China’s high speed rail network and found that “bullet trains reduce cross-city travel times, thus reducing the cost of face to face interactions between skilled workers in different cities.” The study finds that the high speed rail network improved productivity in the connected cities. Alas, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, BC will just have to enjoy their current productivity.

Smile and the World Smiles With You, Except for…

Why not smile is REM’s saddest song. But who smiles the most? Better Business Worldwide attempts to answer this question with their annual Smiling Report. Or, at least it answers which countries’ customer relations personnel smile the most. Using data from participating mystery shopping companies—companies who send staff to stores under cover to assess customer service—the Smiling Report finds that the UK smiles the most with Greece, Puerto Rico and Russia just a lip behind. Which countries’ customer service representatives smile the least? Pakistan. We’re pretty sure Comcast and our health insurance company have outsourced their customer service to Pakistan. BTW, the first Smiling Report was conducted in 2004 and the world smiling average has dropped six points since that time. Is it a coincidence that social media has taken off since 2004? We will tweet and Facebook about that as soon as we wipe away our frown.

Russia House, Once in a Lifetime, Authoritarian Gridlock

We traveled to Boston last week which distracted us from making our usual International Need to Know rounds. We arrived on Beantown’s first day of nice weather after a long, cold winter. As our Lyft drove us from the airport to our hotel, taking us by the innumerable universities in the city, it seemed that nearly every Bostonian was basking in the first warmth of the year. We gazed out the car window seeing people biking, throwing a Frisbee, going for a run, rowing on the St. Charles River, or just generally lazing around outdoors. This is our favorite time of year as the weather brightens, baseball takes bloom and the NBA playoffs provide bountiful entertainment. Bike riding beckons (as soon as our knee cooperates), as does the spicy smell of the barbecue. It has been a long winter across much of America, and there was something invigorating, almost primal, in the celebration of its end in Boston. Our tolerance for the cold, dark months has weakened as we have grown older. And thus our plan when we retire, alas many years from now, is to live in that great northern Caribbean town of New Orleans during the winter months. As we await the backbeat of the tuba, the taste of the etouffe and the warmth of distinctive culture, we take you on a tour of Russian military spending, Saudi Arabia’s continued dependence on oil and authoritarian gridlock.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ing all the amazing and important international events of our times.

James Andrews – “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”

Watch the Video

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

Russia House

Russia is in the news a lot and at least in Western news sources, the coverage is not particularly positive (in Russia, of course, the news glows…like Chernobyl). Under Putin, Russia reasserts itself globally, whether invading Crimea, meddling in Syria or interfering in elections in Europe and America. But perhaps surprisingly, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russian military spending last year decreased by 20 percent  in real terms (accounting for inflation). That’s the first decrease in military spending since Putin first began striding the world as Russian leader bare chested in 1998. Certainly Russia’s economy and federal budget has been constrained in recent years by lower oil prices. But oil has increased in price the last 12 months so maybe Russian military spending will increase this year? Apparently not since Putin is concentrating on raising Russian living standards. Says Bloomberg, “President Vladimir Putin has also called for higher living standards and higher spending on social infrastructure, such as healthcare and education. Some government officials have called for lower military spending to free up funds for such initiatives.” So Russia has fallen to fourth in military spending behind Saudi Arabia. Speaking of which….


Once in a Lifetime 

Saudi Arabia is undeterred by lower oil prices as seen by its leapfrogging over Russia in military spending. What does this mean for Syria and other parts of the Middle East? Will Saudi Arabia play a larger role in world affairs and Russia a smaller one in the coming years?  A recent article points out that Saudi Arabia’s economy is still dependent on oil prices which they are actively trying to prop up. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the world’s biggest oil exporter will need crude prices to average almost $88 a barrel this year to balance its budget.” As we write, oil is currently $70 per barrel. We wrote two years ago that the long term price of oil will be low though there will be some mid-term upward fluctuations. The last year we have experienced that mid-term rise in price. Where will the oil price go within three years? Hint: we predict Saudi Arabia military spending will have to level off or decrease by then.

Authoritarian Gridlock

Much like music lovers and Kanye West, many have been questioning democracy in recent times. As we pointed out last year, democracy is not nearly as popular with millennials, who often see authoritarian rule as a viable alternative. And as the economist Tyler Cowen has pointed out, China’s three decade success has elevated the status of authoritarianism and diminished democracy’s. Many feel that authoritarian governments are more productive than gridlocked democracies. So we read with interest a recent paper that asserts authoritarian regimes suffer as much from legislative gridlock as democracies. The researchers studied China and found, “A unique data set from the Chinese case demonstrates that authoritarian regimes can have trouble passing laws and changing policies—48% of laws are not passed within the period specified in legislative plans, and about 12% of laws take more than 10 years to pass.” Perhaps freedom of speech and other democratic freedoms should be valued more than our post-modern world thinks.

EU and China, Insecure China’s Security, Taking China’s Measure

This week we present one of our periodic China editions–three stories focusing on that wonderful, ever changing, fantastically complicated, increasingly important giant of a country. But before we dive into China, we pause to admire the ever fascinating Japan. We’ve noted more than once that Japan has perhaps the most unique culture in the world which we both admire and at the same time recognize can be troublesome. But today we are in the marveling camp catching up on the recent Japanese foil polishing craze. It turns out a Japanese jeweler took a balled up piece of foil—yes the material you use to wrap up leftovers, barbecue corn on the cob, and if of a certain odd bent, use to make hats—and spent an inordinate amount of time polishing the foil to transform it into the shining ball of perfection you see in the before and after photos below. Apparently this led to innumerable Japanese also spending inordinate amounts of time doing the same thing and posting their photos to social media. We need to make this craze take off in Russia, a far better use of their time on social media platforms than what they are currently doing. As we hire Ukrainian programmers to make it happen, we examine the EU and China, analyze China’s fixation on security and enjoy their playfulness with data. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, wishing we were at the opening weekend of Jazz Fest even as we serve beignets of international information and data.

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

EU and China

Here in America people concentrate on U.S. disagreements with China and the tariff tit for tat. But the EU has its own concerns with China and not enough attention has been focused on those issues, including a recent report signed by 27 of 28 EU Ambassadors to China criticizing China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (guesses anyone on the lone EU holdout? Hungary, which perhaps not coincidentally has recently fallen out of bed with democracy). The report signed by the Ambassadors states the China initiative “runs counter to the EU agenda for liberalizing trade and pushes the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies.” Remember that One Belt One Road is China’s ambitious initiative to build up infrastructure, trade routes and relations through a sort of new Silk Road route, encompassing 65 countries. It is unclear how much China is really spending on the project and how ambitious it will end up being. But Europeans want a piece of the public projects that are up for grabs, they want their companies to have the chance to build the infrastructure envisioned in One Belt. Of all the things to complain about China, this would not be at the top of our list. However, the linked article also includes a fascinating quote by the CEO of Siemens, “China’s One Belt One Road will be the new World Trade Organization (WTO) whether we like it or not.” We wonder whether that is true and One Belt One Road will be every bit as successful as the WTO which is to say not very successful at all—but perhaps that’s not what the CEO of Siemens means? Nonetheless, as China continues to stride more strongly into the world, as an emerged power is apt to do, they are likely to find the world stage every bit as complicated to navigate as its many predecessors in history found it to be.

Insecure China’s Security

Even as China is more assertive outside its borders it is apparently more insecure within them. Or at least that’s one way to read its increasing control of the Internet, its crackdown on dissidents and its institution of facial and even gait recognition technology in its cities. Yes, you read that last item correctly. China has developed technology to identify you by the way you walk, even those more normal gaited than John Cleese. Or as writes, “The technology can also identify a person without their active cooperation. Even if they walk past the surveillance camera hiding their face, the gait recognition algorithm can still unveil their identity.” China is increasingly at the forefront of identity recognition technology, all used in the effort “to prevent crime.” Of course, such technology is also being developed in other countries, including in the U.S. The hubbub over Facebook last month elevated privacy issues. Essentially there is no privacy anymore. David Brin’s now twenty-year-old book The Transparent Society predicted and welcomed the coming lack of privacy. We feel we are walking–and the government will recognize our gait–into uncertain times.

Taking China’s Measure

As we have noted over the years, one of the big challenges with China is measuring it. Economic data in China is much like an old man recounting his youthful romantic exploits—he inevitably stretches the truth and obscures it at the same time. This week China began releasing monthly jobless numbers based on surveys, a data point most other countries provide but China has avoided. Previously China published a “quarterly registered jobless rate”, which like GDP numbers is strangely always the same. Or as the South China Morning Post wrote, “This was laid bare when exporters in the coastal areas were hit by the global financial crisis in 2008, and some 20 million migrant workers found themselves out of a job. The registered jobless rate stayed much the same because it does not include the country’s 270 million migrant workers.” Of course, the new jobless number—5.1 percent at the end of March—could also be manipulated and be eerily consistent through thick and thin of economic cycles.  Admire, for example, the graph below of China GDP since 2015. If your golf game was as consistent as those numbers, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth would bow down to you (Patrick Reed–winner of this year’s Masters–apparently would not). Presumably China’s leaders know the real numbers and maybe that’s all that is necessary. Of course, as we pointed out last year, satellite data seems to indicate China’s GDP is doing better than official numbers. Perhaps it would be to China’s advantage to be more transparent.

Globalization More Than Trade, Poor Venezuela, China Driving EV

Years ago we were traveling overseas, Asia perhaps, though we don’t remember exactly where. We were looking at some postcards, when such communication beasts still existed. We saw one with a naked large man sitting on an enormous turtle. We bought it with the idea of mailing it to two friends who worked in the White House for the First Lady, a sort of experiment on whether a postcard with a naked man sitting on a turtle would make it through the White House gates. It did. Our two friends, we were told later, were standing in their office, trying to decipher my handwriting on the postcard (I have the world’s worst handwriting–not third or fourth worst, but the actual worst in the world), and chuckling at my postcard when the First Lady walked in and asked what they were reading. They showed her, and she laughed. And if memory serves, commented on my horrible handwriting. We cannot claim many things in this world, but we can say that Barbara Bush laughed at our postcard. RIP Mrs. Bush while we show how globalization is more than trade, lament that everyone in Venezuela is poor and chart the rise of EVs. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, denying that we are Michael Cohen’s fourth client even as we undress all the secrets of our world.

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

Globalization is More than Trade

We noted two years ago that international trade no longer grows as fast as GDP around the world. That does not necessarily mean that globalization is slowing down. Case in point is that housing prices in cities around the world are increasingly synchronized, at least in the largest, most prominent ones. As the IMF puts it, “for home prices in London, check the Tokyo listings.” The IMF recently presented data that shows “In recent decades, house prices around the world have shown a growing tendency to move in the same direction at the same time.” The IMF’s explanation for this new phenomenon (one we’ve noticed anecdotally in our own town with more and more international buyers of houses here in Seattle) includes institutional investors active in major cities, wealthy individuals buying  houses around the world and coordinated economic growth. The IMF concludes, “All of this suggests that house prices are starting to behave more like the prices of financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, which are influenced by investors elsewhere in the world. In countries that are more open to global capital flows, prices of both homes and equities tend to be more synchronized with global markets.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, though one wonders if it is making life more difficult for those struggling to buy their first house. At any rate, globalization continues to envelop many things, including housing.

Everyone in Venezuela is Poor

It is easy to forget Venezuela in the midst of all the other tumult convulsing our world. But it’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time just how bad things have become there. Since 2014, a consortium of Venezuelan universities have conducted an annual survey of conditions on the ground in the country. This year’s, which came out a couple months ago, found that 9 out of 10 Venezuelans live in poverty. Nearly 60 percent live in extreme poverty.  In addition, the survey asked more than 6000 Venezuelans, “do you consider your family’s income enough to buy food to consume inside and outside the home?” The shocking answer is that 89.4 percent answered this question no. Buttressing this data is the fact that 64 percent of respondents reported losing an average of 22 pounds in the last year. And no, Venezuelan economic policies are not the answer to America’s obesity problem. Instead, Venezuela continues to offer stark warning lessons for other countries on how not to run a country.

China Driving EV

More cars are sold in China than in the U.S. nowadays, a consequence of China’s larger population and continued economic growth. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the country is also driving the sale of electric vehicles, especially since the government is pushing for EVs to alleviate the air pollution problem. Colin Mckerracher of Bloomberg quantified the EV market in a recent tweet storm (if only certain presidents used Twitter so productively).  The estimate is that 1.6 million EVs will be sold in 2018, and in China full-on electric car sales are pulling ahead of hybrids. McKerracher notes that “There are now 14 countries where EVs were above 1% of total vehicle sales. Still small, but most countries cross over 2% around a year after crossing 1%.” There are increasingly a diversity of EV cars to choose from as the second chart shows. This will likely also help increase sales of EVs, as people have more choice of what type of EV to buy. We expect the percentage of EVs on the road to increase exponentially as the technology matures.