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Confucious Reigns

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White


There is an old Chinese curse that simply says ‘May you live in interesting times’ and right now I am wondering if much of the world has been collectively cursed.


Only in the past few days we have seen the beginnings of nuclear brinkmanship between Donald Trump in the United States and Kim Jong Un in North Korea, 2 leaders who are playing the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ type of bragging game.  So far that’s all it is – bragging and blagging and following, as the war of words did, on yet another failed nuclear missile test by North Korea, there’s no contest in the bigger and better stakes. 

 

The US has had more than 70 years to develop and refine its nuclear weaponry and there’s no doubt at all that it has a huge arsenal capable of launch by land, air and sea.  North Korea, on the other hand, is a relatively new kid on the nuclear block and appears to be, what in colloquial English might be called, ‘all mouth and trousers’. 

 

That said, the world has done all it could since the end of the Second World War to avoid any nuclear conflict so any potential empty threat is enough to put the fear of God into us all and despite what some critics have said about Trump’s finger on the red button 9myself included), the real danger surely lies in a mad Eastern despot with absolute powers and a propensity for the sadistic?


And let’s not forget the recent US bombing raid on a Syrian military base.  Trump has vowed to eschew the  ‘all talk, no action’ policies of his predecessor and cut the Islamic terrorist snake off at its head so expect more aggressive interventions in the region and potential support from British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.  


Over in the Balkans, President Urdogan of Turkey has just won a public plebiscite which potentially gives him sweeping personal powers.   His new mandate allows him to transform his largely ceremonial role to a position with vast power as both the head of state and the head of government.  The ‘yes’ vote allows him to scrap the role of Prime Minister and gives him sole mandate to appoint senior judges, dissolve parliament, declare a state of emergency and in some cases make law by decree:

 

Further, under the new system, Mr ErdoÄŸan could theoretically remain in power until 2029.  According to his hustings stand, the country needs strong, stable leadership to counter the increasingly unstable near-Eastern region but critics countered that it was simply a move towards voter-mandated dictatorship.  With Turkey the only buffer between mainland Europe and encroaching Islamic terrorism, the idea of an all-powerful potentate as head of state is definitely a matter for concern.


In Europe itself, France is in the throes of a general election in which it is almost certain the far-right, under Marine Le Pen, will gain substantial ground, whilst even in the ultra-liberal, ultra-laid-back Netherlands, right-wing candidate, Geert Wilders, made a strong showing in the recent Dutch elections.  Factor in a deal of anti-Merkel sentiment in Germany, following deadly, home-grown Islamic attacks, many linked to her open-border debacle of 2 years ago and a swing to the right is easily detectable there too. 

 

That’s a big block of western Europe leaning more to the starboard bow than would have been thinkable even 5 years ago – interesting times, indeed.  You will note that I haven’t mentioned the UK, where the result of the newly-announced snap June election is pretty much a foregone conclusion and where the public has already voted to leave the European Union;  many pundits are predicting more drop-out European countries in the foreseeable future, as soon as the Brexit dust settles so the once united European front is starting to come apart at the seams.


And closer to home,  the net around President Jacob Zuma seems at last to be closing.  His attempts to control the Finance Ministry, his theft of public funds to improve and expand his private residence, his alliance with the wealthy Gupta family and a shady arms deal from before he took office, are all coming home to roost and it looks now as though it’s not a question of if he is ousted but when.  Stand by for a period of political and economic uncertainty before any attempt at rebuilding and reforming can take effect.  And as our nearest neighbours and economic partners, we too will feel the quake and the numerous aftershocks.


So what does all this mean to the man-in-the-street?  Well, in a nutshell, worry.  Like much of the world, Botswana is still feeling the effects of the 2009 recession and it would not take much to plunge us back down.  Our currency is especially vulnerable as the pula is tied to a basket of currencies, chiefly the South Africa rand and every downward turn that takes, affects our national reserves, our economic outlook, the pula in our pockets and the prices on the shelves. 

 

Already it has lost against the pound sterling and the US dollar so expect to pay more for overseas imports.   It also points to a time of uncertainty in the job market as some companies may close, others downsize and everyone, bar the wealthy elite, will feel the pinch.  It will be dèja vu all over again.


So interesting times, yes, but perhaps the coming together of all these global moods and moves may well prove propitious? The darkest hour is just before dawn, so it’s said, not to mention no pain, no gain.  Zuma is a corrupt and untrustworthy politician and South Africa cannot begin to revitalise till he has been dethroned; Islamic terrorism has taken hold of much of the near East and its barbaric fanaticism needs to be stopped; Modern Europe is a different place to its pre-war past and ‘far-right’ will never again morph into xenophobic fascism;

 

North Korea is a rogue state that threatens world peace so maybe it’s time someone stood up to be counted in reining it in; and Turkey still hankers after European Union entry so Urdogan will need to tone down his complete power grab if he wants to stay friends and join the club.  So a pox on your Chinese curse, I say, and living in interesting times is surely better than dying in them?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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