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We can still learn from China even if we reject Xi Jinping

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Usually when I write about China right now, I write about the threat posed by its evil dictator, Xi Jinping. But China is one of the greatest civilizations in the world and it is precious to constantly remember this fact.

To that end, I highly recommend watching a recent Chinese series called Like a Flowing River, a brilliant drama that follows the paths three men traveled when China opened up in the 1980s.

Its main draw is its cast of beautifully compelling characters, who inexorably drag you into their stories, but it’s also refreshing to be removed from an era of Netflix TV in which everyone is breathless and brilliant and the action unfolds. to the rhythm of a runaway. form.

Some elements even seem picturesque. But overall, the series (which is based on a novel which, to my knowledge, has unfortunately not been translated into English) has the feel of a Tolsto epic, woven into the debates over post-political economic policy. communist, chemical engineering and industrialization.

Politically, he is following a delicate line. Of course, the ultimate goodness of the Communist Party can never be questioned, but there is great frustration with the way in which policies spread through petty officials, favoritism, and power struggles.

That applies, at least, to the first half of the drama which I haven’t yet watched the second half, which released last year.

Perhaps the biggest political contrast to a Western viewer is not the system as such, but the way the story celebrates entrepreneurship, intellectual rigor, resilience, ambition and Success. I can’t remember the last time I watched a western drama with the same set of values.

If China ends up surpassing us, it won’t be because of dear leader Xi, but because of its peoples’ commitment to success. We could use part of their attitude.

Landing on Mars

Under the official commentary, you could hear a voice exclaiming in a whisper through two layers of face masks: Yes, yes, yes, yes! The parachute’s perseverances had deployed successfully, the most risky moment of its landing. Like everyone else, scientists were just spectators of events that had occurred 11 minutes before, whose signal barely reached Earth. When they received the last sign that the rover had landed safely, they jumped, yelled, banged their fists and even clapped their hands on the shoulders. Now was not the time to take social distances.

The Mars landing came the same week the UK government launched a new agency, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), to fund high-risk, high-return science. This was a Dominic Cummings pet project modeled after a defense-focused research agency in the United States called Darpa, whose inventions helped bring GPS technology, the internet and drones. NASA itself was a spin-out from Darpa.

Not surprisingly, the launch of the UK version drew criticism for its possible exemption from freedom of information laws and usual audit requirements. Some professional cavillers apparently haven’t learned anything from the Vaccine Task Force, which owes its success to acting quickly and taking risks without constant interference.

Aria will have a budget of around € 800million, which isn’t much compared to general UK science funding, but it’s a respectable amount of startup cash. The US economy is eight times the size of ours, but Darpa spends only about three times as much.

The real test is not how much money it has, but whether, over the course of successive governments, it can carry out its mission and remain free from interference. It’s a two-way street. For the Arias part, you have to spend wisely enough not to become controversial. But ministers also have to tolerate enough setbacks to be successful, that’s the high-risk part. The temptation instead to scapegoat or crush this hopeful new project may be too great for politicians to resist.

Goodbye for now

This is my last page before going on maternity leave and there was something about the Mars landing that resonated. Perhaps it was the feeling of a process taking place in a mysterious environment, much anticipated and weakly guarded by technology. Scientists applauded as the NASA commentator said: Perseverance continues to signal heartbeats. I, too, was happy to see it land smoothly.



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