Tuesday, December 29, 2020

China CDC Director interview: vaccine progress, viroid sequencing, transmission via food/packaging


This is a recent interview with the PRC CDC head, which includes: 

1. Discussion of various vaccines. He confirms that their vaccine(s) are using the standard method (inactivated viruses), which a priori one might consider safer than the new mRNA type. Efficacy remains to be seen but he seemed to hint that they would be releasing some data/results in the next few days. 

2. He notes (at ~7m) that PRC is sequencing every new case of covid. They see all the mutant versions, and find that infections are coming both from visitors to PRC as well as from imported food/packaging! So the latter really happens. 

If anyone can find primary sources related to these topics I would be very interested.

Here is some discussion of the different vaccines: costs, ongoing validations, etc.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men 2020

When asked what I want for Christmas, I reply: Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men :-)

No one ever seems to recognize that this comes from the Bible (Luke 2.14).

Linus said it best in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas!

This has been a difficult year for many people. Please accept my best wishes and hopes for a wonderful 2021. Be of good cheer, for we shall prevail! :-) 

The first baby conceived from an embryo screened with Genomic Prediction preimplantation genetic testing for polygenic risk scores (PGT-P) was born in mid-2020.  

Genomic Prediction has now performed embryo genetic tests for almost 200 IVF clinics in many countries. Millions of embryos are screened each year, worldwide.

Five years ago on Christmas day I shared the Nativity 2050 story below. See also The Economist on Polygenic Risk Scores and Embryo Selection.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Mary was born in the twenties, when the tests were new and still primitive. Her mother had frozen a dozen eggs, from which came Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Mary had her father's long frame, brown eyes, and friendly demeanor. She was clever, but Elizabeth was the really brainy one. Both were healthy and strong and free from inherited disease. All this her parents knew from the tests -- performed on DNA taken from a few cells of each embryo. The reports came via email, from GP Inc., by way of the fertility doctor. Dad used to joke that Mary and Elizabeth were the pick of the litter, but never mentioned what happened to the other fertilized eggs.

Now Mary and Joe were ready for their first child. The choices were dizzying. Fortunately, Elizabeth had been through the same process just the year before, and referred them to her genetic engineer, a friend from Harvard. Joe was a bit reluctant about bleeding edge edits, but Mary had a feeling the GP engineer was right -- their son had the potential to be truly special, with just the right tweaks ...

Monday, December 21, 2020


The videos below are about Lianda, a wartime university located in Kunming that was formed by the merger of Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Nankai University.
Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution 
In the summer of 1937, Japanese troops occupied the campuses of Beijing’s two leading universities, Beida and Qinghua, and reduced Nankai, in Tianjin, to rubble. These were China's leading institutions of higher learning, run by men educated in the West and committed to modern liberal education. The three universities first moved to Changsha, 900 miles southwest of Beijing, where they joined forces. But with the fall of Nanjing in mid-December, many students left to fight the Japanese, who soon began bombing Changsha. 
In February 1938, the 800 remaining students and faculty made the thousand-mile trek to Kunming, in China’s remote, mountainous southwest, where they formed the National Southwest Associated University (Lianda). In makeshift quarters, subject to sporadic bombing by the Japanese and shortages of food, books, and clothing, students and professors did their best to conduct a modern university. In the next eight years, many of China’s most prominent intellectuals taught or studied at Lianda. ... 
Lianda’s wartime saga crystallized the experience of a generation of Chinese intellectuals, beginning with epic journeys, followed by years of privation and endurance, and concluding with politicization, polarization, and radicalization, as China moved from a war of resistance against a foreign foe to a civil war pitting brother against brother. The Lianda community, which had entered the war fiercely loyal to the government of Chiang Kai-shek, emerged in 1946 as a bastion of criticism of China’s ruling Guomindang party. Within three years, the majority of the Lianda community, now returned to its north China campuses in Beijing and Tianjin, was prepared to accept Communist rule. ...
My father attended this university at age 16, admitted via Tsinghua. Among its most famous alumni are the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicists C.N. Yang and T.D. Lee. As the university only existed for 8 years, there are very few alumni still living.


I came across the 一条 Yit channel because I recently bought an Android Smart TV and it caused an increase in consumption of YouTube, etc. I got the TV to use as a big monitor but it's great for content as well. One of the most enjoyable things I do with it is watch seminars (e.g., in theoretical physics or AI)!

In case you are wondering I bought a 70inch HiSense on sale for under $400: good 4k picture and sound -- highly recommended!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

PPP and the Shanghai Girl

After PPP correction the PRC economy is significantly larger than the US economy, so it's important to understand what nominal GDP and its adjusted counterpart represent. 

This 2019 video follows a 26 year old woman during a typical weekend day. She lives in a $330 per month apartment in central Shanghai, a short walk to her office where she works as an advertising copywriter. You get a look at the apps she uses to order food and household supplies, keep up with fashion and culinary trends, pay at restaurants, etc.

Her monthly budget is about $2300 USD per month, and as far as I can tell her lifestyle would cost more than twice as much in NYC (e.g., Brooklyn), San Francisco, Chicago, or even a somewhat smaller US city. So the nominal to PPP correction of 2x may actually be conservative! Some have suggested that the PRC government deliberately understates its GDP in order to continue to claim "developing nation" status, and to not alarm US hawks (as if that were possible).

In late 2010 I was in Shanghai for a physics meeting, and blogged about dollar-yuan purchasing power parity (PPP).
Shanghai: PPP on the ground  
1 USD = 6.64 RMB. Average salary in Shanghai is reportedly 65k RMB or about USD $10k per annum. ... The IMF estimates that the PPP (purchasing power parity) vs nominal exchange rate adjustment for China is about a factor of 2 (i.e., PPP GDP is about twice nominal GDP). That doesn't sound entirely crazy to me but it's very dependent on choice of goods for the PPP basket. ... 
Haircut 10 RMB = $1.50. (My barber in Eugene = $11.) 
Dinner on campus 9 RMB = $1.35. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Celestial Empire

This lifestyle channel delivers daily vignettes from China (~5 minutes each), with an occasional episode from Taiwan. They have English subtitles, so offer a unique window into modern Chinese life. 

When I blogged from Beijing in the summer of 2019, some readers were surprised that I found parts of the city as aesthetically interesting as places in Tokyo or other iconic cities. 

Everything is advancing very rapidly in China, as you can tell from the videos. Below are some episodes I recommend. There are many more...

Kindergarten in renovated Beijing courtyard house.


Tibetan lodges.

Boat house in Fujian.


Struggles of an independent film maker.


Photographer documents lives of factory workers in Guangdong.


Buddha collection in Guangzhou.

See also China 1793 -- it looks like the 200 year down cycle may be over... Celestial Empire returns?

Amasa Delano was an American ship captain and distant relative of FDR who circumnavigated the globe several times as a fur trader. Most of the fur went to China in the 18th and early 19th century: Delano brought back porcelain to America. Even then there was a manufacturing trade deficit! He appears in Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno.

Delano's book A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (1817) describes his impressions of China in that era: 

China is ... the first for greatness, riches, and grandeur, of any country ever known.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Hot and Cold Wars in the 21st Century

Both panels below are, in my opinion, realistic and focused on the key issues. Good discussion of competition in military technology is, in my experience, difficult to find for various reasons. On the US side there are strong MIC vested interests (e.g., in preserving the carrier-centric Navy) that lead to self-censorship of difficult realities. Also, very few analysts have actual technical and military expertise -- they are more likely to be "policy entrepreneurs" without deep knowledge.

See also The East Is Red, The Giant Rises and Ditchley Foundation meeting: World Order today.

See T.X. Hammes' report:  An Affordable Defense of Asia and this podcast interview with Marine Radio.


Robert Atkinson was also a guest on Manifold:

Bonus: blockchain based digital RMB?


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Theory & Practice of Grand Strategy: Di Dongsheng, Renmin University (PRC)

Professor Di of Renmin University (a top university in Beijing, closely associated with the CCP) is now world famous, after Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump focused attention on his recent discussion of high level ties between PRC officials and US financial firms (second video below).
Di Dongsheng (LinkedIn CN) Professor Di’s research focuses on Political Economy of China’s Foreign Policy, Theories and Practices of Triangularity in International Relations, the Politics of Global Financial, Monetary and Investment Affairs, and the Theory & Practice of Grand Strategy.

Watch the first video below and decide for yourself whether he understands US politics and foreign policy better than most professors in the US.

I was more interested in the top video than the original one featured by Tucker/DJT. A few comments: 

1. He maps the US Deep State a bit too much onto government ministries in places like China or Japan, which also constitute a Deep State but are probably more meritocratically staffed. 

2. He is right that DJT's instincts lean more toward tariffs and trade deals (it often seemed he was reliving the US-Japan trade frictions of the 1980s) than towards hardcore technology and supply chain battles. 

3. Some of the really aggressive Deep State plotting against PRC came from DJT's own team -- it wasn't all pre-existing. In fact Trump's NSC green lighted a lot of nasty stuff that might now be reined in under Biden. I suppose you could argue that Trump's own NSC and cabinet were mostly Deep State people, but some like Navarro and Bannon certainly were not.

Glenn Greenwald (remember him? used to be a good guy until he started noticing too much stuff embarassing to the Left): The Hunter Biden Criminal Probe Bolsters a Chinese Scholar's Claim About Beijing's Influence With the Biden Administration Professor Di Dongsheng says China's close ties to Wall Street and its dealings with Hunter both enable it to exert more power now than it could under Trump.
... a Chinese scholar of political science and international finance, Di Donghseng, insisted that Beijing will have far more influence in Washington under a Biden administration than it did with the Trump administration. 
The reason, Di said, is that China’s ability to get its way in Washington has long depended upon its numerous powerful Wall Street allies. But those allies, he said, had difficulty controlling Trump, but will exert virtually unfettered power over Biden. That China cultivated extensive financial ties to Hunter Biden, Di explained, will be crucial for bolstering Beijing’s influence even further. 
Di, who in addition to his teaching positions is also Vice Dean of Beijing’s Renmin University’s School of International Relations, delivered his remarks alongside three other Chinese banking and development experts. Di’s speech at the event, entitled “Will China's Opening up of its Financial Sector Attract Wall Street?,” was translated and posted by Jennifer Zeng, a Chinese Communist Party critic who left China years ago, citing religious persecution [[ Falun Gong? ]], and now lives in the U.S.A source fluent in Mandarin confirmed the accuracy of the translation.
AddedWSJ Dec 10 : Barr Worked to Keep Hunter Biden Probes From Public View During Election. The attorney general knew for months about investigations into Biden’s business and financial dealings.

See also The East Is Red, The Giant Rises.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

AlphaFold 2: protein folding solved?


This is a good discussion of DeepMind's AlphaFold 2, a big breakthrough in protein folding. The details of how AlphaFold 2 works have not been published -- the video mainly discusses the January 2020 paper on the earlier version of AlphaFold, which already had world leading performance. However, it provides a good introduction both to protein folding as a physical / biological problem, as well as to AI/ML approaches.

I visited DeepMind in 2018 to give a talk on genomic prediction. I was hoping to get them interested! However, they were already focused on the protein folding problem. Most of my time there was spent discussing the latter topic with some of the AlphaFold team. They probably thought that a physicist who works on genomics might be worth talking to about protein folding, but I'm sure I learned more from them about it than vice versa...

In 2013 I blogged about a talk by Fields Medalist Stephen Smale on ML approaches to protein folding. He convinced me that ML approaches might work better than solving physics equations by brute force. 

Deep neural nets excel at learning high dimensional nonlinear functions that have some internal hierarchical structure (e.g., by length scale). Protein folding falls into this category. AlphaFold was able to utilize 170k training samples and extensive information from MSA (Multiple Sequence Alignment) which gives estimates of 3D distances: see, e.g., here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Ditchley Foundation meeting: World Order Today

Thursday and Friday (Dec 3 and 4) I will participate in this Ditchley Foundation event, in honor of Henry Kissinger. I'm unsure whether I'm allowed to say who the other participants are.

Unfortunately the event is entirely virtual, unlike the meeting on genetic engineering I attended there in 2019. (Slides

A big focus of this meeting will be the role of China in the World Order (their terminology). Apropos of that, see this analysis by German academic Gunnar Heinsohn. Two of his slides appear below.

1. It is possible that by 2050 the highly able STEM workforce in PRC will be ~10x larger than in the US and comparable to or larger than the rest of the world combined. Here "highly able" means roughly top few percentile math ability in developed countries (e.g., EU), as measured by PISA at age 15.

2. The trajectory of international patent filings shown below is likely to continue. Note the catch-up pattern of S. Korea vs Germany over 25 years.

See earlier post The East is Red, the Giant Rises.

Blog Archive