Tuesday, November 30, 2010

China's changing frontier?

(Holy hell, new content on the blog! What's it been, like a decade?)

Two data points from the last week or so. First, this long article in Tehelka about China's military moves along India's northern frontiers (basically, on either side of Nepal and Bhutan.) The Chinese have massively strengthened their forces along the border, presumably (the article argues) to force a change in the status of the line of control -- changing de facto borders with India in to de jure ones. Also, the article argues that China might try to actually take new territory to secure Tibet once and for all.

Secondly, the news today that China may be singalling to the US and other regional allies that it's about had it with this North Korean bullshit. From the Guardian:
"Citing private conversations during previous sessions of the six-party talks , Chun claimed [the two high-level officials] believed Korea should be unified under ROK [South Korea] control," Stephens reported.

"The two officials, Chun said, were ready to 'face the new reality' that the DPRK [North Korea] now had little value to China as a buffer state – a view that, since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, had reportedly gained traction among senior PRC [People's Republic of China] leaders. Chun argued that in the event of a North Korean collapse, China would clearly 'not welcome' any US military presence north of the DMZ [demilitarised zone]. Again citing his conversations with [the officials], Chun said the PRC would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a 'benign alliance' – as long as Korea was not hostile towards China.
Now, this is all effectively third-hand information: what a South Korean envoy told a US diplomat he'd heard from two Chinese envoys. Still, it's plausible and actually makes sense: at this point, China would probably profit substantially from even a semi-open relationship with a united Korea, as opposed to the status quo.

But what interests me is the strategic shift both pieces seem to indicate. North Korea is really the last major source of headaches for that part of China's world, and really the only one in the near future where "Americans in a shooting war" is at all a likely possibility. A united Korea would eliminate an ongoing political headache, a security headache, and open up an economic opportunity for the Chinese. This is all part of modestly successful history of China calming down relations with Japan and even Taiwan--there's not a lot left to fight over in the North Pacific.

Meanwhile, if the Tehelka article is to be believed, Beijing is basically preparing for a future of outright competition, if not hostility, with India. It's a relatively straightforward strategic shift from China worrying about it's eastern borders and conflict with the US and its allies, to worrying about India.

Of course, the idea of a major power war between the two countries is terrifying so this isn't just academic interest. The idea that China and India are going to replay the Franco-German relationship of the early half of the 20th century feels a bit more plausible every year...

Monday, November 08, 2010

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here!

The title of an academic paper: “Financial Economists, Financial Interests and Dark Corners of the Meltdown: It’s Time to set Ethical Standards for the Economics Profession”

Yes, after almost 250 years since Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" and 140 years since "Das Kapital", it might just be time to set some ethical standards for economics. Or maybe that might have been a century ago, it's so hard to tell.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

E-voting without worrying

There are some TED talks that are simply impossible to not finish once you start them, where the speaker is so engrossing that when the video ends you feel like your first girlfriend just dumped you. This is not one of those. In fact, it's pretty dull.

But it's important! And interesting, despite the terrible speaker! So watch!

It's 2010, your future is here (sorta)

Daily dose of US Supreme Court humour

So the state of California is defending an asinine law before the US Supreme court that would allow the state to ban violent videogames. Via Geekology, it appears the deliberations are not going well for the state. Some excerpts from the transcript:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I don't think; is that answering Justice Kagan's question? One of the studies, the Anderson study, says that the effect of violence is the same for a Bugs Bunny episode as it is for a violent video. So can the legislature now, because it has that study, say we can outlaw Bugs Bunny?...

MR. MORAZZINI: Justice Sotomayor, cartoons do not depart from the established norms to a level of violence to which children have been historically exposed to. We believe the level of violence in these video games-

JUSTICE SCALIA: That same argument could have been made when movies first came out. They could have said, oh, we've had violence in Grimm's fairy tales, but we've never had it live on the screen. I mean, every time there's a new technology, you can make that argument.
Bonus sensibility from Justice Scalia (there's a sentence I don't use often):
JUSTICE SCALIA: I'm not concerned about the jury judging. I'm concerned about the producer of the games who has to know what he has to do in order to comply with the law. And you are telling me, well a jury can -- of course a jury can make up its mind, I'm sure. But a law that has criminal penalties has to be clear. And how is the manufacturer to know whether a particular violent game is covered or not?

Does he convene his own jury and try it before -- you know, I really wouldn't know what to do as a manufacturer.
Of course, the same basic principle applies to the ever-expanding field of copyrights, but that's another topic...