Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympic Reflections

The Beijing Olympics is over and the debate has begun. China has more gold but the U.S. has more medals. So who’s better? One of the NBC commentators suggested the use of a point system to resolve this matter: 3 for gold, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze. But this would imply that the gold medal is worth the same as one silver plus a bronze. Still others believe in 5 points for gold, 3 for silver and 1 for bronze.

But should the criteria of achievement rest solely on medals, either by color or by count? What about the number of medals or gold normalized against the total number of participants representing that country? Some of the nations sent proportionally more athletes than others, more than one athlete per 100,000 populations while others sent as few as one per tens of millions. Shouldn’t these considerations also enter into the determination of the athletic prowess of a country?

In the end, who cares? Each of us will take away different memories of this Olympics as was the case in the past and the number of gold or medals will not have much to do with it.

For me personally, I do not have a vivid memory of when Mark Spitz won seven gold medals but I do remember it as the Munich Olympics where terrorists turned it into a horrible political statement by the senseless murder of innocent athletes and civilians.

I have but a dim memory of the Moscow Olympics because the U.S. and many countries in the West elected to boycott participation as another political statement. I can only imagine the deep personal disappointment of individual athletes that prepared long and hard only to have their anticipation dashed because of politics.

These athletes, at least, had no say on the decision of not participating. I wonder how the champion marathon runner must be feeling now for his high profile withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics because of his alleged fear of polluted air. The actual race was held under blue sky and no one collapsed because of lung damage. I wonder how the now ex-champion will feel about the London smog four years from now?

In the similar vein, I wonder whether Steven Spielberg is feeling any personal satisfaction for bowing out of his advisory role to the opening ceremony. Having seen the actual spectacle, will anyone care as to what his contribution could have been?

The Beijing Olympics might be remembered as when Michael Phelps won eight gold medals. But the story that touched me the most was the Chinese woman who won a gold in shooting. Her single parent father couldn’t support her when she was in her early teen and abandoned her in the care of the coach. She missed her father so much that many times she thought of quitting to go searching for him. Her coach told her that training hard and winning the gold would be the best way to reach out to her father and get him back.

I wonder if her father knows what his daughter has done. If he is still alive, will he reunite with her? Is there a real happy ending to this story?

The most gold won by the U.S., 83 in all, was at the Los Angeles Olympics when the Soviet bloc returned the favor and boycotted the event. This was more than double the amount of gold medals the U.S. would garner in a normal Olympics, but certainly the significance of the accomplishment was greatly diminished by the non-participation of a significant part of the world.

Similarly some of the detractors of the Beijing Olympics also sought to trash this event by turning the sporting event into a political circus. They may have succeeded in persuading some athletes to stay home but they failed in their objective to diminish the spectacle. The 10,000 athletes that participated in Beijing will testify to the great time they had and the life-long memories they will treasure.

An extensive review of the hypocrisy found in Western media coverage of the run up to the Olympics and the event itself can be found here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

President Bush Defends China's Citizens Right to be Human

President George Bush decides to attend Beijing Olympics opening ceremony because he wants to "show respect for the Chinese people" and to cheer for American athletes. However, Bush can't resist the temptation to rain a little on the Chinese parade by criticizing China's human rights record on the eve of his arrival in Beijing.

Recent Pew Research results revealed that 86% of the people in China approved of the direction their government is leading. So perhaps Bush was thinking of the 14% and defending their rights--or may be he was just envious of not even being able to get even half that in his own approval rating back home.

Even the 14% may not all be dissatisfied because of human rights. Some may be unhappy about the traffic or price of a bowl of noodles. In fact it's fair to say that most of the people dissatisfied with human rights in China do not live in China and are not even ethnic Chinese.

So maybe Bush was pandering to his real contituents in the West, you think?

Interesting to note that a former Reagan official and associate editor of Wall Street Journal has written a counter piece, pointing out that the worst offender of human rights is none other President Bush himself. Anyone find that accusation hard to believe? Go to his article and read it for yourself.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Flight of the Silicon Dragon

Every journalist dreams of writing a book and Silicon Dragon (McGraw- Hill, $24.95) is Rebecca Fannin’s. She interviews a dozen of China’s most successful entrepreneurs and builds a book around her profiles of their roads to success. These are some of China’s movers and shakers in the high tech industry, especially in Internet and wireless communication sectors. All of them are well known inside China but most are relatively unknown to the West. By describing and analyzing the keys to their success, Fannin has provided some lessons learned that are useful to anyone contemplating doing business in China.

As readers go through the 150 pages of easy to read text, they find certain common themes. The first lesson is that a proven business model from the U.S. does not guarantee success in China. Whether it’s Alibaba vs. eBay, Dangdang vs. Amazon or Baidu vs. Google, the local version has first mover advantage and can move quickly to localize the business model to ensure acceptance in China.

The established American competitors initially focused on their U.S. market and paid no attention to China. By the time they are ready for China, they attempt to leapfrog via acquisition of a local company. They then make the mistake of replacing the Chinese management team with culturally deaf and dumb managers from home or even move the headquarters back to the U.S. Thus they further handcuff themselves by removing the ability to react quickly to a fast changing market. The book offers many other gems on rules of conduct in China that readers will find useful.

Alas, the subtitle of this book: “How China is Winning the Tech Race” is unfortunately misleading. With the possible exception of the last chapter on possible technological breakthrough on light emitting diodes based on silicon, other chapters depict no threat of world leading edge, technical breakthroughs. Even the LED development with its vast potential to revolutionize the lighting of the world is at the pre-commercial stage. All the other chapters describe clever, hard working entrepreneurs that have basically improved upon something that already existed.

My personal view of where China will make a world leading edge, technology breakthrough is to look in life sciences and not in electronics. My reason is that China has been investing heavily in R&D. In such cases as stem cell therapy, researchers in China do not have the school of intelligent design as competitor for funding.

Regrettably, this book exhibits too much rush to publish and could have improved its quality with a bit of fact checking and editing. For example, the book says “China accounts for 24% of world production of semiconductors.” This is not true. China accounts for 24% of consumption but barely produces one fifth of what they consume. Albert Yu is described as “now-retired programmer” at Intel. His actual last position was Senior Vice President in charge of Intel’s microprocessor development. The two top foundries in Taiwan are identified as Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. UMC is correct but the other, by far the largest and best known in the business is TSMC, where T stands for Taiwan.

Blemishes like those listed above, unfortunately, mar the confidence on the reliability of the information in the book that otherwise could serve as a valuable reference for tracking China’s future high tech development.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dear Senator Sam Brownback

Dear Senator Brownback,

Thank you for your vigilance and act of public service warning foreign visitors to China’s Olympics that they face the danger of “invasive intelligence gathering” if they were to use the Internet during their stay.

Actually, as you know very well, American visitors are already accustomed to the kind of surveillances you object to, thanks to their own experiences at home by the hands of Homeland Security. You were among those who authorized the department listening in on our own citizens' telephone conversations, reading our emails and who knows what else.

So far as you are concerned, invasion of one’s privacy at home in the name of anti terrorism is just data mining, but when China is trying to monitor any illicit activities during arguably the most vulnerable times, it would be spying.

That the U.S. government has been infringing on our rights to privacy is an established fact. That visitors to China might be subject to same sort of surveillance is not a fact but merely based on your astute speculation.

Given that China will be hosting the most hotly debated and most attended sporting event ever held anywhere in the world and given the current threat of global terrorism, can anyone seriously doubt that close monitoring to ameliorate acts of terror would be in place?

Why stop at the Internet? China will also have a nightmare task monitoring text messaging on the 500 million plus cell phones that will be in use to make sure that activities of terrorist groups are stopped dead on its tracks.

How to stay out of trouble while visiting the Olympics? Simple. Just as one would not board a plane and joke about carrying a bomb on board, one would also not send provocative messages while in China during the most sensitive period of massive tourism.

Seriously, Senator Brownback, political grandstanding aside, what would the U.S. government do differently if we were the host of Olympics instead of China? Given the current paranoia, are you suggesting that our monitoring procedure would be any less extensive?

See Good Morning Silicon Valley for a full description of how Homeland Security treats laptops belonging to foreign visitors.