Newsweek and the Washington Post are hosting a dialogue on the subject of faith and the possibility of coexistence between religions. Contributors so far include the Dalai Lama and Mohammad Khatami. Interesting to hear them speak, and to see people’s responses.
There has been significant progress towards sequencing Neanderthal DNA, and there are hopes of having an almost complete sequence in a year or so. This opens all kinds of doors to looking at what, genetically, makes us human.
On a related note, Slate is running an article about cross-species mating, and in particular why humans could or could not breed with other species. (This was prompted by a recent paper suggesting that humans and Neanderthals may have mated, and that’s the origin of some of our modern cranial capacity genes)
Back in the land of geopolitics, a Chinese sub managed to sneak up on a US carrier group. Apart from ‘s comment that someone O4+ is going to be in seriously deep shit over this, this suggests that they’ve been doing quite well on the technology needed to make highly silent motors and so on. (Whether they did so on their own or “acquired” this technology from elsewhere is an interesting question. China’s military has certainly never suffered from not-invented-here syndrome.)
There’s really a lot having to do with China going on right now. China and Iran are cementing an alliance, with Iranian oil getting ready to flow east. (Question: Anyone have some info as to what the routes are going to be? It looks like every possible path is going to involve some combination of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, which could make for some very exciting places to put oil pipelines. Don’t forget what happened to Russia’s Caspian -> Turkey pipeline, that once upon a time went through Chechnya…) Iran may well have had observers at N Korea’s nuclear test. (Unconfirmed rumors, but wouldn’t be all that surprising if true; those countries have been working hand-in-hand on this for a while.) China is similarly making alliances with a lot of other dubious places that have useful resources, like the Sudan and Zimbabwe, but that the West by and large wants nothing to do with. This certainly makes the notion of sanctions as a weapon pretty much infeasible, since that depends on some sort of unity, and could bring us back towards a bipolar world — if, that is, China’s “burn through the environment as fast as needed to get economic progress” algorithm doesn’t hit a really nasty obstacle in the near future. Which is not something that I would bet against. (Side note: They’re burning through this a lot faster than the US or Europe ever did, because they have a much higher population, and they have old systems in place which turn into a huge social unrest risk if they don’t keep the economy flowing. Add to this an almost total willingness to sacrifice the countryside to protect the cities, again because of unrest risk, and there’s a real problem brewing in China. Not that this would be useful to the furthering of US interests or anything.)
Really, China is in an interesting fix. They got where they are today by being the cheapest producer of all sorts of things. Now other Asian countries, especially in SE Asia, are thinking about competing with them; so what will China do? Keep trying to undercut them, or move into higher-end markets? The latter is more sustainable in general, but it doesn’t necessarily scale to a huge population quite as smoothly, and China has been moving so fast that it hasn’t really had time to transfer the benefits from its previous wave of growth to the population as a whole, so the moderating factor that that would create isn’t available. And trouble from the countryside, local riots, complete collapses of regions due to ecosystem failure, and so on, keep happening more and more often, while people keep streaming into already-overloaded cities. It reminds me a bit of the USSR: it looks awfully menacing on the outside, but if you look at their underlying logistics and infrastructure, there’s a very different thing going on.
Dammit, I’m not nearly enough of a China expert. Perhaps I’m going to need to start on that.