Wednesday Night #1831

Written by  //  April 12, 2017  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

We had hoped to focus on AI and some of the challenges and opportunities that come with its expansion into seemingly every field. However, there just wasn’t the time to put the topic together properly and meantime, the past week has been filled with so many events! In preparation, however, you might want to read Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse

While pundits anticipated various outcomes from the Trump-Xi meeting, none could have foreseen the 180 degree turn in foreign policy brought about (we are told by him and others) by Trump’s viewing of the hapless victims of the sarin attack. From a policy of leaving Syria to its own devices to one of direct intervention via air attacks.
Opinions are sharply divided about the wisdom of the attacks and despite glowing statements from Mr. Trump about the success of their meeting After Xi Leaves U.S., Chinese Media Assail Strike on Syria

Foreign policy conveyed by Twitter remains the Trump gold standard
President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he had told China’s President Xi Jinping at a summit last week that Beijing would get a better trade deal with Washington if it helped solve the U.S. problem with North Korea.
“I explained to the president of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” Trump, who held talks with Xi in Florida last week, wrote on Twitter.
“North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” he added in a second note.
His solution to the problem seems to be the U.S. Navy strike group steaming toward the western Pacific – a force U.S. President Donald Trump described as an “armada”. (Does he know what the fate of the Spanish Armada was?). In response North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression.

The current developments in Asia highlight the timeliness of the intensive course “Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific” our OWN Cleo Paskal is leading from 29 May to 3 June at Université de Montréal’s Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERIUM). A fascinating topic and she has attracted some great guest lecturers.

The New Silk Road’s first freight train from the UK has set off for China
A freight train filled with UK-made whiskey, vitamins, soft drinks, and other products set off for the first time yesterday, for China’s heralded “New Silk Road,” reports China’s state news agency Xinhua. In 18 days, it is expected to arrive at the city of Yiwu in eastern China.
The London-Yiwu line recreates the ancient “Silk Road” trade route that once connected Europe to China. This week’s cargo will journey 7,500-miles (12,070km) through France, Belgium, and Germany. It will pass from a DB World locomotive to the InterRail, and continue via Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazahkstan, before arriving on April 27.

A very different London story is the long interactive essay Will London Fail? with beautiful black and white photographs that underline the author’s pensive tone.

David T. Jones and David Kilgour also address Brexit this week. The former’s sardonic view is Brexit Prompts Bombast as Prime Minister May Invokes Article 50, while David Kilgour looks on the bright side in UK Can Still Exit Brexit.

And another train story: Germany unveils zero-emissions train that only emits steam
Germany is set to introduce the world’s first zero-emission passenger train to be powered by hydrogen.
The Coradia iLint only emits excess steam into the atmosphere, and provides an alternative to the country’s 4,000 diesel trains.
Lower Saxony has already ordered 14 of them from French company Alstom, and more are likely to be seen around the country if they are judged a success, reports Die Welt.

The NYT headline Trump’s Shift on Russia Brings Geopolitical Whiplash neatly sums up the current state of U.S.-Russia relations.

Syria Conspiracy Theories Flourish, at Both Ends of the Spectrum
Websites like Infowars are calling the chemical attack that drew United States fire a “false flag” operation, while liberal blogs have pointed to the strike as evidence of “wag the dog” diversion tactics.
Among the most outrageous, in our view, is Infowars claim that the White Helmets were the real culprits.
Ian Bremmer, the founder of the Eurasia group, said he was not “buying any of them” and pointed out that the theories conveniently fit preconceived notions and motives, but don’t really make sense.

On the other hand, Gwynne Dyer argues convincingly that although others might benefit from provoking the U.S., there is a certain logic to blaming Assad for the gas attack. His argument goes like this:
Why would he do that? For exactly the same reason: to trigger an American attack on the Syrian regime. From a policy perspective, that could make perfectly good sense.
The American attack didn’t really hurt much, after all, and it has already smashed a developing Russian-American relationship in Syria that could have ended up imposing unwelcome conditions on Assad. Indeed, Moscow and Washington might ultimately have decided that ejecting Assad (though not the entire regime) from power was an essential part of the peace settlement.
Assad doesn’t want foreigners deciding his fate, and he doesn’t want a “premature” peace settlement either. He wants the war to go on long enough for him to reconquer and reunite the whole country (with Russian help, of course). So use a little poison gas, and Donald Trump will obligingly over-react. That should end the threat of US-Russian collaboration in Syria.
Either of these possibilities – a false-flag attack by al-Qaeda or a deliberate provocation by the regime itself — is quite plausible. What is not remotely believable is the notion that the stupid and evil Syrian regime just decided that a random poison gas attack on an unimportant town would be a bit of fun.
Villains in DC Comics do bad things simply because they are evil. The players in the Syrian civil war do bad things because they are part of serious (though often evil) strategies. Whoever committed the atrocity at Khan Sheikhoun wanted the United States to attack the Syrian regime, and Donald Trump fell for it.
But if Trump was taken in by the Syrians, he certainly exploited his attack to send a very serious message to China and North Korea. He is a player too, after all, and it can hardly be an accident that he timed the attack for the day of his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping.

We hope that everyone was able to watch the Sunday morning coverage of the commemoration of the Battle for Vimy Ridge.If you missed some or all of it, CBC has posted a link to the full four hours at the bottom of 100 years later: Leaders pay homage to fallen soldiers at Vimy Ridge. Very well done – a keeper.
In case you did not see the delightful story about the volunteers who built two replica Sopwith Pups to participate in the flypast during the Vimy ceremonies
B.C.-built replica WW1 planes land in France for Vimy Ridge centennial

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