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Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Is "Typhoid Mary" Back Among Us?

 Mary Mallon (1869-1938)

Mary Mallon, aka "Typhoid Mary,"  was an Irish-born cook and asymptomatic carrier of the typhoid virus who immigrated to the USA and worked for a number of affluent families in New York.  Wherever Mary worked an outbreak of typhoid fever followed.  She is believed to have contaminated 122 people, five of whom died.  Throughout her life, Mary denied that she was responsible for the contagion.  Her solution was to change employer frequently, eventually changing her name several times.  


Causes of typhoid fever

Typhoid fever is generally associated with drinking water contaminated with feces.   Mary was forcibly quarantined by the New York Health Department for two years and eleven months.  Her feces were repeatedly tested confirming the presence of typhoid.  The removal of her gallbladder would have prevented her from transmitting typhoid, but she refused the operation. She was released from confinement after signing an affidavit promising not to work as a cook and to practice good hygiene.  However, after two years working as a laundress, Mary changed her name and returned to her more lucrative employment as a cook.  Authorities were able to track her by following outbreaks of typhoid fever at various New York hotels and restaurants.  She was quarantined a second time in the Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island until her death, 23 years later, in 1938.

Washing hands in the Bible

Mary didn't believe in washing her hands.  She was a devoutly religious woman.  The Bible offers sacred precedence since it is widely recorded in the New Testament that Jesus and his disciples refused to wash their hands before eating

Is "Typhoid Mary" back among us?

Is "Typhoid Mary" back among us?  In a number of odd ways, she obviously is.  Literature about her case frequently suggests that she was treated unfairly.  She was the only individual in the USA ever incarcerated for having typhoid.  The closest legal comparison we have these days is the creation of laws for the criminalization of non-disclosure of AIDS.  In 2019, in Canada, "the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report on the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. [. . . .] The committee recommended that a new law be created specifically for the transmission of HIV."

For a significant cohort of Canadians, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, refusal to wash hands, social distance, wear a mask and ultimately be vaccinated constitute criminal behaviours, no less so than an AIDS carrier failing to inform a sex partner or Mary Mallon anonymously working as a cook with unwashed hands.

Comparisons of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers with "Typhoid Mary" and AIDS spreaders might seem hyperbolic to some.  However, given the scale and consequences of the Covid pandemic, the comparison is an understatement.  The consequences of an unprotected, asymptomatic Covid virus carrier moving through the community could very quickly dwarf the 122 diseases and five deaths caused by Mary Mallon or the handful of deaths and diseases caused by a narcissistic AIDS carrier.

Are the vaccinated and unvaccinated equally contagious?

Recently the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) published a report on the spread of Covid among people attending public gatherings in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, from July 3rd to 17th, 2021.  The executive summary of the one-page report states that "Cycle threshold values were similar among specimens from patients who were fully vaccinated and those who were not." This sentence was picked up by the media and widely interpreted as meaning that fully-vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals were equally contagious.  What the body of the report actually says is:

Although the assay used in this investigation was not validated to provide quantitative results, there was no significant difference between the Ct values of samples collected from breakthrough cases and the other cases. This might mean that the viral load of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 is also similar. However, microbiological studies are required to confirm these findings.

There are so many uncontrolled, unknown variables in these sentences, it is difficult to pin down a conclusive interpretation.  To keep it simple:  In the rare event of a breakthrough case in a vaccinated person, "This might mean that the viral load of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons infected with SARS-VoV-2 is also similar," through the media, became "the viral load was identically in vaccinated and unvaccinated people, therefore they are equally contagious."  And the Centre tasked with "controlling disease" unwittingly became a source for those refusing to be vaccinated.  

Ethics and values

In May 2019, I wrote, in Ethics by Numbers, that the "ethical dilemma" wasn't here yet, but it was before us.  The moment of the dilemma is now. We now have a solution to the pandemic:  vaccines.  How do we deal with individuals who refuse to be vaccinated?  Is the ethical choice egoism and what Ayn Rand called The Virtue of Selfishness, with individuals deciding for themselves what they consider best for themselves as individuals?  Or is it time to say that what is ethical is what is best for everyone, or at least for the greatest number?

In a New York Times editorial, "If You Skip the Vaccine, It Is My 'Damn Business'," Jamelle Bouie eventually comes to consider "the larger cultural and political context of the United States."  Bouie concludes:

When you structure a society so that every person must be an island, you cannot then blame people when inevitably they act as if they are. If we want a country that takes solidarity seriously, we will actually have to build one.

The contrast with American radical individualism is the draconian utilitarianism of communist China.  The world looked on in horror as images circulated of Chinese authorities in Wuhan welding shut the doors of people with Covid-19 in order to curtail the spread of the disease.  

Can the ethical dilemma be resolved?

This is the dilemma.  Do we embrace ethical egoism and American radical individualism, sacrificing the lives of millions, in the name of liberty, freedom, personal privacy and rights?  Or do we sacrifice individual liberty and human rights, in the name of saving lives and putting an end to a global pandemic?  This contrast does not offer a better, more moral choice, just a potentially lesser evil.  

Of course, the dilemma would disappear if we could depend on enlightened individuals to do what is right for themselves and everyone around them: masking, isolation and vaccination.  Yet, even as the pandemic has taken more than four million lives, individuals, through dissembling and denial, refuse vaccination, choosing to make themselves crucibles of the virus, allowing it to thrive and mutate, becoming more deadly and contagious for the rest of us.

Perhaps the citizens of New Hampshire offer guidance.  The state motto is "Live Free or Die."  So far, sixty percent of New Hampshire residents have been fully vaccinated.  Staying alive is a sane and healthy prerequisite of living free.

 

Monday, 5 July 2021

Virtues, Vices, and Values

A Charter of Values?

 In 2013, when the Parti Québécois government was proposing a “Charte des valeurs”  I reacted, on this blog, with "outrage, shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, fear."  Admittedly, by the time the  Coalition Avenir Québec introduced its  "Bill 21: An Act respecting the laicity of the State," a watered-down version of similar legislation, my reactions had mellowed.  (See The "We" Vote in Quebec.) Nonetheless, I remain distinctly uncomfortable whenever I hear a politician invoking "values" and, still worse, "our shared values."  We might expect the expression "our shared values" to be followed by a list of said values but it almost never is.  Upon hearing "our shared values," the white supremacist and the advocate of Black Lives Matter might both breathe a sigh of relief thinking "finally, one of us"--which explains politicians' love of this empty expression.

The Common Objects of a People's Love

In his inauguration speech, Joe Biden offered this list: "Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth."  But he didn't call them values.  Citing Saint Augustine, he referred to them as "the common objects" which define a multitude as a people, and this particular list as what defines Americans.  However, as some critics have pointed out, what Augustine was suggesting wasn't necessarily values or virtues.  



“If one should say, 'a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.” — St. Augustine, City of God 19.24


The objects of a people's love could equally well be venal, could be vices.  The USA may be the "land of opportunity," whose "military-industrial complex" ensures its security, and whose constitution guarantees its citizens the liberty to have guns but not necessarily abortions or to use the girls' washroom if your birth certificate says you're a boy, but I've never thought of dignity, respect, honor (except for the spelling) and truth as being distinctly American. 

Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues

The more I have reflected on this topic, the less certain I've felt about what counts as a value.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the vices or "deadly sins" are clear:  pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.  The "heavenly virtues"--prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity--are more ambiguous. We might like to imagine that virtues and vices are absolutes, but it seems obvious that the difference between them is one of degree.  Moderate degrees of the vices seem desirable, while exaggerations of the virtues are equally undesirable.

Values and Valour

Invariably, we imagine our values are virtues and, conversely, we are likely to imagine that other people's values seem like vices.  In truth, few of us ever have to discover what our values truly are or if we have any.  The word "values" shares its underlying root with "valour"; that is, not just worth but strength and courage.  Our values are the principles that we have the strength and courage to maintain under stress and to act upon.  Still, even the most valourous among us can find themselves in a conflict of values, a no-win, double-bind situation which is the defining characteristic of tragedy.  (See The Double-bind Theory of Tragedy and Madness.)

Obedience to Authority:  Virtue or Vice?

Anomie, the absence of values, has long been the claimed condition of privileged, modern societies.  I am mindful of social psychologist Stanley Milgram's infamous Yale "Obedience to Authority" experiments which revealed that 65% of the test subjects would torture a victim to death using electric shock simply because someone who appeared to be in authority told them to.  Obedience is, of course, the most taught and enforced value in education.

What Are Your Values?

The webpage What Are Your Values? provides a list of 150 potential values, including obedience.  Looking at this list and every other list I have considered, I come away wondering:  are these really values?  The webpage offers a soft definition of values as "the things you believe are important." Sex and money don't make anyone's list of values, but I've met a few people who seem to think they are important.



The Central Bank:  God or the Devil?

I was drawn to Mark Carney's Value(s), in the first place, because of the title and because he was Governor of the Bank of Canada and Governor of the Bank of England.  To conspiracy theorists like my friend Henry Makow and members of the Zeitgeist Movement (not to mention bitcoin fans and fanatics), central banks are the spawns of Satan.  Against this foil, it was striking to read Carney's passionate prescriptions and earnest defense of central banks and a "sound dollar."  His sententious, Polyanna proposals for a better world are occasionally ponderous and left me wondering: would fat cats on Wall Street and in the Federal Reserve give two seconds of consideration to what he is recommending?

What's Good for General Bullmoose . . .

In Values, Carney comes across as a nice guy determined to be nice to everyone, even  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and a member of the New York Federal Reserve Board.  However, in Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland reports on the animosity between Carney and Dimon which exploded at a meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington in 2011.  Freeland points out:

The battle between Carney and Dimon gets at a bigger and more contentious issue [than taxes and profits]:  Are the interests of the state and its big businesses synonymous?  If not, who decides? And if they do clash, does the state have the right--and the might--to curb specific businesses for the collective good?

As Freeland records, Dimon widely promulgated his position that the kinds of global banking regulations Carney was proposing were "anti-American." The Carney speeches Freeland quotes show that the genesis of Value(s):  Building a Better World for All is at least a decade old.  Carney himself traces its origins to his childhood in Canada.

Can values drive value?

Carney argues that:

Values and value are related but distinct. In the most general terms, values represent the principles or standards of behaviour; they are judgements of what is important in life. Examples include integrity, fairness, kindness, excellence, sustainability, passion and reason. Value is the regard that something is held to deserve – the importance, worth or usefulness of something. Both value and values are judgements. And therein lies the rub.

"Therein lies the rub" indeed.  Can we separate values and value, the dancer and the dance?  Or, on the other hand, are they in complete contradiction to one another?  Witness the paradox of The Antiques Roadshow.  An expert explains the values embued in an artifact, but the climax of every episode is the revelation of the dollar value of the object, which is based on the current market and only a tertiary result of beauty or craftsmanship, history or sentiment.

The fiat global reserve currency:  where's the trust, integrity and transparency?

Carney claims that the value of "fiat money is grounded in the values of trust, integrity and transparency." The US greenback, the fiat (non-gold/commodity-based) money that really counts because it is the "global reserve currency" and about which Carney has remarkably little to say, as we have seen, is backed by the threat of military intervention.  (See Petrodollar Warfare.)  Moreover, in recent years, as Kishore Mahbubani (Has China Won?) decries and Josh Rogin  (Chaos under Heaven) lauds, the US has been weaponizing the dollar. (See Analysing the Discourse on the USA-China Cold War.)  The US Federal Reserve was born in secrecy and, to this day, most people don't realize, as Carney confirms, that 80% of the money in the world is created by private banks.  (See The Truth About Money.)

How Many "values" are there?

Carney's orbit of values expands centrifugally to include, in his final chapters: "solidarity – fairness – responsibility – resilience – sustainability – dynamism, and – humility." Once again, I find myself questioning which, if any, of these stand as values.  Values are the principles we are prepared to uphold in the most challenging of times.  Logically, values spring from ethics.  The word "ethics" comes from "ethos," behaviour over time, often translated as "character," and contrasts with "pathos," the emotions of the moment.  In the end, I conclude "values" is a misnomer.  There is only one value: justice.  Those things we call "values" are details:  customs, habits, rituals, and allegories.  Justice must be based on ethics, and Kant's much-maligned "categorical imperative"--laws are moral if you accept them being applied to you--imperfect as it is, is as good an option as we have available to us.





Saturday, 3 July 2021

Traditional Distinctions: Comedy versus Tragedy

 Traditional Distinctions: Comedy versus Tragedy

elementstragedycomedy
reader responsestrong emotions: pity and fearlighthearted: laughter
reader distanceattraction aversion: close enough to feel pity but wanting to escape from fear, terrorironic or comic distance, we cannot be too close or sympathize too much with the "victim" of a comedy
reader focuson an individual, we are inside the hero's head, emotions, dilemma; often sense the entire play is about this individualon a collective, on a group of people therefore not a strong concern about a single individual, more on relationships between people than the inner life of a single character
plotunified,strong sense of coherence and cohesion of events, serious, 24 hours, imitation(mimesis) of reality but with a "beginning, middle and end"; sense of individual quest, typical plot is a character against fate or destiny as determined either by the gods or society, often a double-bind situation where no positive result is possibleincongruity, wit, humour, repetition, exaggeration, error; accidents 
surprising, ridiculouos series of events; most typical plot of comedy is a young couple being blocked from each other by someone older
characterhero is a superior character, or what Frye calls high mimetic; important role in society, but also displays personal characteristics like courage, strength, determination, desire for truth, capacities for leadership or self expressioncharacters tend to be like us or below us, low mimetic or ironic in Frye's terms; inferior characters means that we do not take their destinies or behaviour too seriously
themes and issuesmost serious themes and abstract issues: future of the state, death of a king, taboos like incest and patricide/regicide; tied to gods, religion, justice, honour; transcendence and fate, existentialism, the meaning of life and the ultimate truth of our existencebawdy and body themes; body parts and body functions are at issue, sex and cuckoldry are common themes
language and imagerylanguage is of the highest level and tone to correspond to the most serious of themes and issue abstract issues: religion, the gods, honour, truth, justice, and seriousness of tone, regicide, incest, matricide, the future of the state language is expected to be of a lower register and we expect to hear about body parts and body functions therefore vulgar, vernacular, and colloquial
endingends in death, disaster, destruction of the central character and others; Frye observes that tragedy ends with the hero separated or alienated from his society--if he survivesa happy ending, or at least one in which people get what they deserve (as in "poetic justice"; Frye observes that in comedy the characters end up being brought closer to and into line with their society.

Friday, 4 June 2021

How Do You Steal an Intellectual Property?

Every Property Has a Price 

Whenever I think of "a property," I imagine a couple of wooded acres by a lake.  By definition, an "intellectual property" is a creation of the human mind.  Can a thought be a property?  According to Mark Carney in his tome, Values: "The value of intangible capital (like software and intellectual property) now dwarfs that of physical capital (like factories and real property)."  Value, as Carney reports disapprovingly,  in our capitalist, market-driven society comes down to price which, in turn, means money.

Dead Celebrities

Michael Jackson's net worth has increased dramatically since his death nine years ago.  Managing the finances of dead celebrities is a very lucrative business.  We might like to imagine when we hear the expression "intellectual property" that the artist, inventor or scientist is being protected and getting the full financial reward of her brilliant idea, but history shows this is seldom the case.  Michael Jackson may have enjoyed abundant financial reward for his work but, even in his case, when we look at whose brain created the "intellectual property" and whose bank account ended up with most of the money, they are rarely the same person.

Injustice or Asymmetry?

We might imagine that this financial "injustice" (more an incongruity or asymmetry, actually) is a modern malaise but it runs throughout history.  "Render unto Caesar what is Ceasar's, and unto God what is God's."  The people who make money are the people in the money-making business.  (See The Truth About Money.) The principle is as old as recorded human history, though it may have become exaggerated in recent times.

Shakespeare Never Gave up his Day Job

You might think that Shakespeare got rich from writing plays, but he made his money by being a stage manager, a part-time actor, a co-owner of the Globe Theatre, a share-holder in the theatre company, and from some shrewd real-estate investments.  (Shakespeare never gave up his "day jobs.")   John Heminges and Henry Condell made money on Shakespeare's plays by publishing the folio edition of the collected works, seven years after Shakespeare's death.  (That publication is why Shakespeare is so widely known and studied today.)

How Newton Made Money

The history of science, physics and mathematics was forever changed by the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, but Isaac Newton had been unable to have his manuscript published.  Edmund Hailey paid for the publication out of his own pocket and was never financially reimbursed.  The Royal Society, responsible for scientific publications, compensated Hailey with unsold copies of their recently published Encyclopedia of Fish.  Of course, Newton eventually made money.  He wasted a lot of time as an alchemist trying to turn lead into gold, then he became Master of the Royal Mint.  (There's a pun in there somewhere.)  His financial gain did not approach a nano of the value of his "intellectual property."

Insulin Then and Now

The Canadian doctor Frederick Banting and his colleagues sold the patent for insulin for $1.  In the USA today, a single vial of insulin costs between $175 and $300.  Research any major medical breakthrough you can think of; invariably, someone discovered something, and someone else made a lot of money from the discovery.  Some people are good at making things and some people are good at making money.  

Exceptions Which Prove the Rule

We are all aware of the apparent exceptions to the rule:  Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk.  In Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs is quoted describing Gates, disparagingly, as "a businessman."  In my reading of the same biography, I came away with the impression that Steve Wozniak was the creator of the "intellectual property" that became Apple.  Elon Musk may be the only true exception to prove the rule.  I wonder if it's prophetic that he named his company after Nikola Tesla the brilliant inventor who died in poverty.

Romantic Clichés

The romantic cliché of writers and painters living in poverty is so well established that we tend to view affluent artists with suspicion.  The general rule is that artists are either born with money, marry money, live in constant financial distress, or a roller-coaster combination of the three.  Even though what they produce might end up being worth millions.

Robber Barons or Patrons

When we talk about the theft of intellectual property, what exactly are we talking about?  My cynical self says we are talking about stealing money from the people who make money from somebody else's intellectual property, like robbing thieves.   This attitude is completely wrong.  Artists need patrons, supporters, gallerists, publicists, and publishers--someone who believes in their work.  Picasso had Gertrude Stein, van Gogh had his brother Theo, James Joyce had Harriet Shaw Weaver, Tom Wolfe had Maxwell Perkins.  Only the lucky few profit financially in their lifetimes.

Inventorship Versus Ownership

The point is a simple one and well established in copyright law:  inventorship (or authorship) isn't ownership.  Owners make money if there is money to be made.  Consider yourself lucky if someone thinks your "intellectual property" is worth owning.   You are among the very rare few if you are the author and the owner and manage to make money. 

Intellectual Property:  An Ostensive Definition

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy breaks down "intellectual property" into copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and trademarks.  The Encyclopedia solves the problem of stealing a thought by pointing out that "Typically, rights do not surround the abstract non-physical entity; rather, intellectual property rights surround the control of physical manifestations or expressions of ideas."

Furthermore:

[ . . .] rights only extend over the actual concrete expression and the derivatives of the expression—not to the abstract ideas themselves. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, as expressed in various articles and publications, is not protected under copyright law. Someone else may read these publications and express the theory in her own words and even receive a copyright for her particular expression. 

Copyright is probably the most familiar form of "intellectual property" and plagiarism is the commonly understood theft of a copyright. The "intellectual property" I am most familiar with--the 20-page, peer-reviewed article in an academic journal--tends to get lost in a grey, copyright wasteland. Researching online I once discovered work I had published advertised (falsely, I'm afraid) as "a top article in the field," then realized I would have to pay a subscription fee to a database company to access my own work. I, like most academics I imagine, don't give much thought to monetizing publications. Aside from tenure and promotion, the reward is just being read and the vague feeling of promulgating knowledge. Teachers, in general, freely share their "intellectual property" every working day of their careers.

Copyright and Plagiarism

Plagiarism in the arts and academia is a very challenging accusation to prove.  (Forgery is, of course, a very different crime.) Early in his career, Shakespeare was accused of plagiarism.  Some readers might be surprised to realize that virtually every play Shakespeare wrote was adapted from an earlier story.  "Romeo and Juliet"  had been published twice before Shakespeare wrote his play version.  (See Why Did Shakespeare Make Juliet Thirteen Years Old?)  T.S. Eliot was particularly critical of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in part, because there had been two earlier Hamlets before Shakespeare wrote his.  (See Holding a Mirror up to Hamlet.)  After 350 years, the controversy continues over who first invented that form of mathematics called calculus--Newton or Liebnitz.

Chinese Theft or American Efficiency

These days, when we hear of the "theft of intellectual property," it is most often Western media reporting on China.  The expression "efficiency infringement" is currently being used to describe large American companies overstepping someone's patent.  Of 143 recent press releases on the FBI website related to "Intellectual Property Theft" about 30 mention China or Chinese nationals.

Trade Secrets

"Trade secrets" are the broadest and least clearly defined category of intellectual property.  They can include computer code, lab results, or a company's negotiating strategy.  Despite being "secret," they come with some of the biggest price tags and consequences.  "Chinese National Sentenced for Stealing Trade Secrets Worth $1 Billion" is a typical headline from the FBI website:  "A former associate scientist was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison in federal court today for stealing proprietary information worth more than $1 billion from his employer, a U.S. petroleum company."

The details of the case seem oddly mundane:

According to the plea agreement, [Hongjin] Tan used a thumb drive to copy hundreds of files containing the proprietary information on Dec. 11, 2018. He subsequently turned in his resignation and was escorted from the premises on Dec. 12, 2018. Later that day, he returned the thumb drive, claiming that he had forgotten to do so before leaving his employer’s property. Upon examination, it was discovered that there was unallocated space on the thumb drive, indicating five documents had previously been deleted. Investigators with the FBI searched Tan’s premises and found an external hard drive. They discovered that the same five missing files from the thumb drive had been downloaded to the hard drive. Tan maintained the files on a hard drive so he could access the data at a later date. Further accessing the material would have been financially advantageous for Tan but caused significant financial damage to his Oklahoma employer.

It whets my curiosity to know how five Oklahoma oil company computer files could be worth a billion dollars.

The Echelon Affair

A historical review entitled The ECHELON Affair conducted by the European Parliamentary Research Service quotes the Smid Report that 

a global system for intercepting communications, probably known as Echelon, indeed existed and was managed on the basis of a secret agreement (the UKUSA agreement) between five countries, the USA (as lead partner), the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

According to The ECHELON Affair, based on the Smid Report:

The countries most advanced in industrial espionage were using it [industrial espionage] for purposes of tailoring their economic or industrial policies or for gathering information useful to national companies trading abroad. The least advanced countries were concerned with acquiring know-how on the cheap.

The report quotes former CIA Director William Webster:

"Our political and military allies are also our economic rivals and the ability of an economic rival to create, win or control markets in the future has security implications for the United States."

In an Ideal World . . .

According to the World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018, in both 2016 and 2017, China filed more than twice as many patents as the USA.  It is odd that the country which has filed the most patents globally is also the country accused of being cavalier about the theft of intellectual property.  In Has China Won?, Mahbubani claims that, contrary to Western impressions, provinces, officials, and even individual companies in China operate with long-established habits of independence.  He argues that it has been a mistake for the central government to allow American businesses, which are the greatest supporters of China in the West, to be mistreated by lower levels of government and business.

As we reflect upon "intellectual property theft," it's worth keeping in mind that most of the time we are talking about money.  As long as the USA is the country which prints (or digitalizes) the global reserve currency, Americans don't really need to worry about money.  However, at stake is global hegemony.  We in the West, especially close allies like Canada, quite logically, might be more comfortable with the familiar, democratic, capitalist USA as the global hegemon. Mahbubani repeatedly emphasizes that in the USA-China geopolitical contest, both countries should step back and determine what is in the best interests of their populations.  Money and hegemony aside, collaboration and the sharing of intellectual property would seem to be in the best interest of the people of both countries, not to mention the rest of the world on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, the possibility of cooperation in science, medicine, economics, infrastructure, culture, and technology for mutual, even universal, benefit is retreating further into distant obscurity on a daily basis.


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Analyzing the Discourse on the China-USA Cold War

 Is It a "cold war" or a "Cold War"?

Are we in the middle of a Cold War without anyone telling us?  In Chaos under Heaven, Josh Rogin asks:  "Is the United States in a cold war with China?"  Then responds,  "That’s the wrong question, because it doesn’t provide a useful answer. The historical analogy is too imperfect."

 

In Has China Won?, Kishore Mahbubani avoids the expression "Cold War" in favour of "Sino-American geopolitical contest."  Despite denial and avoidance, both books frame the ongoing conflict between China and the USA as a sequel, however imperfectly analogous, to the Cold War between the USA and the USSR.  The current situation may not be an exact replica of the Cold War, but the saber-rattling, military build-up,  hardening of alliances and animosities, exchanges of undiplomatic insults and accusations,  tariffs and sanctions, calls for a decoupling of supply chains, as well as business, scientific and academic endeavours, and the escalating propaganda all indicate an ongoing "cold war" (or whatever you might choose to call it).


Then and Now comparisons

A key difference between the old Cold War and the new "cold war," both authors agree,  is that last time the USA had a plan.  Specifically, both books reference George Kennan's "long telegram" and subsequent article in Foreign Affairs detailing a master strategy for the American containment of the USSR.  Both books lay heavy blame for the absence of a coherent American policy toward China on the Trump Whitehouse and more explicitly on the incoherence of President Trump himself.
Additionally, Mahbubani argues that:

In the current geopolitical contest between America and China, America is behaving like the Soviet Union, and China is behaving like America did in the Cold War.  In the Cold War, America was often supple, flexible, and rational in its decision-making while the Soviet Union was rigid, inflexible, and doctrinaire.

Mahbubani dedicates a chapter to demonstrating how the structurally entrenched "rigidity and inflexibility of American decision making" cannot stop itself from constant increases in defense spending and military expansion.  Military contractors, according to Mahbubani, target US politicians with promises to establish or expand manufacturing in their constituencies, ostensibly buying the votes needed to increase defense procurement.  In contrast to America's uncontrollable defense spending, Mahbubani claims

The height of Chinese defense rationality is shown in their decision not to increase their stockpile of nuclear weapons. America has 6,450; China has 280. However, if 280 is enough to deter America (or Russia) from launching a nuclear strike on China, why pay for more?
[However, according to recent reports "China, which has historically relied on a small and constrained nuclear arsenal, is expanding its capabilities and deploying multiple, independently retargetable warheads on some of its ICBMs and will likely add more in the coming year."  See World War III.]

Blindness and Insight

Rogin offers detailed insight into the chaos which reigned in the US response to China over the last four years but concludes that "the one part of the [Cold War] analogy that holds is that the CCP under Xi sees itself as being locked in an existential ideological and political struggle with the West."  There is a blindness in this claim that China is in a cold war but the USA isn't which runs throughout Rogin's monograph, a constant denial that it takes two to tango or to have a cold war.  In chapter after chapter, Rogin displays outrage and alarm at how business, security, and politics are suspected of intertwining in China, only to follow with detailed, well-informed exposition of the innumerable high-profile Americans who move seamlessly across business, academia, national security, the military, politics and government.  To a non-American reader, it is somewhat shocking to read how many American business people and academics end up working for the CIA, the FBI, NSA, and various associated organizations, which Rogin reports without a blink of notice.

What is discourse analysis?

The most common of postmodern, post-structuralist, structuralist and semiotic observations is that we do not have access to reality.  Our physical perceptions are limited, unreliable and tell us little about the world.  What we know (or think we know) about the world comes to us through various cultural representations:  through languages and images.  Grammar is comprised of the rules for how words work inside complete sentences.  (See What is English Grammar?)  The purpose of grammar is to create redundancy.  The purpose of redundancy is to create clarity.  At its simplest, discourse is how sentences are connected together with words like "however," "therefore," "consequently," and so on.  The purpose of discourse analysis is to recognize, establish and understand the meanings of discourses which by definition always extend beyond single sentences.  The analysis of discourse, most obviously, includes a study of word choice, but also repetition and figurative language.  More broadly a discourse is held together by a theme or motif and works with suggestion, allusion and connotation.  Ultimately discourses are coherent with or incoherent in relation to other discourses.  The current broad discourse in the USA is that China poses a threat to America and to the West in general.   Truth (as I've argued in Does Knowledge Require Truth?) is uniquely a feature of those things which have meaning and is determined by how coherent one discourse is in relation to others.  Truth holds until one of the links in the chain of truths is broken.  At the moment, any discourse which presents China as an imminent threat is, consequently, taken as true.  However, the relative truth value of a discourse must be measured against logic (inductive, deductive and abductive reasoning) and how many of the known facts a particular discourse is able to encompass coherently.


Why this digression in the middle of my discourse on the Sino-American cold war?  Because I don't know the reality of what is happening in China.  I don't really know what is going on in the USA.  I'm even confused about what has been happening in Canada.  I do, however, know, to some degree, what is being written and said, and how we are all called upon to judge the relative truth, the coherence of what we are being told.


US "Bingo Club" Journalist versus Singapore Ambassador to the UN

I have already established my disbelief in the postmodern notion of "the Death of the Author."  Knowing who wrote it is always an important element of understanding the meaning of a text.  A hundred pages into Chaos under Heaven, Josh Rogin, a journalist with the Washington Post,  describes himself as a member of the "Bingo Club": "the secret group fighting China's influence operations" named after "a similar group of cops, spies, and experts who convened secretly in San Francisco in the late 1980s to confront the urgent espionage threat China posed at that time."  Rogin's "secret group" [not so secret anymore I guess] is led by Peter Mattis, "a CIA counterintelligence analyst on China before leaving the agency to work in the private sector," who is also the nephew of the Trump-era Defense Secretary, James Mattis.


Kishore Mahbubani, who served for ten years as Singapore's ambassador to the UN, describes himself as having "cultural connections with diverse societies in Asia, where half of humanity lives, all the way from Tehran to Tokyo."  The theme of his book is that American policy and attitudes are out of sync with the majority of the world's UN members.  The USA has walked away or threatened to walk away from numerous global organizations and agreements, whereas most countries of the world and China, in particular, have been moving in the other direction.  Mahbubani argues that most Americans are simply unaware of China's history, culture, and Asian geopolitical situation, and are apt to misinterpret its political ambitions.

Vocabulary and word choice

Rogin's choice of adjectives leaves little room for doubt about his attitudes and intentions toward China.  He, thankfully, avoids the use of "evil," but China (the country, the CCP, companies and individuals) are copiously described as "malign," "bad-actor," "threatening," "aggressive," and "repressive."  Here is a typical paragraph:

I got a call from an Asia expert friend who previously worked in the military but now consulted for the private sector. He was holding his own secret meeting to bring together like-minded Washington folks to think through a separate probtem [sic] emanating from China—the giant national champion technology firm Huawei. In less than a decade, this company had lied, cheated, and stolen its way to threatening domination over mobile networks around the world. This group wanted to strategize a way to stop it.  [my bold emphasis]

Rogin's most frequently repeated and quoted claim is along the lines of "the dire threat China under CCP leadership posed to the United States." Despite his conclusion to the contrary, in order to specify the "threat," Rogin cites comparisons to the Cold War:

China's ambitions were in fact worldwide—that the CCP was trying to reshape the global order to fit its interests and that this posed an unacceptable threat to the security, prosperity, and health of free and open societies—then the comparison to the Cold War was useful, insofar as it helped one grasp the scope and scale and stakes of the challenge.

How does China pose a "dire threat" to the USA . . . and the world?

To illustrate the threat posed by Confucius Institutes, Rogin cites examples of Chinese authorities' insistence that Taiwan should not be identified as an officially independent country on websites and in documentation. 

After claiming that the Huawei company has "lied, cheated, and stolen," Rogin offers no evidence to support this vocabulary.  Rogin's "most famous example" of the Chinese threat was "in 2019 when China punished the NBA for one manager's tweet."   

When Darryl Morey, manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets tweeted in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, there was a Chinese backlash.  I found it interesting to learn that Morey was "a trained researcher and technology expert who worked for years in Washington’s national security community before joining the NBA." The NBA eventually apologized to China for the tweet and was consequently criticized by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. 

Rogin reports that Joseph Tsai, a "Taiwanese-born naturalized Canadian billionaire" who owns the Brooklyn Nets, posted on Facebook that "hundreds of millions of Chinese" were insulted by Morey's tweet. Rogin claims that Tsai's "ties to Beijing run very deep, and his politics are completely in support of the CCP’s aims."

Still on the theme of the "dire threat" and the NBA, in October 2019, 15 young American-resident "Uyghur activists" chanted, carried posters and wore t-shirts protesting against Chinese repression in Hong Kong, in XUOR and against Lebron James who disagreed with the Morey tweet.  The protestors were not allowed to carry their signs into the stadium.  They were verbally attacked in Mandarin by a spectator after the game.  

The individuals Rogin mentions are prominent activists.  Bahram Sintash works for the US-funded  Radio Free Asia and Ferkat Jawdat, whose protests of his mother's detainment in China have been widely publicized in the USA,  was granted a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The problem with Rogin's claims of China's being a dire threat to the USA and the world is that the concrete examples, like the NBA kerfuffle, never come close to supporting the level of his vocabulary. 

American claimants of Chinese malfeasance like Sintash and Jawdat seem to receive significant US access and support.  In Rogin's monograph, "Elaine Chao, Trump’s transportation secretary and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell" is presented as an object of suspicion because of her family ties to China.    Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Secretary of the Treasury, who, according to Rogin, "fought [ . . ] tooth and nail" against sanctions and a trade war with China, is presented, at turns, as a  dupe and a sell-out to the Chinese masterplan of world domination.

 A Different choice of words

The most repeated adjectives in Has China Won? would include: "rational," reasonable," "logical," "balanced," and "pragmatic."  Hence, a typical paragraph from the Mahbubani monograph would be:

Common sense would dictate that both countries should cooperate in infrastructure. Yet, given the poisonous political attitudes toward each other, common sense cannot operate. This is why a major strategic reboot is needed in the relationship between the two powers. If the two powers first tried to define what their core national interests were—especially their core interests in improving the livelihoods of their people—they would come to the logical conclusion that there is fundamentally a noncontradiction between their national interests.

The Question of spin

Mahbubani and Rogin seem to deal with a similar handful of facts but each gives these facts a very different spin.  For example, the fact that American companies are extensively invested and profiting in China, while China is extensively invested in the financial markets in the USA, at face value, might seem a good thing, a "win, win" as the Chinese love to say, and a guarantee of peace and prosperity for all.  Similarly, the fact that China contributes billions to American universities, funding various scientific and academic collaborations, as well as Confucious Institutes to educate Westerners on the Chinese language and culture, at first glance, seems laudable. 

Rogin is adamant that these entanglements are a threat to all that Americans hold dear. Mahbubani is full of praise for American universities, but Rogin details how Chinese funding of university programs has become an intense focus of US national security and secret services. Rogin himself signed up for a course at an American Confucius Institute and discovered nothing more perfidious than an effort to teach him Mandarin but assures the reader that these centers are designed for greater ulterior motives.

Rogin details how Americans end up investing in Chinese companies through index funds on the US stock markets.  To exemplify the risks of investing in China,  Rogin cites the China Hustle, a Netflix documentary, about the use of "reverse mergers" in which Chinese companies merge with a dormant company on the US market thereby allowing the Chinese company to be publically traded in the US.  As the documentary shows, American speculators were eager to invest in Chinese companies.  The con in this process is the misrepresented value of the underlying Chinese companies.  [Very similar to what went on in the dot.com meltdown.] The problem with Rogin's argument is that, based on my viewing of the documentary, it isn't clear that this is uniquely and exclusively a Chinese hustle, and could equally well be described as an American hustle with Chinese participation.  In fact, Chinese media revealed the scam years before American investors began to take notice.

A common complaint about China's "not following the rules," including in Rogin's book, is "forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft."  As Mahbubani outlines, China has profited and progressed mightily since it joined the WTO (World Trade Organization) as a "developing country" in 2001.  Mahbubani explains that, while some American businesspeople might resent the requirement, "under the WTO’s agreements on intellectual property, developed countries are under ‘the obligation’ to provide incentives to their companies to transfer technology to less developed countries.”  Obviously, American businesses might rankle at Chinese companies' "playing the rulebook," the requirements and additional pressure to transfer data and intellectual property, but have accepted the situation as the price of doing business and making healthy profits.  The current complaints stem from China's having so rapidly progressed from being a "developing country" to a super "developed country."





The USA's not-so-secret weapon

One fact that both Mahbubani and Rogin agree upon is that the USA's ultimate weapon against China is the American dollar, aka the Federal Reserve Note. (See also Petrodollar Warfare.)  The US dollar is the "global reserve currency" meaning most international transactions are made with US currency.  In other words, virtually every country in the world needs US dollars to buy stuff from other countries.  Most of the money in the world's financial system is created by private banks and financial institutions (See The Truth about Money), but the process begins with the US Treasury printing "treasury bills" (basically IOUs from the US government) and selling them to institutions in the US and around the world.  If you have US Treasury bills worth X amount, you are considered to have X amount of US dollars, which you can use to pay for things from other countries which might not be willing to accept your country's currency as payment.  Being the country which supplies the money which other countries have to use works out very favourably for the USA.

As Mahbubani explains:

Domestically, the US government spends more than it collects in income. This creates a fiscal deficit. Internationally, America imports more goods than it exports. This creates a trade deficit. How does America pay for these twin deficits? It borrows money.

Unlike other countries whose currencies would be devalued and economies collapse if they over-extended their borrowing,

America can fund its twin deficits and pay for its excess expenditures by printing Treasury bills. The US Treasury only has to pay for the cost of paper. In return for handing out pieces of paper, the rest of the world sends real money (hard-earned cash) to buy the US Treasury bills. For example, Chinese workers have to work hard to produce low-cost goods to export to the rest of the world. These exports receive hard-earned dollars, which the Chinese government converts to yuan to pay to the workers. What does the Chinese government do with these hard-earned dollars? It uses many of these to buy US Treasury bills. The US Treasury then uses these dollars from China to pay for excess government expenditures. For the record, the largest purchasers of US Treasuries are China ($1.113 trillion), Japan ($1.064 trillion), Brazil ($306.7 billion), the United Kingdom ($300.8 billion), and Ireland ($269.7 billion).

Mahbubani suggests the USA's "weaponizing of the dollar," to punish any company dealing with Iran, for example, is an unnecessary strategy which puts the incredible privilege of the US dollar's being the global reserve currency at risk.  Rogin, on the other hand, quotes "Roger Robinson, the former chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission" and "the son of a senior FBI counterintelligence official."  Robinson, who "started his career as a Wall Street banker, but [ . .] made his name as a cold warrior," argued that the USA needed to further leverage "China’s single greatest weakness and one of America’s greatest strengths—access to money."

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet

Rogin's book and most Western media reports on China's relations with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet tend to use a typical array of terms: "genocide," "cultural genocide," "ethnic cleansing," "repression," "invasion," etc.  These discourses are striking for what they leave unsaid--the historical, cultural, political and even geographical context.  For example, most reports on the Uyghur genocide leave out discussion of the East Turkestan separatist movement,   Uyghur terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and throughout the Middle East, or even that the USA has imprisoned Uyghur in Guantanimo.  

Articles on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong rarely include reference to the fact that China was forced to surrender Hong Kong to the British Empire and to accept imports of opium as a consequence of the Opium Wars

As US naval forces are building up in preparation to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, there is little recognition that since Taiwan already enjoys de facto independence with goods, services and people able to move in both directions from Taiwan to China, Taiwan has little need for "official" independence, and China has little motivation to invade.  

Reports on the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1949 and ongoing "cultural genocide" rarely include reference to the Seventeen Point Agreement between China and Tibet, which included provisions such as

The central authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet. The central authorities also will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama. Officials of various ranks shall continue to hold office.
The established status, functions and powers of the Panchen Ngoerhtehni shall be maintained. 
By the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama and of the Panchen Ngoerhtehni are meant the status, functions and powers of the thirteenth Dalai Lama and the ninth Panchen Ngoerhtehni when they had friendly and amicable relations with each other.
The policy of freedom of religious belief as laid down in the common program shall be carried out. The religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people shall be respected, and lama monasteries shall be protected. The central authorities will not effect a change in the income of the monasteries.

After signing, the Tibetan government in exile facilitated by the CIA repudiated the peace treaty. Would the inclusion or exclusion of these facts from the predominant discourse make any difference? To those who are fully committed to the Manichean vision of a morally superior USA and China as an evil empire (or the exact reverse), the facts won't make much difference. To undecided skeptics, like me, a discourse that attempts to be inclusive, comprehensive, contextualized, balanced and measured is what approaches coherent truth, and offers a rational way forward.

US Objectives in supporting independence movements in China

In a full-page opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, Roger Garside, author of China Coup:  The Great Leap to Freedom, argues that 

[ . . ] the U.S. and its allies must make regime change in China the highest goal of their strategy toward that country. This is not a goal that governments can openly declare, but it is one they must actively pursue.
This well-known secret is the only explanation, in pragmatic terms, for US-backed support for independence movements in regions of China.  As a consequence, logically, it would be impractical, in fact, political suicide, under the present conditions, for the Chinese regime to soften its stance vis-a-vis democracy and independence in these regions.

Differences of culture

Western discourse on China is inevitably couched in terms of "freedom," "democracy," and "human rights," but such claims seem credulous.  The People's Republic of China operates under a communist system.  The presumed ethical underpinning of the system is utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number. Western democracies operating in a capitalist system are based on egoism, whatever is good for the individual is ethical.  The prioritizing of individual human rights over other concerns and values is a mark of Western democracies even while they struggle to act according to their own ethical standards.  Communist China, in contrast, clearly prioritizes what is good for the majority:  security, peace, even solidarity over the rights of the individual.  The constant complaint against communist China failing to operate according to a democratic system of Western values seems willfully naive.

As Mahbubani puts it:

Americans hold sacrosanct the ideals of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion and also believe that every human being is entitled to the same fundamental human rights. The Chinese believe that social needs and social harmony are more important than individual needs and rights and that the prevention of chaos and turbulence is the main goal of governance. In short, America and China clearly believe in two different sets of political values.

These days, across the political spectrum, understanding the opposition is seen as a sign of weakness.  (See Madness and Terrorism:  Between Sympathy and Understanding.)  But what is the alternative?

Meanwhile in Canada

Roger Garside claims it is an ominous sign for communist China "that public opinion in a country as pacific and measured in its outlook as Canada should have evolved as it has."  Has Canadian public opinion about China "evolved" or was it decided for us? 

Both Rogin and Mahbubani recognize Canada as a trusted ally of the USA.  However, both mention that when Trump imposed tariffs on China, he imposed them on Canada at the same time.



Monday, 19 April 2021

Canada's Talking Tough Is an Embarrassing Display of Weakness

 Whatever happened to "speak softly and carry a big stick"?

In the last election campaign only Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois, dared to say the obvious that in arresting Meng, Canada was trying to display muscles it did not have.  Blanchet's daring proves that it takes a politician with nothing to lose to speak the obvious truth. In the ongoing US-China fisticuffs, Canada is playing the role of the Milquetoast sidekick whose tremulous tough talk only emphasizes his weakness. 

Canada's only legal course of action is the one it refuses to acknowledge

According to the Wall Street Journal, US Justice has been arranging to offer Huawei and Meng a deferred prosecution agreement.  Meng herself has balked at the deferral requirement that she plead guilty before returning to China.  Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who has for years worked back-channel diplomacy with China on Canada's behalf,  has warned that if we leave it to the US to release Meng, we will be putting Michael Korvig and Michael Spivak at further risk.  Based on his experience in Sino-Canadian negotiations, the Senator has explained that China will need a gesture of respect from Canada in order to guarantee the safety of the Canadians.  Canadian Conservatives, however, cannot resist another opportunity for bravado:  Senator Leo Housakos said he was appalled by the suggestion that Canada should recognize China’s judicial system as legitimate.



The Future looks bright but Canada doesn't

Lisa Monaco has been nominated as the Democratic replacement for Richard Donoghue as Deputy Attorney General.  With extensive experience in national security, counter-terrorism, extradition and hostage negotiation, and cyber espionage, she appears an ideal candidate for the position.  When asked about the request for Meng Wanzhou's extradition, she immediately said (12 Dec. 2018) what no Canadian politician, civil servant, or journalist dared to say then or since about the politics of extradition:  “I think as a matter of law Trump could direct the Justice Department to drop the prosecution that is the basis of the extradition request.”  In Canada, "as a matter of law," extradition is a political decision:  a simple truth which cannot be spoken, no matter what the cost.

Ms. Monaco went on to say that she didn't think it was a good idea for Trump to interfere.  Fair enough, but she immediately established what the law permitted.  In Canada, it took two years for CBC to give former Supreme Court Justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour a platform to explain that "as a matter of law," in Canada, Meng's arrest and potential extradition was a political decision.  Canadians just didn't get what she was explaining.  Knowing and following the law in Canada, as Arbour was recommending, was interpreted as advocating an illegal exchange of hostages. 

The Cabal is gone, but Canadian "justice" plods on

The cabal of American anti-China super-hawks (John Bolton, Steve Bannon, and Richard Donghue), who concocted the Meng arrest and extradition request, are all gone.  The Canadian judicial bureaucracy plods on without considering whether, in view of all the circumstances,  the original extradition request was fair and just, because this is a question which only the Canadian Minister of Justice can, by law, decide.

Is the Biden administration hoping that Canada will show some backbone?

The first meeting of the Biden administration's foreign affairs team with their Chinese counterparts did not go well.  However, the USA and China have reportedly made some progress on climate talks.  The new US administration has signalled interest in a return to the Iran-USA nuclear treaty and the lifting of sanctions--the underlying basis for the accusations of "bank fraud" against Meng.  

Canada's releasing Meng would likely dovetail with current trends in the Biden White House while ridding the US administration of a needless obstacle in negotiations with China--not to mention being beneficial to imprisoned Canadians.  The problem is:  how does the Liberal government walk back the all-too-obvious, bald-faced lie that extradition is a judicial, non-political decision, which they have been repeating for two and a half years, while the Conservatives are grandstanding with hyperbolic anti-China rhetoric?



 

Saturday, 10 April 2021

World War III: Will History Record that Jody Wilson-Raybould Was the Canadian Gavrilo Princip?

 "If I listened to John Bolton, we would have had world war six by now!"

                                                        Donald Trump, President of the USA

Homo Sapiens?  Are we?

When Yuval Noah Harari speculated in Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind, rather off-handedly, that the human species was unlikely to be around for another thousand years, I thought he was exaggerating.  These days, I'm not so sure.  One thousand years is beginning to sound optimistic.

The Doomsday Clock

In 2020, the Doomsday Clock moved to 100 seconds 'til midnight.  According to the "Thucydides trap" hypothesis, a war between China and the USA isn't just possible, it is statistically probable. When he first presented this hypothesis in 2015, Harvard professor Graham Allison argued that 

Managing this relationship [China/USA] without war will demand sustained attention, week by week, at the highest level in both countries. It will entail a depth of mutual understanding not seen since the Henry Kissinger-Zhou Enlai conversations in the 1970s. Most significantly, it will mean more radical changes in attitudes and actions, by leaders and publics alike, than anyone has yet imagined.

Since 2015, we have been moving rapidly in the opposite direction, with marked acceleration in 2021.  According to the 2021--Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

US and Russian nuclear modernization efforts continued to accelerate, and North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan pursued “improved” and larger nuclear forces. Some of these modernization programs are beginning to field weapons with dangerous enhancements, like Russia’s nuclear-tipped Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles, which are being installed on new SS-29 (Sarmat) missiles designed to replace 1980s-era intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Russia continues to field battalions of intermediate-range, ground-launched, nuclear-armed missiles—missiles previously banned by the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in 2019. China, which has historically relied on a small and constrained nuclear arsenal, is expanding its capabilities and deploying multiple, independently retargetable warheads on some of its ICBMs and will likely add more in the coming year.

The Triggers of war

The causes of war usually involve complicated gestalts which experts will spend generations attempting to untangle and explain. The causes of the Vietnam War are entangled with the vagueries and incoherence of an ideological Cold War which make them near impossible to fully understand even fifty years later.  However, in our high-school history classes, we Boomers were always instructed about the "triggers of war."  For example, the Spanish-American War was triggered by the sinking of the USS Maine.  "Remember the Maine" became the battle cry of the war; however, subsequent investigations concluded that the sinking of the Maine was likely an accident caused by an internal explosion onboard. (For more recent "triggers" see Petrodollar Warfare: Understanding the US Obsession with Iran



The most significant trigger of all time was a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb named Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, which led to World War I which, arguably, with the botched Treaty of Versailles, led to World War II.  I first alluded to Gavrilo Princip in 2018 in a post on "The Chaos Theory of International Trade." 

Imagine a high-school history class after World War III. There are a lot of "ifs" here: if there is a third world war, if the Species survives, and if History is still taught in high school.


A History of the future

My historical narrative begins with Richard Donoghue, a young army officer who joins JAG (Judge Advocate General's Corps), first as an attorney, then becomes a judge.  In 2011, he accepts a position as vice president and Chief Litigator for CA Technologies, one of the largest tech companies in the world (in the top 100 according to Bloomberg).  [CA needed a good lawyer.  In 2006, the chairman of the board was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud.]  January 2,  2018, Donoghue leaves CA to become US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  Eight months later (22 August 2018),  Donoghue issues a warrant for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei and daughter of the company's founder

Why was Meng arrested?

Why? [Try explaining this to a class of high-school students!]  The charge is "bank fraud."  For most people, "bank fraud" means she stole money, but not in this case. According to the indictment, at a meeting in a tea-house in Hong Kong in 2013 she allegedly told an executive of HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) that Huawei did not control a company called Skycom which was doing business in Iran in contravention of US sanctions.

Is she guilty?

Did she really say this?  Did she really fool HSBC into contravening US sanctions?  Who knows?  Does it really matter? HSBC had already been convicted of money laundering, including making investments in Iran, but Meng's "lying," saying or not saying, really has no bearing on the ultimate story.  There was no precedent for arresting a business executive for moving money in Iran, though many companies had been convicted and paid fines.  Meng was arrested because the USA, for political reasons, ideological reasons, business reasons, security reasons (choose the one which makes the most sense to you), was out to get Huawei.  Meng (and Canada), it has become evident, were collateral damage in the plan to undermine Huawei.  The sensible thing for Canada to do was just get out of the way, but it was up to the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to get us out of the way.

Meng was traveling the world as Huawei's leading sales-person but, apparently, Donoghue couldn't find a country willing to serve his warrant.  Then, on December 1, 2018, he asked the Canadian Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, in keeping with the Treaty on Extradition Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America and the Canadian Extradition Act to have Meng arrested, and she did.

Why arrest Meng in Canada?

Why did she accept to have Meng arrested?  [Try explaining this to a high-school class!]  Why would she accept to proceed with this unprecedented arrest which would have predictable and dire political consequences?  To most of the world, the arrest would appear arbitrary and illegal, Canada kowtowing to US hegemony--showing the Americans that Canada would ditch its trade deals with China if that's what the Trump White House wanted.  In truth, the Americans, that is, Donoghue did the minimum in asking Canada to serve the warrant.  Chances are they were surprised by how easy it was to get Canadian law enforcement onboard even to the point of "accidentally" contravening Meng's rights. Donoghue did the necessary,  specifying that the crime was "bank fraud," which was on the Treaty's list of extraditable offenses. And he went through the motions of a Grand Jury trial, which would have been a foregone conclusion.  

Is there any chance that the USA will keep a Chinese executive in prison?

Has anybody noticed how little the Americans have to say about the seriousness of Meng's crimes?  Clearly, the Americans are keeping their options open; allowing them to release Meng at a later date without much fanfare.  The last thing the Americans want is to have a major Chinese executive in a US jail, while they continue to do 100 to 150 billion dollars in trade every year with China.  Can you imagine a situation--with Meng in a US jail--where every American business executive who travels to China or any country where China holds influence would risk arrest and/or extradition? Meng's extradition to the USA allows only three possibilities:  1) she and/or Huawei will pay a fine proving that she should never have been extradited in the first place (the Extradition Act and the Treaty specify that the minimum requirement to justify extradition is one year of imprisonment), 2) an all-out Sino-American war or 3) she will be released (without prejudice) and some US Democrat will express media-wide surprise that Canada went along with the ill-conceived Republican plot (orchestrated by John Bolton and Richard Donoghue) to arrest her.

Richard Donoghue's conflict of interest

I originally speculated that there might be a financial pay-off for Donoghue from CA Technologies for slowing down a competitor--Huawei.  But CA Technologies was sold to Broadcom in 2018, so Donoghue's pay-off would probably have to come elsewhere. 

Donaghue was given the honour of announcing the conviction of El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, in 2019.  Of course, attorneys, NYPD, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, etc, etc, had been working the case for 30 years, but Donaghue got the plum of announcing the conviction after little more than a year on the job.  Then he was promoted to special duties on the Ukraine file.  In public media, no-one seemed to know exactly what "Ukraine file" meant, but I interpreted he was assigned to getting the dirt on Hunter Biden. When William Barr resigned as Attorney general, Deputy Attorney General Rosen replaced him, and Donald Trump named Donoghue the new Deputy Attorney General.

Did Trump know?

Did Trump know the very day he was having a one-on-one meeting with Xi that Donoghue was having Meng arrested in Vancouver?  No.  Despite hedging in the Guardian interview, claiming he didn't know if Trump knew, John Bolten confirms in this book that he, as National Security Advisor, had been informed of Meng's arrest and decided not to tell President Trump.  Trump was incredulous when he found out and, according to Josh Rogin in Chaos under Heaven, complained that they had "arrested the Ivanka Trump of China."  

Why did Jody Wilson-Raybould arrest "the Ivanka Trump of China"?

Why did Jody Wilson-Raybould arrest "the Ivanka Trump of China"?  When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the arrest:

“The appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case,” he told reporters. “We were advised by them with a few days’ notice that this was in the works but of course there was no engagement or involvement in the political level in this decision because we respect the independence of our judicial processes.”

If extradition isn't political, why was the Prime Minister informed in advance? Who were "the appropriate authorities"?  According to the Canadian Extradition Act, the only appropriate authority was the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould.  Who is "them" in the PM's statement?  Did the PM think that Richard Donoghue or the American DOJ was the appropriate authority to decide a Canadian extradition case?  As I've pointed out a dozen times and a dozen different ways, the claim that in Canadian extradition law, "there is no engagement or involvement in the political level in this decision" is completely wrong.  It is easy to disprove the claim of the independence of the judicial processes in extradition cases with a quick click on the Canadian Extradition Act and 15 minutes of reading.  I think we can forgive the PM for not knowing the Canadian Extradition Act just days after (and before) Meng's arrest.  But what about Jody Wilson-Raybould?  What about the "free" and "independent" Canadian media which has been repeating or ignoring this falsehood for over two years now?

Who makes extradition decisions?  The Minister? Or "officials"?

Eleven days after Meng's arrest, Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement, in lockstep with the PM's misinformation, saying that "The decision to seek a provisional arrest warrant from the court is made by Department of Justice officials without any political interference or direction." I believe that it may be common practice for "Department of Justice officials" to seek an arrest warrant without necessarily consulting the Minister of Justice, but this was obviously no typical extradition case.  Moreover, what the law (The Extradition Act) specifies is:

Since Jody Wilson-Raybould was both Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the law specifies that Jody Wilson-Raybould "may" (she could have ignored or refused the request)  authorize herself "to apply for a provisional arrest warrant."  Nowhere does it say that DOJ officials were supposed to make the decision and keep Jody Wilson-Raybould out of the loop.

Why would Jody Wilson-Raybould pass the buck to underlings?

Why would Jody Wilson-Raybould duck her responsibilities as Minister of Justice?  Well, there was the SNC Lavalin case.   [Try explaining this to high-school students!]  We've already been there, but the short version is that the PMO had been putting pressure on JWR to break the law and give SNC Lavalin a pass on its various bribery crimes.  JWR resisted and was on the verge of being demoted out of Justice for her resistance when Meng was arrested.  

The combination of the laws governing Remediation Agreements (a new, Liberal version of Deferred Prosecution Agreements) and those governing the Public Prosecutors Office made it impossible for JWR to do what the PMO was asking without breaking the law.  The Extradition Act is the exact opposite in terms of the Minister getting involved.  The Act makes it the Minister's responsibility to investigate and make a decision.  Would the public understand this difference?  Did politicians know the difference?  Both Trudeau and Freeland have been very public in denying this distinction and insisting that extradition is a judicial and not a political decision--despite the explicit wording of the Act and the Supreme Court's ruling to confirm that extradition is an "executive"; i.e., political decision.

When Allen Rock, former Minister of Justice, was on Power and Politics to present the argument that Meng should be released, Vassy Kapelos asked him if he had ever intervened in an extradition case.  He hadn't.  I was struck by his response but then it occurred to me:  politicians are politicians.  Politicians don't like to get publicly involved in extradition cases because there is nothing for a politician to gain.  No matter what decision they make, they will be criticized by one quarter or another.  For a politician, it's always better to leave the impression that an extradition was decided by anonymous officials.

We shouldn't be too surprised that JWR decided not to take the heat and opted for "bureaucracy as usual" despite the obvious that this case was not "as usual." Someone from the PMO should have pointed out her power according to the law: 

Since the PMO and JWR were already at odds (not speaking to each other?) over SNC Lavalin, we can imagine that in the end no-one said anything.

Now what?

The atomic scientists who manage the Doomsday Clock point out that 

Unchecked internet disinformation could have even more drastic consequences in a nuclear crisis, perhaps leading to a nuclear war that ends world civilization. Disinformation efforts across communications systems are at this moment undermining responses to climate change in many countries. The need for deep thinking and careful, effective action to counter the effects of internet-enabled disinformation has never been clearer.

Are we at war with China?

The general Canadian public could be forgiven for imagining that we are already at war with China.  China has been accused of genocide in terms usually reserved for the Holocaust.  The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is being compared to the Third Reich and Xi Jinping to Hitler.  China is being accused of undermining Canadian sovereignty, intimidating Canadian citizens, taking over Canadian businesses, manipulating Canadian politicians, mistreating Canadian workers, arbitrarily imprisoning Canadians in China, infiltrating Canadian universities, cyber espionage, and stealing Canadian intellectual property.  What more do we need to know before going to war?

In addition to the rape, murder, sterilization, forced labour, and mass imprisonment of Uyghurs, China is overthrowing democracy in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, and illegally claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea.  The Chinese are using dystopian levels of surveillance of their own citizens, especially ethnic minorities. And the Chinese are responsible for the coronavirus which has spread around the world and killed millions.  What more do we need to know before going to war?

The Devil's advocate

Dare we consider a Chinese perspective and response?  Despite claims of "free speech" and "transparency," it has become common practice to denigrate and dismiss anyone who challenges the common Canadian discourse on China (and/or Meng). 

Here, at least, it is possible to play "devil's advocate." 

A response to terrorism?

There is no genocide taking place in Xinjiang.  Every neutral observer who has visited the region comes to this same conclusion.  China faced a terrorist threat in the region and, in comparison to the USA with its invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan killing a million Muslims, has responded with moderation and efficiency in dealing with religious extremism. As reported by  Colin Clarke and Paul Rexton Kan in “Uighur Foreign Fighters: An Underexamined Jihadist Challenge,” The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8, no. 5 (2017):

Uighurs, specifically individuals of Turkic descent from China’s northwest province of Xinjiang, have become a noticeable part of the constellation of globally active jihadist terror groups. Uighur jihadists first came to the world’s attention when the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001. While continuing their cooperation with the Taliban under the banner of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Uighur jihadists have now spread to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. ETIM’s members are part of the Turkestan Islamic Party fighting with the Al-Qaeda umbrella group in Syria, but other Uighurs have joined IS in Syria and Iraq, and still others have joined local terror groups in Indonesia. 

China:  A multi-ethnic nation

China is home to twenty-six different ethnic groups.  While Western democracies have paid lip service to individual human rights as they practiced "systemic racism" and "white supremacy," over the last 30 years, China has raised 800 million of its citizens out of dire poverty--many from the ethnic minorities it is now being accused of mistreating.  As reported by the Brookings Institute, China's policies with regard to the Uyghur began in the 1990s, but only since China's economic power began to rival that of the USA have we heard any claim of genocide.


Hong Kong is part of China--not a distant island

Hong Kong is literally a stone's throw from the mainland and has always been part of China.  As a condition of losing the Opium Wars, whereby the British Empire forced China to accept imports of opium, China accepted that Hong Kong would remain a British colony for 99 years.  That period of 99 years expired in 1997 at which time China reclaimed sovereignty over Hong Kong while allowing it to operate as a distinct, autonomous region.  China was prepared to allow this situation to continue until demonstrations, protests, and riots broke out in Hong Kong.  Even after the demonstrators' demands were met and the new extradition act repealed, riots continued with demands for full, Western-style democracy.  China's allowing Hong Kong to, once again, become a Western colony is about as likely as the USA returning Texas to Mexico.  Logically, the continuing protests can only be understood as part of an American plan to destabilize the country and eventually overthrow the regime in Beijing.  The fact that Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations, had frequent meetings with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, confirms this interpretation.

Security and surveillance

Yes, China uses CCTV to guard the security and safety of its citizens, just as is done in London, England, and in every major city in the world these days.  Chinese computer surveillance systems have been developed but they are nowhere near as widespread or invasive as the Anglo-American ECHELON system designed to intercept private and commercial communication all over the world, or the PRISM surveillance system used by the US National Security Agency to spy on US citizens as well as people around the world.  Chinese data collection is modest in comparison to that of American technology companies like Facebook and Google.

Education in Xinjiang

China believes that education is the key to equality.  As outlined in MA Rong's research on "The development of minority education and the practice of bilingual education in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region," Uyghurs, traditionally, have the highest birth rate in China but  . . .

The development of an education system started late in Xinjiang, where there were only 525 college graduates and 593 high school graduates in 1957 (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Bureau of Statistics, 2006, p.519). In 2005, however, college enrollment reached 59 000,

And university enrollment of Uyghur both throughout China and abroad has continued to grow. 

Is Paid labour "forced labour"?

Uyghur workers are paid for their labour wherever they work.  On some occasions, they are required to work outside their home regions where their labour is needed but are paid wages that exceed what they would earn at home. Throughout its history, China has called upon its citizens and leaders of the Communist Party (including Xi Jinping) to work as manual labourers in the fields as a demonstration of equality, discipline, and solidarity.

The Arrest of two Canadians

There are only two possible explanations for China's arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and in both cases, Canada is to blame.  Either they are guilty of espionage (presumably on behalf of Canada) as the Chinese courts have alleged or, as is generally assumed in Western media, they have been imprisoned in retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng--in which case Canada is guilty of having thrown the first punch.

Where's the truth?

Here's a Chinese joke I encountered on Quora.  A young Chinaman is at customs about to enter the USA.  The customs agent asks him, "Why are you entering the USA?"  The young man replies, "I'm here to study the new brainwashing techniques."  The agent responds angrily, "We don't have brainwashing in the USA, we're not like China!"  "Yes, yes, that's it," the young man answers, "that's what I'm here to study."

"The truth," it is commonly observed, "is always the first casualty of war."  In the claims and counter-claims about China, I don't know where the truth lies, but the more I investigate, the more I find the inflated and inflammatory rhetoric of Western mass media to be uncontextualized, weakly supported by evidence, and reckless.

The "Thucydides trap" denied

In Chaos Under Heaven, Josh Rogin claims that the "Thucydides trap" "theory doesn’t fit the US-China relationship." As Rogin rightly points out, there are many variables in the lead-up to war.  One weakness of the theory, according to Rogin, is that "it assumes that China's rise is inevitable."  In 2015, China's rise might have been an assumption, but in 2021 it seems an undeniable fact.  By what measure would it be possible to conclude that China has not risen to the level of a world power?

Rogin concludes: "The Thucydides Trap concept is interesting, but we shouldn’t base our strategy on it."  "Interesting" is what we academics say when we want to say nothing. Given that the subtitle of Rogin's monograph is  "the Battle for the 21st Century," what is the logic of claiming that as we concoct a strategy (for what?) we should not consider the possibility of a war?  No-one in their right mind wants a war and yet they keep happening.  The whole point of the Thucydides argument (as I've quoted above) is that it is possible to avoid a war.  We can reduce the risk of war by cooling down the rhetoric, by being empirical, logical, accurate, precise, transparent, well-informed, and measured--all the things that we are not doing and being now.  Simply denying any possibility of a war does not reduce the possibility of it happening.

How a hot war begins

I was ten when President Kennedy announced that Soviet ships bringing missiles to Cuba would result in a nuclear war.  In our town, we had a special siren to announce that nuclear bombs had been launched.  I vividly recall the day the siren sounded.  No, it wasn't a nuclear war, but some idiot thought we should test the system without bothering to inform ten-year-olds like me. Cuba is 103 miles from the USA.  Taiwan is 81 miles from China. While the USA continues to impose sanctions on Cuba; goods, services, and people move freely between Taiwan and China.  According to the Taiwanese government website: "Today, Taiwan is one of the biggest investors in China." However, China is ready to go to war to prevent a US-backed Taiwan from declaring independence.  At least one observer has pointed out that "A US War with China over Taiwan Would Be Foolish and Costly"--not to mention potentially nuclear and absurd because Taiwan and China seem to be getting along fine if not for US intervention.

Preparations for war

With relatively little notice being taken in Western media, both China and the USA are preparing for war.  The focus of preparations is the South China Sea.  In theory, the battle is between China and the Philippines over conflicting claims of territorial waters. The Philippines, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and Canada, is a pawn in the conflict between the USA and China.

Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific, warned that Chinese military developments looked to him like a nation planning for a war.

Davidson added that he believed China would attempt to forcibly reunify Taiwan "in the next six years." To guard against this possibility, Davidson asked Congress to provide a whopping $27 billion in additional funding over the current defense budget.

Ships and chips

It seems a historical motif that wars begin with the sinking of ships.  The sinking of the USSS Maine started the Spanish-American War, the sinking of the Lusitania brought the USA into WWI.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to a US escalation of the war in Vietnam. Everyone knows about the Japanese "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbour, but do people know why the Japanese attacked?  It wasn't a surprise.  In fact, it was quite predictable.  The USA had imposed sanctions on Japan, blocking the supply of oil while Japan was at war with China.  The Japanese had to destroy the blockade or lose the war with China.  These days, the equivalent of oil is computer chips, and the USA is doing all it can to block the supply of computer chips to China.  Taiwan is the world's largest manufacturer of computer chips.  The government of Taiwan is happy to continue with its "unofficial" independence and its sales of computer chips to China.  The USA seems to be the one more interested in Taiwan's "official" independence and in cutting off the supply of Taiwanese chips to Chinese companies.

More ships, more triggers

The USA has been conducting naval war games in the South China Sea displaying increases in firepower over the last three years.  In 2021, the USA began simulating Air-Force war games over Taiwan.

As if arresting Meng weren't enough, in the midst of ongoing tensions, the Canadian navy warship, HMS Calgary, crossed the South China Sea because it was the shortest route between A and B, and to show whose side we're on.

With the US canceling the nuclear treaty, Iran has begun to process high-grade uranium once again.  In the face of US sanctions, Iran has formed a closer alliance with China.  As reported in Haaretz, just as new treaty negotiations were getting underway (without US participation), Israeli forces attacked an Iranian cargo ship which had been anchored in the Red Sea for years.

Why blame Jody Wilson-Raybould?

Why blame Jody Wilson-Raybould?  Because I believe in the theory of chaos.  Each of us is the potential trigger of a future that we could not possibly imagine.  And history isn't fair.  From 1949, when the Communist Party of China took control, until 1970, China was treated as a global pariah by Western powers.  In 1973, Pierre Eliot Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister and one of the first Western heads of state to visit China.  From that period until 2017, Canada's trade and diplomatic relations with China grew and improved steadily under both Conservative and Liberal governments, until the government of PM Justin Trudeau faced increasing criticism for becoming too friendly with China.  The Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Dec. 1, 2018, was an abrupt about-face from the last 48 years of our relations with China.  History will also mark that date as the day Canada was given the opportunity for another Lester B. Pearson moment, the opportunity to prove that Canada could be an independent peace-maker.  History will mark the day, in contrast to what might have been, as the moment when the channels for dialogue and negotiations between China and the West were broken, and Canada played a key role in the break.

To continue my Gavrilo Princip analogy, Richard Donoghue supplied the gun, but Jody Wilson-Raybould pulled the trigger.  Or, at least, she stood down from her responsibility as Minister of Justice, and let anonymous officials of the DOJ take responsibility for pulling the trigger.  In consequence, we face the absurdity of government leaders in two countries saving face with their constituencies by keeping a Chinese under house arrest in Canada and two Canadians in prison in China, the minor inconvenience of declining trade and economies, and 300,000 Canadians living in China put at risk while Chinese living in Canada face Anti-Asian hate crimes.  If the unimaginable worst-case scenario, which I have imagined here, happens, the question which will be asked:  "How did the Canadian Minister of Justice  allow it to happen over something so petty and remote as the allegation of a Chinese executive telling a fib to a Chinese banker in China?"

A Glimmer of hope

The Canadian justice bureaucracy continues to grind on in acquiescence to Richard Donoghue's dictates, meaning Meng and the two Michaels will, unless justice and common sense intervene, likely remain under arrest for another ten years. Richard Donoghue was replaced as Deputy Attorney General on January 20, 2021.  Donoghue has since disappeared from my internet radar.  However, his replacement, John Carlin, offered a glimmer of hope in the opening of his first public statement:

Before I begin, I’d like to address an important issue: the reports of horrific attacks on Asian Americans across the country.  I want to be clear here: No one in America should fear violence because of who they are of what they believe.  Period.  These types of attacks have no place in our society.  We will not tolerate any form of domestic terrorism or hate-based violent extremism, and we are committed to putting a stop to it.

We in the West need to be smart in our dealings with the superpower China has become.  Gross vilification of China and, "trickle-down," ignorant, myopic antagonism toward anyone who in Western eyes looks Asian is the opposite of smart.  

Addendum

"US Nuclear Fears Are Shifting From a Clear Russian Threat to a Murkier Chinese One"


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