Bill Gates Spending $400 Million to Develop Expensive High-Tech Toilets for Poor Countries

(p. B1) BEIJING — Bill Gates believes the world needs better toilets.

Specifically, toilets that improve hygiene, don’t have to connect to sewage systems at all and can break down human waste into fertilizer.

So on Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Gates held the Reinvented Toilet Expo, a chance for companies to showcase their takes on the simple bathroom fixture. Companies showed toilets that could separate urine from other waste for more efficient treatment, that recycled water for hand washing and that sported solar roofs.

It’s no laughing matter. About 4.5 billion people — more than half the world’s population — live without access to safe sanitation. Globally, Mr. Gates told attendees, unsafe sanitation costs an estimated $223 billion a year in the form of higher health costs and lost productivity and wages.

The reinvented toilets on display are a culmination of seven years of research and $200 million given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which the former software tycoon runs with his wife, since 2011. On Tuesday [Nov. 6, 2018], Mr. Gates pledged to give $200 million more in an effort get companies to see human waste as a big business.

. . .

(p. B5) . . . China’s toilet revolution has led to excesses — a problem that critics say could plague the Gates effort as well.

To win favor with Beijing, local officials have tried to outgun one another with newfangled latrines, many equipped with flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi and facial-recognition toilet paper dispensers. (Thieves have been known to make off with entire rolls.) There were even refrigerators, microwave ovens and couches, prompting China’s tourism chief at the time to instruct officials in January to rein in their “five-star toilets” and avoid kitsch and luxury.

Though the products on display on Tuesday were nowhere as flashy, Mr. Gates has drawn criticism for giving thousands of dollars to universities in developed countries to create high-tech toilets that will take years to pay off — if they ever do.

“Sometimes doubling down is necessary, but you’ve got to be reflective,” said Jason Kass, the founder of Toilets for People, a Vermont-based social business that provides off-grid toilets. “Has any of the approaches done in the last five years created any sustainable lasting, positive impact vis-à-vis sanitation? And the answer, as far as I can see, is no.”

. . .

Mr. Gates acknowledged that some reinvented toilets, in small volumes, could cost as much as $10,000, but added, “That will pretty quickly come down.”

“The hard part will be getting it from $2,000 to $500,” he said. “I’d say we are more confident today that it was a good bet than where we started, but we are still not there.”

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee. “Bill Gates Wants to Build A Better Toilet.” The New York Times (Friday, Nov. 9, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 6, 2018, and has the title “In China, Bill Gates Encourages the World to Build a Better Toilet.”)

Under Chinese Socialized Medicine, Long Waits, Bribes, and Violent Attacks on Physicians Are Common

(p. A1) BEIJING — Well before dawn, nearly a hundred people stood in line outside one of the capital’s top hospitals.

They were hoping to get an appointment with a specialist, a chance for access to the best health care in the country. Scalpers hawked medical visits for a fee, ignoring repeated crackdowns by the government.

. . .

The long lines, a standard feature of hospital visits in China, are a symptom of a health care system in crisis.

. . .

(p. A8) Instead of going to a doctor’s office or a community clinic, people rush to the hospitals to see specialists, even for fevers and headaches. This winter, flu-stricken patients camped out overnight with blankets in the corridors of several Beijing hospitals, according to state media.

Hospitals are understaffed and overwhelmed. Specialists are overworked, seeing as many as 200 patients a day.

And people are frustrated, with some resorting to violence. In China, attacks on doctors are so common that they have a name: “yi nao,” or “medical disturbance.” Continue reading “Under Chinese Socialized Medicine, Long Waits, Bribes, and Violent Attacks on Physicians Are Common”

China Steals Micron Memory Chip Innovations

(p. A8) A Wall Street Journal study of 10 recent technology-related prosecution cases in Taiwan found that in nine of those, prosecutors allege the technology ended up with or was intended for companies in China.

China’s technology ministry has in public statements said Taiwan and China should cooperate in high-tech sectors including semiconductors. It didn’t reply to requests for comment on the Taiwanese cases.

One case involved a Taiwanese unit of Idaho-based Micron Technology Inc., America’s largest memory-chip manufacturer. On a spring day in 2016, a 41-year-old engineer for the unit opened his company laptop and, according to Taiwanese prosecutors, tapped into Google search: “clear computer use records.”

Wang Yongming found a file-erasing program called CCleaner, which he used to try to delete traces of more than 900 files from his laptop before returning it to his employer, the prosecutors say.

Ten months after Mr. Wang returned the laptop to the company and left for a job with a smaller Taiwanese rival, United Microelectronics Corp. , Taiwanese authorities say they unearthed evidence of the documents, which detailed production-design secrets of Micron’s memory chips.

In August, Mr. Wang and others were indicted in Taiwan on charges of stealing Micron’s trade secrets for illegal use in China. Prosecutors allege Mr. Wang transferred the data to his new employer, which used the designs in service of a Chinese chip maker called Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. Jinhua is now planning to mass produce its own version of the chips.

In Mr. Wang’s case, prosecutors say he has confessed to some charges. Mr. Wang couldn’t be reached, and his attorneys declined to comment. UMC declined to comment. Micron, in a separate lawsuit in California, alleges Jinhua masterminded the plan to take a shortcut through a thicket of knowledge Micron accumulated during decades of investment.

. . .

Around the time Mr. Wang left Micron Taiwan, in April 2016, the company conducted an internal investigation based on suspicions that he had made illegal copies of documents. When investigators raided UMC in February 2017, say Taiwanese prosecutors and Micron, Mr. Wang handed his personal cellphone to an assistant and instructed her to take it away—unaware that prosecutors had already obtained a court order to track the device, which investigators allege also contained incriminating information.

UMC, which Mr. Wang joined in April 2016 a few days after trying to erase files from his laptop, had in January 2016 struck a deal with Jinhua to supply the designs to mass-produce DRAM in exchange for more than $700 million in fees, equipment and a cut of future licensing revenues. Before then, UMC was mostly a foundry that made other companies’ designs. Micron alleges in its civil lawsuit that Jinhua knew that the technology to be delivered under the deal would be based on Micron’s designs.

. . .

“The Micron trade secrets that Wang stole proved invaluable to UMC’s development effort and critical to the timeline of the Jinhua DRAM project,” Micron said in its filing.

The speed of UMC’s design development helped Jinhua in October 2016 to start marketing its first two DRAM products, which it called F32 and F32S—names that Micron says were identical to the ones used for chips it produced at its Taiwan facility.

For the full story, see:

Chuin-Wei Yap. “China Targets Taiwan’s Tech Secrets.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 2, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 1, 2018, and has the title “Taiwan’s Technology Secrets Come Under Assault From China.”)

Future Population Lower Than U.N. Estimates, Perhaps by Billions

(p. A15) Is a dangerous population explosion imminent? For decades we’ve been told so by scientific elites, starting with the Club of Rome reports in the 1970s. But in their compelling book “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline,” Canadian social scientist Darrell Bricker and journalist John Ibbitson lay out the opposite case: “The great defining event of the twenty-first century,” they say, “will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

. . .

So why exactly is everyone still worried about the opposite problem? The authors pin the blame on faulty assumptions by the population establishment, as represented by the U.N. Population Division. They don’t use the United States as an example, but I will: The U.N.’s most recent population forecasts suggest that the average U.S. total fertility rate from 2015 to 2020 should be 1.9 children per woman. In reality, CDC data shows U.S. fertility has averaged about 1.8 children per woman from 2015 to 2018. In 2019, early indications are that fertility will probably be nearer 1.7 children per woman.

. . .

As Messrs. Bricker and Ibbitson point out, U.N. forecasts are substantially out-of-step with existing data from many countries, including China, India and Brazil. As a result of these mistakes, the most widely used population benchmarks in the world are probably wrong. The future will have far fewer people than the U.N. suggests; perhaps billions fewer.

For the full review, see:

Lyman Stone. “BOOKSHELF; A Drop In Numbers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 7, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Empty Planet’ Review: A Drop in Numbers; Governments stoke fears about overpopulation, but the reality is that fertility rates are falling faster than most experts can readily explain.”)

The book under review, is:

Bricker, Darrell, and John Ibbitson. Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. New York: Crown, 2019.

F.A.A. Regulations Slow Drone Innovation

(p. B2) Chinese aviation administrators, . . . , have already approved drone deliveries by the e-commerce giant JD.com and delivery giant SF Holding Co. But in the United States, it will depend on whether regulators eventually allow drone companies to have autonomous systems in which multiple aircraft are overseen by one pilot and whether they can fly beyond the vision of that pilot. Current regulations do not permit multiple drones per operator without a waiver. Operators like Wing, the drone-delivery company owned by Google parent Alphabet, have that capability.

. . .

Wing is . . .  one of several companies participating in a pilot program in Virginia. As with its testing in Finland and Australia, Wing will focus on the delivery of consumer goods, including food.

The Virginia site, in Blacksburg, near Virginia Tech, is one of 10 chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration as part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

The 10 were culled from 149 applications from “state, local and tribal governments,” agency spokesman Les Dorr said in an email. Those in the industry didn’t apply directly, but could show their interest, he said, and more than 2,800 companies responded.

. . .

While the F.A.A. has chosen the 10 pilots, the programs still need to apply for agency waivers because they will fly beyond the visual line of sight, fly at night and fly over people, fundamentals not allowed under current law. The agency is seeking comments on expanding permissible uses under current law; it is also testing to evaluate the parameters of regulation.

As a practical matter, this means that some of the pilot programs are not yet operational as they await F.A.A. approval.

That’s O.K., said James Pearce, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which prefers to ensure that the drones can safely fly and that those on the ground are not exposed to any risks, including those that are self-inflicted. “We need to make sure that people know not to try to grab the drones.”

. . .

While the deliberate pace may seem slow, Mr. Levitt, like others interviewed, remains sanguine. “It’s like the red flag laws when cars began to populate the roads. You had to have someone walking ahead with a flag to warn others. That’s where we are today with drones — not being able to fly beyond the visual line of sight is like not allowing a car to drive faster than a person can walk.”

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 19, 2019, and has the title “Skies Aren’t Clogged With Drones Yet, but Don’t Rule Them Out.”)

“Seek Truth from Facts”

(p. A15)  . . . 2019 . . .  marks the anniversary of the result of a . . . defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Forty years ago this spring, corn farmers in Xiaogang village, in the central province of Anhui (where Pearl Buck set “The Good Earth”), reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

What caused this massive spike in production? A new fertilizer or hybrid seed? Better equipment? A catchy, rhymed propaganda slogan? No; Xiaogang’s farmers were starving. After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution.

Continue reading ““Seek Truth from Facts””

Chinese “Entrepreneurs Were Like Famished Goats Set Free from a Pen and Allowed to Flourish”

(p. 11) YULIN, China — For months, Zhao Faqi was a folk hero for entrepreneurs in China — an investor who fought the government in court and online, and against the odds, seemed poised to win. He accused officials of stealing his rights to coal-rich land, and ignited a furor by accusing China’s most powerful judge of corruption.
Now, Mr. Zhao has dropped out of sight — and the authorities want to erase his story.
. . .
The state news media has painted him as a cunning schemer. A judge who supported his case was paraded on television. A crusading former talk show host who helped bring the case to light has fallen silent.
Mr. Zhao’s arc from self-declared victim to officially designated villain has been dramatic even for China, where the party controls the courts and businesspeople can abruptly fall from grace. Mr. Zhao’s descent — and possible disappearance — is a demonstration of the hazards that entrepreneurs face in taking on powerful Chinese officials.
“I’ve faced a lot of risks and pressure because of this lawsuit,” Mr. Zhao said in an interview in Beijing a few weeks before he disappeared. Chinese entrepreneurs, he said, yearned for the rule of law to replace arbitrary power. “You can’t say someone is protected one day, and take away protection the next day.”
Mr. Zhao drew support from liberal economists and lawyers who have been unsettled by Mr. Xi’s reverence for communist tradition and support for state-owned companies, which he has urged to grow “stronger, better and bigger.”
. . .
Mr. Zhao, 52, was among the entrepreneurs who plunged into business after Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, unleashed market overhauls. At the time, Mr. Zhao said, entrepreneurs were like famished goats set free from a pen and allowed to flourish.
“But we’re seeing this vitality steadily shrink,” he said.
. . .
. . . , Mr. Zhao’s phone has been turned off, and he appears to have gone into hiding or official custody.

For the full story, see:
Chris Buckley. “Chinese Entrepreneur Takes On the System, and Drops Out of Sight.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, March 10, 2019): 11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2019.)