Tesla proves that it is easier to deal with government of China than government of Michigan

Annals of free markets #7231… “Tesla Model 3 floodgates open in China next week” (CNET):

Now, with local production in Shanghai, Tesla can skirt the ongoing US-China trade war. The occasion is also monumental for a different reason — Tesla’s Chinese factory is one of the first solely owned by a foreign automaker.

How are things back here in the Land of the Free (market)? Wikipedia shows that Tesla is restricted or banned from selling its products in 20 out of 50 states. It is banned from servicing its vehicles in 5 out of 50. “Our Tesla Model 3 Suffered a Catastrophic Failure While Parked” (Car and Driver):

… he received an ominous push notification from the Tesla app that the car had “suffered a failure and will no longer drive.” … it’s also an extraordinarily rare case of any car leaving us stranded, something unacceptable for any new vehicle, particularly one that costs $57,690 and with merely 5286 miles on the odometer. … even on Christmas Day, Tesla roadside assistance got a tow truck to us in about a half hour, which brought the car to the closest service center: Toledo, Ohio, because Tesla isn’t allowed to operate company-owned service centers in Michigan.

After a two-day wait, we were informed that there are issues with the rear drive unit, the pyrotechnic battery disconnect, and the 12-volt battery and that they are waiting for parts.

Separately, another recent Car and Driver article has a calculation by Mazda that its own modest-range electric car only emits less CO2 than a diesel-powered version after the car is driven at least 50,000 miles. It looks like a Tesla with a big battery would have to go 200,000+ miles before there was a net reduction in CO2 emissions compared to an efficient petroleum-powered car.

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Chinese face recognition system and air pollution masks

As part of the U.S. campaign to make sure that no country interferes in the internal politics of another country, “China’s ‘Abusive’ Facial Recognition Machine Targeted By New U.S. Sanctions”:

It has been coming, but the decision by the U.S. government to add a further 28 Chinese entities to its Commerce Department blacklist will still come as a shock. And the headlines will be dominated by the fact that in amongst those new additions are China’s leading AI surveillance unicorns. In short, the U.S. has just blacklisted China’s facial recognition industry, citing “human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.”

There may not be a good answer (except that Americans are always right?) to the question of what weight to assign security from jihad versus personal privacy. Certainly the Chinese are less willing to tolerate the risk of incidents such as the following:

  • Boston Marathon bombing (jihadists would not have been admitted to China because they generally don’t admit refugees or asylum-seekers as immigrants)
  • 2015 San Bernardino attack (would not have occurred in China because Syed Rizwan Farook’s parents would not have been allowed in as low-skill immigrants)
  • Orlando nightclub shooting (Omar Mir Seddique’s parents similarly would not have been admitted to China as immigrants)
  • 2017 New York City truck attack (Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov would not have been admitted to China as a low-skill chain migrant)

They’re also less willing to tolerate the kind of street crime and violence that Americans in Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, etc. accept as inevitable.

Let’s ignore this question of how a society should balance privacy versus security for the moment and think only in terms of practicalities. In a country in which the wearing of masks to filter out air pollution is common, how can a surveillance state based on facial recognition work? Anyone who doesn’t want to be recognized can simply don a mask, no?

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How to get rich in China: open a CVS clone

Merry Christmas Eve.

Suppose that you’ve been procrastinating or away on a trip. Your house is not decorated. You have not purchased any gifts. You don’t have any gift wrap. You are out of milk. You need a prescription refilled. You need a toothbrush and some shampoo.

Live in the city? Walk a maximum of 4-8 blocks to the nearest CVS (or Walgreens), likely open 24 hours. Live in the suburbs? Drive your pavement-melting SUV to the CVS that is 10 minutes away (maybe 20 in traffic?).

Suppose that you live in Shanghai, a city within a metro area with 35 million residents. Where’s the CVS or CVS-like store? Nowhere! A local friend said that Watsons was the closest, but it is more like the makeup section of a CVS. Note the lack of density in the photos below. Note also the air pollution mask section. (Also that the cash registers are at the back of the store; China seems to lack most of the anti-shoplifting measures that retailers have applied here in the U.S.)

(Also note the gender binarism in the restroom signage for the neighborhood mall in which this Watsons resides and the pedestrian overpass for the busy adjacent road.)

A Shanghai resident could likely get everything he/she/ze needed within less than an hour via delivery. Yet I think folks there would appreciate the serendipity of shopping in a CVS-style store.

For those who complain that the Chinese are trashing the planet via greenhouse gas emissions: Shanghai is actually saving the planet via government regulation. If you don’t bring your own bag, the merchant is required to charge you 5-10 cents for a plastic bag (as in the U.S., the result seems to be thick high-quality plastic bags, perhaps resulting in more energy use).

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Incompetence of Americans in service jobs is a sign of a vibrant economy or an uncompetitive workforce?

Going to Daytona Beach shortly after returning from Shanghai was a bit of a shock. About a third of the people working in retail stores and restaurants were barely capable of doing their jobs, no matter how simple.

Theory 1: this means the U.S. will have trouble competing with the world’s high-education countries (see “China’s Schoolkids Are Now Officially the Smartest in the World” (Fortune)). Our country is packed with people whose intelligence and education is not sufficient to do the jobs required in an advanced economy, e.g., pour coffee sooner than 30 minutes after a customer is seated in the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

Theory 2: the U.S. economy is so strong right now that all of the decent workers have been snapped up by high-paying employers, thus leaving people who ordinarily wouldn’t be in the workforce to be picked up by desperate service industries.

Supporting Theory 2 is that, even in Daytona Beach, there are some spectacularly profitable enterprises. The luxurious new art museum was funded by J. Hyatt Brown, who made over $1 billion via insurance commissions from an office in Daytona Beach. His collection of Florida-themed paintings contains at least one item that would be considered problematic today:

(I had some fun posting the above to Facebook. With only the text #NotOk “Watermelon Dreams”, I was able to generate more than 20 angry comments. A Trump-resister kicked it off by demanding to know “why are you posting this image and text?” (response: I am hoping for a revival of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Panther_Party )

Readers: What do you think? People who can’t keep a ham restaurant stocked with ham or deliver breakfast in less than one hour at a not-busy breakfast restaurant is a sign of long-term economic health or decline?

Unrelated… Merry Christmas from Krispy Kreme:

Check out the gender balance at the Pokémon card tournament that brought us down to Dayton:

Where are the demands that those identifying as “women” be allowed to participate in this activity, which is surely more fun than coding PHP or C++.

Being a pilot is tough, but someone has to do it… (at Yelvington)

We visited the Daytona Turkey Run and learned something about Family Mobility:

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Criticism of China about Uyghurs will lead to Bhutan-style deportation?

A bleak thought for the first day of winter…

Whenever I posted a photo of some amazing new piece of Chinese infrastructure, e.g., the Suzhou metro or part of the 24,000-mile high-speed rail system (California will catch up soon!), American friends would predictably respond with a complaint about the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs in response to an ongoing conflict.

(My American Facebook friends who’ve never been to China throw rocks at the sheep-like Chinese for following the party line, but they respond to virtually any mention of China in nearly identical and predictable ways: (a) point out that the government there is “authoritarian”; (b) “what about the Uyghurs?”; (c) “what about Hong Kong?”)

The same friends who criticize China regularly celebrate Bhutan, virtuously carbon negative (CNN) and using the correct yardstick (“meterstick”) of Gross National Happiness. That Bhutan deported one sixth of its population in the 1990s is apparently forgotten or not relevant.

Muslims are only 1.8 percent of China’s population (CIA). The Chinese government could reasonably infer that if the Bhutanese can be warmly appreciated by the global righteous after expelling a minority religious group that was 16-30 percent of its population (estimates vary), instead of continuing this draining fight it would make more sense to pay nearby Muslim-majority countries to take them and/or have an India-Pakistan-style split in which part of western China was given away.

In other words, could Western say-gooders concentrating on this theme actually end up harming the Uyghurs whom they purport to be helping?

(Separately, we are informed by our media that 1-1.5 million people are being detained in camps (example below). Ghoulish tech question: wouldn’t camps big enough to house this many people be easy to spot via satellite imagery? The U.S. prison gulag is easily spotted from space. It is easy to find articles (example; example 2) showing one or two camps, but not a comprehensive census. In the age of satellite imagery, why are the purported Chinese concentration camps the subject of speculation?)


  • “1.5 million Muslims could be detained in China’s Xinjiang: academic” (Reuters): A leading researcher on China’s ethnic policies said on Wednesday that an estimated 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims could be held in so-called re-education centers in Xinjiang region, up from his earlier figure of 1 million. … “Although it is speculative it seems appropriate to estimate that up to 1.5 million ethnic minorities – equivalent to just under 1 in 6 adult members of a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang – are or have been interned in any of these detention, internment and re-education facilities, excluding formal prisons,” Zenz said at an event organized by the U.S. mission in Geneva, home of United Nations human rights bodies.
  • U.S. incarceration rate (we are, sadly, #1)
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Air pollution has an insignificant effect on life expectancy?

It seems obvious that people who breathe filthy air would die young. Yet people in Shanghai live 13 years longer than those in poor provinces (source), which are presumably less densely populated and therefore might have cleaner air (but maybe they are breathing indoor smoke from coal used to heat?).

Another possibility is that people in Shanghai are being slowly killed by air pollution, but they’re so smart that their high IQ gives them a longer life expectancy to begin with. (Scientific American) Without the massive welfare state that the U.S. operates, it is tough for a person without a high IQ to move to Shanghai and thrive there (apartments are comparable in price to the most expensive U.S. cities; see Forbes).

There is supposedly a five-year difference in life expectancy in north versus south China due to worse air pollution from heating with coal in the north (source). But, again, how to square that with the 13-year boost in life expectancy in Shanghai, a city that is spectacularly polluted.

Mist or filth?

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Air pollution masks prove that women are more prudent than men?

As previously discussed here, air pollution in China, though it is being cleaned up gradually, is the one problem there that U.S. media is not exaggerating (see below for a good one, though!).

Anecdotally, it was women aged 20-40 who were most likely to be protecting themselves with a mask. Although helicopter parenting is no doubt common in Shanghai, it was uncommon to see children wearing masks. It was much more common to see a mother wearing a mask while the precious toddler inhaled filth than vice versa.

As only two out of 50+ gender IDs are recognized in China, I think I can safely refer to “men” versus “women” in this context. Based on observed mask-wearing behavior, I wonder if it would be possible to quantify, via a careful survey, the extent to which humans with one gender ID are simply more prudent than humans with a different gender ID.


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Why wasn’t Google Glass popular for translation?

Aside from missing family and friends and finding that wearing an air pollution mask tended to fog up my glasses, one reason that I was happy to return home from China was that it was no fun being illiterate. WeChat can be used to translate a sign or menu into English, but it is somewhat cumbersome. Same deal with Google Translate, which works to turn English text into characters to show shop and restaurant personnel.

It occurred to me to wonder why systems such as Google Glass hadn’t caught on simply for the purpose of finding text in every scene and translating into the traveler’s home language. Was there simply not enough battery power to have the thing running continuously? It would have added a lot to the trip if I could have just walked around streets and museums and, without having to take any explicit action, seen English language versions of all of the surrounding writing.

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Getting around the Great Firewall while in China: roaming versus VPN

Some practical advice for getting around China as a tourist…

Buying a local SIM means you’ll be behind the Great Firewall whenever you’re on LTE. Tourists whom I met said that they tried to use ExpressVPN, but that it did not work for more than a few days. “One VPN will work for awhile and then stop,” said a local. I had subscribed in advance to Express VPN, but found that it never worked on WiFi.

The Verizon Travel Pass: works! “They don’t care what foreigners read or think,” said a local. Be aware that the included 0.5 GB per day will be consumed within an hour or two if you let photos sync over cellular data. Simply using iMessage to share photos, posting to Facebook, etc., will run up close to the 0.5 GB limit every 24 hours (Verizon will sell you another 0.5 GB for $10, but in a world of ever-increasing bandwidth consumption they really should expand this).

Public WiFi is often 50+ Mbps, but, as in France, it is not legal to run a completely open network. You have to authenticate with a mobile number and it often doesn’t work to type in a foreign number. The splash pages are often in Chinese only. Hotel WiFi networks are authenticated with room number and last name, but some networks are more permissive than others. The Four Seasons Shanghai ran a network that worked with all the Google services, albeit crawling at 3 Mbps. Networks in Suzhou, Hangzhou, and at the Wanda Reign hotel back in Shanghai were faster, but Google was locked out.

If you love Apple, you’ll find that the Chinese government shares your love. Apple speaks truth to power by disabling its news service entirely in China, even for foreigners connected via roaming. (Tim Cook is not afraid to challenge voters in Arkansas, though!) Perhaps not coincidentally, every Apple service seems to work in China (but you won’t find the Taiwanese flag emoji on the keyboard if you buy the phone in China).

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China proves that one-party rule makes people happier?

I met a lot of people in China who were unhappy with some of the Chinese government’s policies, notably the Great Firewall and control of the media (the stuff that is used to whip up Westerners’ outrage was not foremost in their minds; nobody mentioned the Uyghurs and when I asked the response was that the potential for domestic jihad required some tough policies, the Hong Kong situation was regrettable, but not obviously the government’s fault).

The level of personal bitterness regarding politics was much lower than in the U.S. To the extent that anyone was blamed, it was a handful of leaders at the top of the Communist Party, not fellow citizens. (The Party has roughly 90 million members, or 6 percent of the population, but this includes people with ordinary jobs as farmers, for example.)

Contrast to the U.S. Even in a one-party state, such as California, there is bitterness and hatred. Bay Area Californians, for example, blame the Republican remnant down in Orange County for preventing them from implementing their Socialist dream (somehow a Republican in Orange County is stopping San Francisco from taxing residents to pay for housing for the homeless, universal health care for San Francisco residents, and the rest of the dream? why can’t folks in the Bay Area give up their Teslas and foreign vacations and move the tent people into apartments?).

On a nationwide scale, given the roughly even split among voters, we are virtually guaranteed to have 50 percent of Americans blaming the other 50 percent for voting for whichever party is currently in power (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2019/11/22/coastal-elite-hatred-of-trump-voters-explained/ for example). This does not happen in China. One business executive said “I explain our politics to friends from Texas by saying ‘imagine that the mafia took over control of Dallas.'” Certainly he seems to have little affection for the Party (referring to them as a “mafia”), but he recognizes that there is nothing he can do to change it and that none of his neighbors are to blame for the Party’s control of China. So he concentrates on his business, his family, and his friends, enjoying what he says is a superior lifestyle to what he had in New York City (elite U.S. MBA and job at a top Wall Street bank). He says that there is more practical freedom of speech in China compared to the U.S.: “In China, the Party is clear about what they don’t want you to disagree with publicly,” he noted. “but in the U.S. the boundaries of acceptable speech change from week to week.”

How about freedom of the press? That’s an unqualified good, right? We love the First Amendment, I hope (though we don’t want “hate speech” or anything that makes us and our allies feel unsafe). Consider the New York Times. They run article after article intended to make the majority of Americans resentful of our richest neighbors. These include statistics on inequality that are cooked by valuing the services that a poor American receives at $0. So a person who is guaranteed the lifetime (and often multi-generational) right to live in a $1 million market-value unit in the center of a gleaming city, guaranteed a $30,000/year market-rate family health insurance policy, guaranteed a lifetime of free food and free smarthphone service, etc. is considered to be poorer than the poorest resident of Malawi.

Even if the data were not cooked to the point of absurdity, an article about inequality in the broad economy has no value to more than 95 percent of Americans. Unless they live in a swing state, their vote does not count and they have no influence on national politics. The English-language media in China contains a lot of puff pieces on the good works done by the Chinese government, e.g., flatland Chinese troops who are stationed in Tibet rescuing injured tourists, but the propaganda angle is clear and the reader can ignore it all if desired. Consider how much time Americans spend obsessively tracking the Mueller report (see my recent bookstore photos from Denver), the quest for Trump’s tax returns, the impeachment process soon to be entering its fourth year, etc. Except for those who are in Congress, wouldn’t they have been better off using that time for dinner with friends, reading a book, or learning new skill? Here’s a selection of English news offered at my hotels:

(Note that government control of traditional media has, according to locals, no effect on their practical access to information. “We can learn anything we want about Hong Kong on social media,” said a 24-year-old.)

Maybe the system of government as conceived by our Founding Fathers was a good one (especially since it came with the ability to steal the rest of North America from the Native Americans, which the British had prohibited), but stretched from 3 million to 330 million and combined with a reader-hungry media it results in unhappiness? Or maybe democracy itself is inherently a system in which neighbor will end up hating neighbor (or spouse)? Every government policy results in winners and losers (even building a bridge will harm the livelihood of people who previously operated ferries) and therefore every government policy has voters on both sides. Folks who are harmed by a government policy will therefore inevitably come to hate a majority of their fellow citizens on that issue (since presumably it wouldn’t be a policy if a majority of voters did not support it)? The mutual hatred level gets amped up considerably when people take the position that their vote on an issue is due to their passion for “justice” (a universal) rather than simply self interest (potentially personal).

Not being a Mandarin speaker, it is a bit tough to say whether people are actually happier in China than in the U.S. overall. Out and about, the Chinese actually did seem more content, consistent with the Gallup Global Emotions survey. 87% of Chinese experienced “enjoyment” versus 82% of Americans, an achievement given that the GDP per capita is lower in China; “worry” was at 29% in China and 45% in the U.S. (imagine how worrying it is for a Californian or New Yorker to think about what crimes Trump might commit next!), “anger” and “sadness” were substantially lower in China as well. Despite consuming more opioids than the rest of the world combined, Americans experienced more “pain” than people in China! Maybe we all need higher doses of fentanyl?

Family life in China seems happier. Maybe it is the one-child convention (no longer a law), but it was common to see married couples out with their cherished offspring as a unit of 3. In the U.S., by contrast, Parent A might be with Child 1 at Activity X while Parent B is with Child 2 at Activity Y. (Or the child might have only one parent, incentivized with welfare and/or child support cash, unlike in China where being a “single parent” from the start is simply illegal.)

A 1996 photo series, Standard Family, by Wang Jinsong. From the (awesome) Power Station of Art.

Readers: What aspect of American political and press freedom actually contributes to the happiness of Americans?


  • trust in fellow citizens in China versus the U.S. (63 percent versus 38 percent who say “most people can be trusted”; China is at about the same level as Sweden (certainly Shanghai taxi drivers are a lot more trustworthy than their old-school New York counterparts!))
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