World Community Agog Over China Overtaking US Economy In 2014

“We, The US And Our Allies…” –Wait A Minute, What Allies?


NEWS just spread through the international media that China may be overtaking the United States on GDP terms by the end of this year, making it the World’s Biggest Economy –much earlier than economists had expected.

IT IS a clever rhetorical device to employ the conniving “We” as in “We, the international community…” when it is supposed to feign global unity, say, against a “pariah” state like Russia, when it really is all about US geopolitical interests and how to maintain its global hegemony. It feels cozy and warm –“We.” Alas, we can't be so sure that the US has any true allies; for all we know they might be looking out for their own interests from now on:

Living With America As #2

For starters, no one loves the American government, letting alone trust it -not even its own people. The US is highly corrupt (e. g. not much better than everyone else), a notorious aggressor (over 176 military operations on foreign lands in 200 years), a bully that threatens, sanctions, tortures, and terrorizes (says Noam Chomsky, the US philosopher and dissident) other states in a way that makes the British in their heydays look like fair and gentle men. The US sports over 700 military bases in more than 80 countries and regions. Deep down, are those nations really happy with this over-the-top form of cultural imperialism, letting alone this physical occupation?

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World historians like Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor, or Kishore Mahbubani, the Singaporean diplomat and scholar, would have us to believe that the US Empire is likely to collapse or retreat back to its pre-20th Century’s significance, but not without a clash or two. It is constantly wagering the use of military strike capabilities against whatever steps into its light, since it assumes the world can’t be run without Washington policing it. That said, every conflict in Asia, or between Asia and Europe, may prolong America's quick demise just a little bit longer. Alas, the law that empires must fall pulls this heavyweight down like gravity.

The Obama administration, and its successors, will likely do everything to destabilize or contain China, Russia, Japan, India, or the Middle East, to patronize the European states, or to belittle the lands of South America. Not a week passes without a new threat, a new demand, a new warning to some government that doesn't play by US rules. Needless to say, the grace and easiness of America has gradually disappeared. People don’t respect it anymore unconditionally as they used to.

US analysts will have the unenviable task of searching someone to blame. It must be the Muslim world and its tens of thousands of terrorists. It must be the evil Russians. The Persians (Iran) are to blame –they hate us. Ah, and those torpid Europeans -they can’t put their stuff together. China is manipulating its currency. Japan is re-militarizing even if we told them not to do it. The whole word is conspiring toward America’s downfall.

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Whom to punish first? Sanctions against the Kremlin for stalling NATO expansionists’ dreams over Ukraine? Supporting separation movements in China’s Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet)? More US troops to Okinawa just to agitate Tokyo? Instigating fear and terror in Pakistan, or across the Straits of Taiwan? Forcing regime change in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Russia, or even Japan? By the way, do the French behave? If not, reward the Germans!

The New World Order, American exceptionalism, God’s favorite nation, the Dictatorship of Western Universalism, Fox News, the American dream, the End of History –all our pomp and agitprop of yesterday –gone!

China as #1

Some commentators will be curious: “How on earth could that happen?” You made the rules, you exploited the system, you controlled the world’s currency and the financial system –you still do. You spied on the human race, you surveilled their leaders and their citizenry, you control space, time, and the internet, and you have all potential troublemakers and dissidents either incarcerated or on our payroll. "What else could you have done to prevent this “global conspiracy” against you?"

The answer is, you could have done everything better and twice over, but it would still be the total end of your supreme reign by mid century. All imperialism, no matter how well meant, must come to an end eventually, and there is no reason why the US should dominate the human race.

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“No, wait a minute!” some will say: “We can fix this! It’s all but a misunderstanding. It was all Bush’s fault, that warmonger and his clique. And president Obama was an accident; a socialist, but wait for the next president! We will re-invent ourselves, grow again, we will innovate ourselves out of this defeat…"

To this we reply that world historians make quite good psychotherapists: "It’s all right," they'll tell you. The US isn't going to slide into penury. It will still be #2 for many years. It will still shine, in 50 years, like Britain shines today. It will have a superb story to tell -like the Germans, the Japanese, the Han, the Mongols, the Persians before them. America had its glory days. Look at it like our division of labor. Finally, US culture will become wiser and more mature. You will always be a great country. Be content with what you have achieved.

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Meanwhile, humanity has got to go on. History must repeat itself –the eternal return. The US had a blast at our planet in the 20th Century when everyone else in Eurasia was looking down the gutter. Now, everyone has recovered, and a new champ has arrived who will bring all the new theories. The world spirit is now in Asia. And that’s a good thing.

Image credits: Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show/Parody

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Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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