Friday, August 30, 2019

Advances in Bio & Tech

What's new in the realms of science and tech?

Peter Denning interviews me about the “resilience” of our critical infrastructure, from the power grid and cell-phones to transportation, food supplies and solar roofs, in the new issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM). I offer a dozen measures - some of them incredibly easy/cheap - that could improve robustness against shocks, by orders of magnitude, preventing us from ever facing a “Postman” situation. 

For those of you who aren’t ACM member-nerds, I’ll post a version some time. And yes, I’m qualified as a physicist, electrical engineer and longtime consultant on these matters with corporations and agencies. But frankly, it’s the science fiction. Of course it is.

Fascinating. Researchers turned in 17000 “lost wallets” in 40 countries, some containing small or large amounts of cash (up to $100) and some none. They found that national/cultural differences counted less than expected, and the subjects proved more honest or assiduous about contacting the purported owner when there was cash than when there wasn’t. Well, one common factor: the receiving party was usually a person “on duty” at a hotel or bank desk or a store clerk or some such.

Ah reality. In The Transparent Society I warned you. Researchers at UC San Diego and Google trained a neural net to take any photo and “adjust the lighting at will — including the direction, temperature, and quality of the light.”

== New Materials/New uses ==

As I portrayed in Existence, we are closer to achieving adaptable contact lenses that can adjust focus and zoom in when you blink.

A new class of materials -  lanthanum superhydrides displays superconductivity at temperatures of about minus-23 degrees Celsius (minus-9 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a jump of about 50 degrees compared to the previous confirmed record. Crum, you could live at that temperature with a good jacket! Alas, this superconductivity happened under extremely high pressure, so forget the sweater. 

Another crazy material breakthrough is reminiscent of science fiction ’s legendary “slow glass” (Bob Shaw), that would transmit an image across minutes, years or decades of delay. This isn’t quite as “cool.” In fact, it's main use is it’ll warm buildings at night. “When exposed to sunlight, this incorporated molecule absorbs the majority of solar energy emitted by the rays that bathe it, soon releasing the energy as heat once no longer in direct daylight.” (Abundance newsletter.)

And related -- Scientists have constructed a water purification system that utilizes heat waste from solar panels to distill clean water. (Abundance Insider) If the oligarchs will let us, we can save the world for them.

And can a  a $10 magnet be used to double the output of hydrogen from a water-splitting electrolyzer? Could be especially useful in space.

Had this in Existence. This bone conduction device lets you make calls by sticking your finger in your ear.

Canon ran an indiegogo campaign for IVY REC - a clippable, go anywhere, waterproof, ultra-compact point-and-shoot camera that's about the size of a USB flash drive and features a built-in carabiner.  Talk about “Brin’s Camera-Corollary to Moore’s Law.” And it will go on, by orders of magnitude. Seriously. When one of you actually gets one, report back here?

The atomic M.R.I.can distinguish neighboring atoms from one another, and types of atoms based on their magnetic interactions. The new technology could help scientists study how proteins fold and one day be used to design atomic-scale methods of storing information, for quantum computers.

Using terahertz light, researchers have shown that such high-frequency light can control properties like macroscopic supercurrent flowing – superconductivity - and access high-frequency quantum oscillations once thought forbidden by symmetry.

== Bio and Tech advances ==

For a decade I’ve been saying that the microbiome will be an area of medical miracles much more quickly accessible than the genome or proteome. Because the number of types of gut and skin bacteria that need to be evaluated for effects is linear, numbering in the mere tens of thousands. Now see how one variant found in distance runners may come to market soon. FitBiomics aims to mine the biology of the most fit and healthy people in the world and then aim to translate into probiotics," staring with testing Veillonella in human subjects with the ultimate goal of creating an endurance-boosting symbiont.

What we currently call “probiotics” will be deemed random voodoo, as soon as 5 years from now, when personalized gut supplements will pour from labs.

Chimeras, oy!  Wholly Mackeral. Dig this new book: Chimera Research -Methods and Protocols.  

“This volume addresses challenging new questions surrounding stem cell-based chimera research. This book is organized into three parts: Part One provides readers with a summary of different human donor cell types. The chapters in this section discuss ways to evaluate new types of pluripotent stem cells; the derivation of naïve and primed pluripotent stem cells from mouse preimplantation embryos; and the ethical and regulatory complexities of informed consent for the procurement of somatic cells. Part Two discusses methods for generating chimeras. The chapters here look at chick models and human-chick organizer grafts; generating human-pig interspecies chimeras; and techniques for transplanting mouse neural stem cells into a mouse disease model for stroke. Part Three concludes the book with a look at ongoing ethical controversies and new scientific directions. Chapters in this part cover the ethics of crossing the xenobarrier; animal welfare; experimentation with spermatogonial stem cells; and cautious approaches to human-monkey chimera studies to further understand complex human brain disorders. Written in the highly successful Methods in Molecular Biology series format, chapters include introductions to their respective topics, lists of the necessary materials and reagents, step-by-step, readily reproducible laboratory protocols, and tips on troubleshooting and avoiding known pitfalls."

Taking this even farther into Outer Limits territory: “the idea of biologically humanizing large portions of a monkey’s brain is seriously unnerving.” In April, Chinese researchers announced they had inserted  a human brain gene into monkey embryos, a gene critical for human brain development. “It’s one thing to “humanize” an animal for, say, a pancreas, it’s another thing when you are talking about the brain…"

Only remember all this is aimed at a better understanding of Alzheimers, by far the worst modern disease in the developed world without any at all effective treatment.

An “epi-pen-like” injection uses nanoparticles to reprogram aggressive immune cells — thereby preventing the immune system from overreacting — to reduce inflammation and promote a therapeutic response. The aim: preventing paralysis in the aftermath of trauma to the central nervous system.

Triangle-weaver spiders use their own web the way humans might use a slingshot or a crossbow.

Speaking of spidey strength. The HyQReal robot is about 4-feet long and moves around on four legs. The HyQ’s developers, IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, recently demonstrated the squat quadruped’s strength by having it tow a 7,275 lb passenger plane across a length of asphalt at an airport in Italy.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Are they plotting to 'save US Conservatism?'

At the end of this weekend posting, I'll speculate on signs of desperate scheming among residual "elders" of the Republican Party and their backers who, like Prussian nobles of 1933, are murmuring "what have we done?"

== Competition vs cooperation ==

My friend (and RASR) investment guru John Mauldin knows something's wrong. He knows the U.S. right has gone insane, but keeps trying to couch it in terms that "balance" the blame. This time he refers to the brilliant economic pundit Michael Lewis whose seven-part podcast called Against the Rules "begins by talking about referees, specifically the referees who toil at NBA games. Later episodes deal with the “referees” in financial markets, courts of law, civil society, and government."

Now you know I'm one of the folks most avidly pushing rediscovery of Adam Smith. Competition is great! But as Smith reiterated, competitors will cheat. They always have, across at least 4,000 years. For the last couple of centuries we've taken gradual, then major (if incomplete) steps toward solving the problem through careful regulation

I've long said that regulation to prevent cheating sits at the core of our five great competitive arenas... DEMOCRACY, MARKETS, SCIENCE, COURTS and SPORTS... the last one proves the point. And I'm glad to see Michael Lewis working it.

Blatantly, sports would collapse without close regulation. Science mostly successfully self-regulates with fierce reciprocal accountability, though some institutions are required. Courts are meticulous, but can be poisoned with 3rd rate judges (a top GOP priority.)

Democracy and markets must have cheating-prevention protocols thoroughly legislated, as our parents knew in the Greatest Generation. And since Reagan, the top goal of the GOP has been to tear down (not update) those cheating-prevention tools. And as a result, now Democracy and Markets are in freefall collapse.

Alas, John M. then tries to get away with the last stand of RASRs -- Residually Adult-Sane Republicans -- crying out "Both sides are at fault!"

It's not true. It's not even remotely true. 

"But the overarching theme on both left and right is that the “referees” are no longer fair or impartial." 

Riiiight. Except at the level of a few cherry-picked anecdotes and some loopy campus lefty-flakes, there is no equivalence to hide behind.  (Example: blue states institute paper ballots and auditable elections while red states buy no-audit machines from companies with Russian ties. How do you call that equivalent?)

A RASR who also loves America and civilization - and honest-competition, and hope for a decent future - has one option. Help kill the Republican Party dead. Be confidently assured that the Democratic Party, after restoring the Rooseveltean contract of the Greatest Generation, along with science and active leadership solving real problems, and restoring accountability... 

...will then break apart! The half that forms a new "right-ish" party - the Adam Smith wing - will be pro-entrepreneurship! While also believing in facts, justice, equality, facts, honest elections, facts, science, competitive markets and and saving the Earth... and facts. It will be everything you want. But first you must help us slay a vampire elephant.

== The Smart-Rich: are they awakening? ==

A crucial divide is between those oligarchs who think insatiable cheating will perch them atop a neo-feudal pyramid of inherited wealth and power vs. those who can smell inevitable revolution. 

“It’s not whether we should be capitalist or socialist. It’s how do we make sure that capitalism is working the way it has in the past,” said top investor Alan Schwartz at the recent Milken Conference, warning of “class warfare.” He noted that salaries and wages as a percentage of the economic pie are at a postwar low of 40%, prompting a “throw out the rich” mentality that would require some form of income redistribution to head off.

Mega investor Ray Dalio further warned that unless the American economic system is reformed so “that the pie is both divided and grown well” the country is in danger of “great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”

Not to mention Anthony Scaramucci, who in the last week or so seems to be trying to create an anti-Trump wing of the Republican party.

And most recently, the Business Round Table (of all conservative groups) in August 2019 issued a powerful statement finally rejecting an old cornerstone, Milton Friedman's manifesto that executives owed duty only to their stockholders' immediate value, and nothing and nobody else. That monstrous ethos is now seen as catastrophic, even by the BRT, who say that all stakeholders -- employees, contractors and suppliers, and the environment and civilization over the long term, should get full consideration and voice.

Let’s be clear. Capitalism did not “work” well across nearly all of the last 6000 years, because elites foiled or slowed its competitive creativity with relentless cheating. It’s what powerful males will do, 99% of the time, and that history led Marx to confidently predict a violent, proletarian-revolution end game. But it turned out that there was another path: curb the cheating. Successive waves of reform across the last 200 years started with the American Founders seizing and redistributing up to a third of the land in the former colonies, ending feudalist oppression. 

But other cheats flourished and it wasn’t till the Rooseveltean social contract that markets became flat-fair-open-competitive enough to really take off, growing an unprecedented middle class, while making shared investments in infrastructure, science, education, health, R&D and children… the greatest success story in history. 

That is, till that contract suffered slash-burn attacks, starting in the 1980s. And every retraction of that balanced approach – every “supply side” restoration of cheating – led to slower growth and skyrocketing disparities.

Maintaining a civilization of empowered citizenship -- the "diamond-shaped social structure" about which I often speak -- is a dilemma well described by famous historians Will & Arial Durant, in The Lessons of History:

"…the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”

Doubt it? The works of Karl Marx, lately thought consigned to history's dust-bin, are flying off the shelves now, on university campuses and in worker ghettos around the globe. And the smarter billionaires are starting to consider what kind of society will serve their enlightened self-interest. In EARTH and in EXISTENCE I forecast that some members of the world wealth aristocracy would start holding meetings about this. Perhaps we are seeing crude, preliminary signs.

Okay... we're ready for what I promised, the aroma I am sniffing of rats desperately seeking to bail... or get off a sinking ship.

== Schemers hoping to "rescue" the GOP ==

I've been (as you know) tracking signs of an underground movement by retired or retiring GOP figures, simmering and trying to scheme for the "salvation of US conservatism." 

I doubt that either of the two who have stepped up, so far, are in on it. ex-Gov. Bill Weld is a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate who -- in a sign of how low we've sunk -- appears to be taking Trump on from the president's "left." Just yesterday Joe Walsh, a conservative radio show host and former Republican congressman from Illinois, telegraphed he is running against Trump from the hard right. Nor would be the stand-up Schindler-figure, Justin Amash (like Oskar Schindler, a creep who refuses to sink further into outright evil.) 

Certainly Mitt Romney is scheming. That's a given, no matter what else! But the recent wave of Texas retirees from the House? Who knows?

The figure we aren't seeing, who is doubtless talking to desperate zillionaires is Paul Ryan. (Remember him? You will, soon. Oh bet on that.)

Deterring all of this, of course, is the 88% approval rating of Trump among Republican voters, daunting almost everyone from uttering a word, let alone standing up to the madness openly.

Left out of those polls? The plummet in self-identified Republicans, nationwide, threatening with extinction the zombie implement that has served Murdoch and Putin so well. (And yes, I deeply worry what will happen when Two Scoops is seen by them as more a liability than asset: don't eat anything fed to you by your commie pals, Don, lest you be more valuable to them as a martyr.) (God bless the US Secret Service!)

Also, just how brittle is that 88% Republican support? I recall Watergate, when Nixon's devoted support collapse, like sediment raining from a supersaturated solution, or like sentiment draining from tens of millions of Republican women.

Final thought: these oligarchs should ponder deeply the fate of the Junkers-caste prussian oligarchs in 1930s Germany, who thought they could control a populist beast they helped stir into hydrophobic frenzy.

Surprise, surprise! In its froth, the beast threw its riders and a gifted svengali leaped aboard, grabbing the reins. (Remember the line from CABARET: "Do you still think you can control them?")

The beast is not to be blamed as much as the beastmasters who crafted this outbreak. You who thought you could control this were not anywhere near as smart as you thought you were. And the smartaleck "fact-people" you've waged war against are not as stupid as you envision.

History would have predicted this. If you bothered to learn any.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Electoral reform + the best issue for wagers

== Electoral fixes ==

Am I alone in liking the recent Democratic Party presidential debates? I like the well-tuned level of mutual probing.  I like the exposure given to future important cabinet members. And one whole year ahead of the 2020 DP convention, I see no rush to "narrow the field." Sure, there are some I wish would go away. Delaney, Gillibrand for example. But Williamson's bizarro trip has swung toward harmlessly entertaining, and possibly slightly helpful pulling in more of the Goop Community.

Does anyone else wish Lawrence Lessig, who failed to make the debate cut under far-harsher rules back in 2016, had been onstagethis time? Lessig’s Equal Citizen campaign asks the mass brain - (you folks) - to offer debate questions via hashtag #askaboutdemocracy
I submitted one. Every Democratic proposal - from climate action and Health Care to student debt, consumer protection, equal rights and repairing democracy - can be supported not just morally, but by fair appraisal of facts. That's why the top agenda of today's right is fomenting hate toward all fact-using professions! From science, medicine, teaching and journalism to the "deep state" officers of law, military and intelligence agencies. Since (almost) every Democratic proposal is supported by facts, shouldn't we combat the War on Fact first? 

Hence my question to candidates:

"What would you do to restore Americans' ability to get past today's fog of confusion that's spread deliberately by right wing media and their foreign sponsors, and get back to negotiating based on demonstrable verifiable facts?" 

Sound impossible? See a dozen ways we can fight back for the very concept of objective, verifiable reality.

And here’s another encouraging item: researchers found that "psychological resistance" to fake news could be increased by having the subjects play an online gameIn the browser game, called Bad News, launched in February 2018, players become propaganda producers. They are allowed to manipulate the news and social media, invoking anger and fear. Tactics at their disposal include twitter bots, conspiracy theories, impersonation and photoshopped evidence. Still, while they use such Machiavellian approaches to attract followers, the players must maintain a "credibility score" to continue to be persuasive.

Huh. Find anyone who used that phrase “credibility score” before my novel EARTH, wherein it had a very similar purpose and use. Anyway, it’s not too soon to lure every “susceptible” you know into playing this game.


Workers in mostly red states aren’t seeing minimum-wage hikes, even though local lawmakers passed them. State-level officials and legislators in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin have all invalidated wage increases passed by cities, costing nearly 350,000 workers a total of $1.5 billion per year, a study finds. Even the smartest Democrat hasn’t figured out how to package this… and a myriad other travesties… so that our red neighbors wake up and remember who their parents’ favorite living human was.

== The acid test ==

WAGERS can be effective! But start with a wriggle-proof bet that corners denialist cultists and their Exxon/Russia/ Saudi/Koch masters. If you prove glaciers are retreating and every U.S. Navy officer is fretting the warming, they’ll just beat a retreat to the next magical incantation. (“Cow farts!” one idiot snarked at me, as a voodoo protective spell.) See my posting: Fight disinformation with wagers!

Above all, two words send every Fox-head fleeing: “ocean acidification.” They stammer and change the subject. There’s no goalpost shifting. Use those two words for wagers! 

Here goes. Demand your denialist cultist either refute these charges or pay up:

1. Acidification and eutrofication are killing the oceans and thus our planet. The Black and Caspian Seas are almost dead. The Mediterranean, Caribbean and East China Seas, plus the Gulf of Mexico are dying, as are much of the Pacific and Atlantic. Eutrofication is inarguably from human pollution. 

2. Acidification happens when you add Carbon-Dioxide to water (prove it with a 2 minute experiment! A straw, a glass of water and a swimming pool test strip.)

3. The source of rapidly skyrocketing CO2 is humans burning fossil fuels. Period. 

4. Foreign meddlers - coal barons, petro-boyars and oil-sheiks warring on our children for short-term greed - have stymied US creative response by ordering the GOP to slash R&D, thwart sustainables, block sensible legislation and mileage standards that saved us billions at the pump. They cancelled NASA and NOAA satellites, suppressed scientists. They ordered actual words, like “Earth” and “climate,” banned at federal agencies. (Part of the larger GOP war on all fact-professions.) 

Of course, there are more climate effects than acid-burnt and fertilizer-choked seas. (Red America is hard-hit!) But those two words “ocean acidification” are especially effective. They leave no room for even a squirming, wriggling, incantation-spewing confed-foxite to escape. And hence, you start here.

Demand your foxites either bet on points #1-4 above (and pay $) or admit their side is monstrous… or else (the usual result) they flee in panic while you get to slash their credibility before witnesses, by casting after their scurrying butts a single, manhood-demolishing hex-word: 



== A structural improvement that matters ==

From cowards back to heroes and another Lessig project. The Maine legislature passed a bill for “ranked-choice voting” in selecting electors for President. The "we're the opposite of Florida" state has passed a number of intelligent reforms - this one long pushed by Lessig's Equal Citizens campaign. 

If more states did this, the folks who dream of fostering 3rd party candidates could do their thing without screwing us up, as they did with their preening Nader and Jill Stein gestures. It would prevent many (not all) kinds of noxious outcomes. We need it nationwide.

It is also the way that people of the UK should have a second Brexit referendum. The insipid Remain vs. Leave dichotomy never captured the public's want, which would win any multi-choice, RCV-style poll: 

"Remain, if the EU negotiates some changes like better residency sovereignty."

Lessig urges you to send the Maine governor (@GovJanetMills) a tweet saying we need RCV for president. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

International affairs... and China Redux

Turmoil  in Hong Kong. A trade war that turns out to not be so "easy to win." Chinese companies replacing western ones drilling for middle eastern oil. Threats aimed at Taiwan. Accusations of currency manipulation. Ongoing Intellectual Property ripoffs.... I won't talk about any of those things in today's turn toward the east.

In fact, let's start with some good news for a change. 

Announced in 1978, China’s “Green Great Wall” project aims to plant 400 million hectares of new forests (spanning 42 percent of China’s landmass) by 2050. ... and now... "Alipay’s ‘crowd’-planted trees not only comprise a growing carbon sink, offsetting China’s high emissions, but also aid in building this 4,500-kilometer ecological barrier to combat land degradation. Over the past 20 years, China and India have contributed one-third of the planet’s increased foliage.” Now “green points” are being earned by Chinese citizens for engaging in eco-better activities like walking. These can be used to help plant trees.  
        (Via Abundance Insider.)

So much for the good. A recent posting of mine caused a lot of buzz regarding some of the state-sponsored mythologies and rationalizations for conflict that are now pouring from BeijingIf you haven't seen it, I offer at least half a dozen insights into China you've never seen elsewhere.

What are PRC leaders trying to achieve? And what narratives are they using to justify a coming "clash of civilizations?" And how insightful was Mao's demand that the masses "Combat Liberalism"?  

== International affairs ==

For foreign consumption: Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged countries not to "close their doors and hide behind them.”  Xi said there was no need for "civilizations to clash with each other.”…” No civilization is superior over others.” 

Of course ironies abound. For millennia, China closed its doors and declared the Central Kingdom to be so inherently superior that it had nothing to learn from outside cultures. Of course this was a mistake of titanic magnitude. 

But more important than history is what they do today. Yes, there is immense savvy and sagacity in their neo-mercantilist dedication to national development — the PRC leadership caste is made up largely of former engineers, not Wall Street parasites, slumlords, casino moguls and shyster-lawyers. Hence they are much better short term tacticians. Still, they appear to be poor at strategic overview of long-term consequences.

Our post World War II Rising World - from the rapid recoveries of Japan and Germany etc. to the spectacular rise of China - was built upon a plan crafted by FDR and Cordell Hull, then George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, for Pax Americana to do what no other empire did, favoring overseas industrial development by buying a hundred trillion dollars worth of crap we never needed. In China’s case, especially, this was the fifth time their only-ever friend came to their aid. This was policy -- to deliberately behave differently from every previous empire. And it worked. You're welcome.

But it's one thing to get rich selling us stuff. It is another to steal the inventiveness that enabled us to do that, thus killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

The final irony is that Xi and his factotums tell a very different story for internal consumption. Desperately seeking to unify the nation by riling up jingoism and fiery resentment, they stoke a sense of destiny and grievance at two levels. First simplistic public memes about revenge for colonialism (none of which applies to the USA, whatsoever, and we need to fiercely reject such guilt trips). Then second at an intellectual level.

Elsewhere I describe some of the rationalizations that are pouring from Chinese government think Tanks like Tsinghua University, where scholars like Feng Xiang work out “logically” how only one form of governance — a permanently centralized, pseudo-Leninist party apparat — can possibly guide humanity through a minefield of future challenges, These range from automation-driven unemployment and artificial intelligence to environmental stress and other dangers. 

They claim that this central party hierarchy will not at all (except in every way) replicate the ancient, dreary failures of imperial-feudalism. 

Moreover, in a final irony, this centralized, all-controlling state can never be asked or expected to wither away into Marxism’s idealized-liberated individualist anarchy, because it will always be necessary, under siege and attack from hostile forces. (How convenient for those whose personal self-interest lies in that apparatus being forever-needed.) 

In other words, the very last connection to actual, Marxian Marxism has been cut. These rationalizations are intelligent, well-articulated... and spectacularly dishonest in their tendentiously pre-decided conclusions, and especially their omissions. 

I’ll not repeat that error by tendentiously declaring their conclusions to be wrong! I don’t know — no one can. Indeed it may be that confucian-meritocratic hierarchy is the best way to guide humanity to a soft landing in a benign future. I doubt it, and I have evidence to back up my argument. But I was trained in the catechism of science: I Might Be Wrong. 

No, the most telling thing about this debate is that it is not a debate. Oligarchs of all kinds are declaring grand assumptions to justify the re-establishment of hierarchical rule over unruly (democratic) mobs, then commanding their hired intellectuals to justify that hierarchy. I portrayed this in EXISTENCE. The rationalizations of billionaires are remarkably similar to those of commissars.

No bad habit is more likely to convince the coming AI minds that human “sapience” is over-rated, and that we cannot be trusted with a burnt match.

== Influence at universities ==

Not to oversimplify. But one action could make a huge difference. It begins at U.S. universities, where foreign students -- including one-third of a million Chinese -- swarm across our campuses.

It used to be that when America, Canada and the west took in hundreds of thousands of foreign students, we got a win-win. We'd skim off the top 10% and make them Americans, thus acquiring loads of international expertise for free, along with great, brilliant citizens...

... and we'd send the rest of those graduates home -- infected with our values!

The CPPRC have given high priority to ending this 70 year-old American win-win. Now? The top 10% of Chinese graduates from U.S. universities hurry home to government-subsidized opportunities to get rich! (Can't blame them.) Moreover, while they are here, 350,000 Chinese students are carefully herded, tended, indoctrinated by Confucius Institutes near our universities, encouraged to report on one another, and rewarded for information gathering.

Recent news from NPR: "Seeking to develop its "soft power" abroad, China's Education Ministry funds the Confucius Institutes...(to teach the Chinese language, but also)... to monitor Chinese students abroad and shape international perceptions of China." Senator Ted Cruz attached an amendment last year to the U.S. military spending bill that says a university with a Confucius Institute cannot also receive money from the Defense Department program that pays for Chinese language training. Forced to choose, at least 13 U.S. universities have closed Confucius Institutes in the past year.

Might I recommend a much better silver bullet?  

Require all* undergrads and grad students to take one year of civics. Our civics. With focus on due process, rule of law, and the reasons why individual leaders should matter much less than transparent-accountable error-detecting processes. Heck, a large part of the class could consist of just viewing and discussing great films like "Mr. Smith goes to Washington." Oh, and make the Confucius Institutes register and pay taxes, and accountable to any student they bully.

Even if 99% pretend the courses had no effect on them, their steeped-in knowledge of rule-of-law and accountable authority would be a ticking time bomb to the CPPRC. They will know that they need to plan for a withering away - either ours or Marx's. And if the politburo guys do that loosening soon enough... gracefully enough... they may even be well-remembered by the free generations to come.

== A lesson from kindergarten -- Remember your friends ==

"Chinese strategist Yan Xuetong’s book Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power argues that all countries must recognize and accept China's centrality to the world as the Middle Kingdom," writes Yuriko Koike in The World Post.  

In fact, that way of thinking has been China’s curse, ever since Emperor Chi’in made the transcendent mistake of uniting the Four Nations. Until that moment, those four kingdoms had been profoundly innovative and progressive… the way a divided Europe rocketed ahead in the 15th through 19thcenturies. The sense of centrality -- Chung Kuo or "central kingdom" -- made things more "peaceful" though no more safe for commonfolk. It also led to one calamitous error, after another. Above all, a preening attitude that drove away every potential friend.

Don't believe it? Here is the ultimate question to ask our friends -- and I do mean to call them by that word – in the Central Kingdom, in order to help talk them down from a rising nationalist boil. This is another of my... name one example challenges.

Across the subsequent four millennia, name for us one example of a great and loyal foreign friend that China ever had? 

There was one. Only one, across 4000 years of civilization. Just one powerful friend who ever came - voluntarily and repeatedly (though not always vigorously or intelligently or with complete purity of motives) - to China’s aid, in times of need.  Not as a subject or satrapy, but just as a friend, seeking nothing in return. 

I’ll bet you’ll never guess who it was.

Oh, that one friend's record is far from perfect! But it is pretty good, by the standards of human history. And it truly was, across all those countless centuries, China’s only friend.

And funny thing… now that I think on it… the same exact thing can be said of Japan. 

Just.. one… true (though not always consistent)… friend.

* Yes, including especially U.S. born students!