Saturday, September 18, 2021

War Nerd on US-China-Taiwan


Highly recommended. Read this article, which will enable you to ignore 99% of mass media and 90% of "expert" commentary on this topic.
THE WAR NERD: TAIWAN — THE THUCYDIDES TRAPPER WHO CRIED WOOF 
... The US/NATO command may be woofing just to get more ships and planes funded, but woofing can go badly wrong. The people you’re woofing at may think you really mean it. That’s what came very close to happening in the 1983 Able Archer NATO exercises. The woofing by Reagan and Thatcher in the leadup to those exercises was so convincing to the Soviet woof-ees that even the moribund USSR came close to responding in real—like nuclear—ways.
That’s how contingency plans, domestic political theatrics, and funding scams can feed into each other and lead to real wars.
Military forces develop contingency plans. That’s part of their job. Some of the plans to fight China are crazy, but some are just plausible enough to be worrying, because somebody might start thinking they could work. 
... What you do with a place like Xinjiang, if you’re a CIA/DoD planner, is file it under “promote insurgency” — meaning “start as many small fires as possible,” rather than “invade and begin a conventional war.”
And in the meantime, you keep working on the real complaints of the Uyghur and other non-Han ethnic groups, so that if you do need to start a conventional war in the Formosa Straits, you can use the Uyghur as a diversion, a sacrifice, by getting them to rise up and be massacred. Since there’s a big Han-Chinese population in Xinjiang, as the map shows, you can hope to stir up the sort of massacre/counter-massacre whipsaw that leaves evil memories for centuries, leading to a permanent weakening of the Chinese state.
This is a nasty strategy, but it’s a standard imperial practice, low-cost — for the empire, not the local population, of course. It costs those people everything, but empires are not sentimental about such things. 
... The Uyghur in Xinjiang would serve the same purpose as the Iraqi Kurds: “straw dogs destined for sacrifice.” If you want to get really cynical, consider that the reprisals they’d face from an enraged Chinese military would be even more useful to the US/NATO side than their doomed insurgency itself.
Atrocity propaganda is very important in 21st c warfare. At the moment, there’s no evidence of real, mass slaughter in Xinjiang, yet we’re already getting propaganda claims about it. Imagine what US/NATO could make out of the bloody aftermath of a doomed insurgency. Well, assuming that US/NATO survived a war with China, a pretty dicey assumption. More likely, CNN, BBC, and NYT would be the first to welcome our new overlords, Kent Brockman style. Those mainstream-media whores aren’t too bright but Lord, they’re agile. 
... Xinjiang, by contrast, can easily be imagined as One Giant Concentration Camp. After all, our leading “expert” on the province has never been there, and neither have his readers.
... The era of naval war based on carrier groups is over. They know that, even if they won’t say it.
If there’s a real war with China, the carriers will wait it out in San Diego harbor. I don’t say Honolulu, because even that wouldn’t be safe enough.
I’m not denigrating the courage or dedication of the crews and officers of USN vessels. At any level below JCOS, most of them are believers. But their belief is increasingly besieged and difficult to sustain, like an Episcopalian at Easter. You just can’t think too long about how cheap and effective antiship missiles are and still be a believer in aircraft carriers. As platforms of gunboat diplomacy against weak powers, they’re OK. 
... The thing is, and it’s weird you even have to say this: China is a big strong country coming out of an era of deep national humiliation and suffering, proud of its new prosperity. China’s success in lifting a desperately poor population into something like prosperity will likely be the biggest story from this era, when the canonical histories get distilled.
A nation hitting this stage is likely to include a lot of people, especially young men, who are itching to show what their country can do. Their patriotic eagerness is no doubt as gullible as most, but it’s real, and if you pay any attention in the online world, you can’t help seeing it.
People who mouth off about China never seem to imagine that anyone in China might hear, because as we are told over and over again, China-is-an-authoritarian-state. The implication is that nobody in China has any of the nationalistic fervor that we take for granted in our own Anglo states.
... Given the history of US/China relations, from the pogroms against Chinese immigrants to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, through the demonization of Chinese mainlanders in the Cold War (which I remember distinctly from elementary school scare movies), the endless attempts to start insurgencies in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Fujian, to the nonstop violence and abuse of Asians in America, you don’t need to find reasons for Chinese people to want a war.
The odd thing is that most of them don’t seem to. That’s a remarkable testimony to the discipline and good sense of the Chinese public…so far. And it’s also, if you’re thinking clearly, a good reason not to keep provoking China in such gross, pointless ways. A population with that level of discipline and unity, matched with zooming prosperity, technical expertise, and pride on emerging from a long nightmare, is not one to woof at.
Of course the plan in the Pentagon is not real war. The plan is to slow China down, trip it up, “wrong-foot it” as they say in the Commonwealth. 
... So what will China do about Taiwan? China could take it right now, if it wanted to pay the price. Everyone knows that, though many fake-news sites have responded with childish, ridiculous gung-ho stories about how “Taiwan Could Win.” 
But will China invade? No. Not right now anyway. It doesn’t need to. The Chinese elite has its own constituencies, like all other polities (including “totalitarian” ones), and has to answer to them as circumstances change. 
So far China has been extraordinarily patient, a lot more patient than we’d be if China was promising to fight to the death for, say, Long Island. But that can change. Because, as I never tire of repeating, the enemy of the moment has constituencies too. And has to answer to them. 
So what happens if the US succeeds in hamstringing China’s economy? Welp, what’s the most reliable distraction a gov’t can find when it wants to unite a hard-pressed population against some distant enemy? 
That’s when China might actually do something about Taiwan. ...
See also Strategic Calculus of a Taiwan Invasion.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Men Without Women


This short story has it all -- genetic genealogy, ultra high net worth physics quant banker, stripper, cop, marriage, family, New Yorker writer. It's fiction, but based on real characters and stories. 

There is an audio version, read by the author, at the link.
Satellites by Rebecca Curtis (The New Yorker July 5, 2021) 
My husband and Tony were anxiety-ridden workaholics who’d focussed, from a young age, on earning cash. Tony wanted enough for a good life; Conor, enough to feel safe. They were fifty-six years old, though Conor looked forty-five and Tony thirty-five. They were meticulous, but owing to oversights they’d each had five kids by four women. They were two nerds from New Hampshire. ... 
His ancestors, he told me, had founded America. He’d started working at age twelve, as a farmhand, and eventually acquired a Ph.D. in quantum physics from Harvard, then served for decades as the “head quant” at a world-renowned investment bank. But he wasn’t smart enough to be skeptical when go-go dancers said, Don’t worry, I’m on the pill. ... 
After high school, Tony turned down a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire. He wanted to work. He did active duty in the Marines for eight years, then served in the Air National Guard for twenty while working as a cop. Now he collected his police pension and, for fun, drove a delivery truck. 
... 
Conor smiled. By the way, he said, had Tony ever done 23andMe or Ancestry.com? 
Tony squinted. Ancestry. Sinead bought them kits for his birthday. Why? 
Conor peered up at Jupiter, approaching Saturn for the great conjunction, and the murky dimmer stars. I studied shuttered restaurants. A few bars had created outdoor dining rooms and were busy; the 7-Eleven was dark, but the ever-glowing “Fortune Teller!” sign on the adjacent cottage was lit. 
No reason, Conor said. Had Tony, he asked, opted into his family DNA tree, to see his matches who’d already done Ancestry? Or elected to receive text alerts whenever some new supposed relative signed on? 
Tony walked swiftly. Nah, he said. He’d done Ancestry to make Sinead happy. He shrugged. She’d made their accounts, he said. She probably opted him in; he wasn’t sure. 
When we got home, Tony’s phone had twenty missed calls. 
...

Men Without Women, Ernest Hemingway 1927. "Hemingway begins to examine the themes that would occupy his later works: the casualties of war, the often uneasy relationship between men and women, ..."


Rebecca Curtis interview
In “Satellites,” your story in the Fiction Issue, a woman and her husband, a retired banker, host the husband’s friend at their Jersey-shore mansion. The woman is a frustrated writer, and, to inspire her, her husband, Conor, asks the friend, Tony, a retired police officer, to tell her cop stories. How would you describe the woman’s views of these two men? 
The narrator is awed by how smart Tony and her husband are, and by how hard they work. She’s impressed that they’ve read so much and educated themselves about so many diverse topics while performing demanding and often unpleasant jobs, and by the fact that they’re two of the most generous, kind people she knows. She appreciates that they’ve maintained lifelong friendships, something that she wishes she’d done herself. She doesn’t agree with all their political ideas. Earlier in her life, she believed that, one, bankers cared about money but not about art, literature, world hunger, etc.; and, two, that anyone who supported Trumpish policies (or who voted for anyone like Trump) must be an ignorant jerk. Meeting her husband (and Tony) punctured those beliefs. 
The narrator views herself as the proverbial grasshopper: someone—possibly frivolous, vapid, and solipsistic—who wants to enjoy her life, sing, dance, make “art,” while working various hip-but-not-very-remunerative jobs to pay rent, never truly planning for winter. Tony and Conor are ants: anxious, alert to the dangers the world can pose, doing difficult (and sneered-upon) jobs diligently so they’ll be protected when scarcity comes. The narrator aspires to be more ant-like while remaining a grasshopper. 
Tony and Conor are, in some ways, obsessed with genetics and lineage—they discuss Ancestry.com and bloodlines—but their own families (they each have five children by four women) are somewhat of a disappointment, or even an afterthought, to them. Can you say a little about that tension? 
Conor and Tony suffer because—in several cases—they don’t have the ability to see their children. In the case of divorce, a time-sharing agreement may be in place, but, if the mother has principal custody and won’t permit the father’s visits, what can the father do? Possession sometimes is nine-tenths of the law. Hiring lawyers and going to court to try to force a mother who won’t honor custody agreements to do so requires copious energy, oodles of spare time, and a small fortune. Conor and Tony care deeply about their children, but they’ve lost control—in some cases, of seeing their kids, and, in others, of influencing them. They may feel powerless.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

PGT-P with Elizabeth Carr and Dr. Serena Chen

 

This is a discussion of Preimplantation Genetic Testing in IVF with Dr. Serena Chen (IRMS and Rutgers medical school) and Elizabeth Carr (first US IVF baby, fertility patient advocate). 

We mostly focus on polygenic embryo screening, or PGT-P, but at the end I discuss some recent results showing that Genomic Prediction's aneuploidy test (PGT-A, which screens for chromosomal issues, such as trisomy 21) is more accurate than other existing technologies and leads to significantly higher pregnancy success rates. The results, which were obtained independently (not by GP) in a large sample size study, will be presented at the annual American Society of Reproductive Medicine meeting in October. 

This is a video version of the podcast.





Friday, September 10, 2021

Chinese Air Power: Justin Bronk RUSI UK

 

This is a good overview. Bronk (Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology in the Military Sciences team at Royal United Services Institute, UK) is good, Rupprecht also. (See show notes for links.)

However, both are looking at open source information and someone fluent in Mandarin with a technical background can do even better. 

Just a few notes for now -- I may revisit to add more detailed analysis. 

1. J10 and J20 are world class fighters, largely indigenously designed. J16 is best flanker variant in the world today. 

2. PLAAF missiles (PL12, PL15, cruise missiles, etc.): some argue that PL12 and PL15 are among the best AAM in the world right now. Note use of AESA seeker in individual missiles while IIRC Russians have not incorporated AESA radar in their fighters yet. 

3. WS10 and WS15 engines nearly mature -- WS10 now deployed in single engine J10. 

4. Note remarks about S400 sales to PRC and relatively small gap between PRC SAMs / air defense and Russian systems. 

5. Individual fighter characteristics are becoming less important compared to missile and sensor technology. For example, the low cost JF-17 (co-developed by PRC and Pakistan) is respectable (roughly comparable to early F-16 capabilities) as a plane, but with its block 3 sensor package and PL-12/15 missiles is competitive with much more expensive generation 4+ fighters. The fighter (eventually, drone or UCAV) becomes just a sensor and missile platform...

6. Slightly off-topic: I think the window for utility of stealth is closing fast as radar technology improves. Ubiquitous drones (which can, for example, image stealth opponents from above or behind) and sensor fusion mean that stealth missions over enemy territory against a peer opponent with good SAMs/air defense looks very risky.


The two very obvious and critical technology gaps between PRC and the West were jet engines and semiconductors. It looks like both are on a clear trajectory to close in the next ~5y or so. My guess is that PRC military radar (EM hardware and hardware/software for post-processing), missile technology, and AI/ML are already on par with the US. Sensors, Missiles/Drones, and AI/ML will be the most important technologies for warfare in the coming decades. [1] [2]

With effectively no technology gap between US and PRC the military equation tilts in their favor over coming decades. Once a country has developed the full stack of military technology their costs are better estimated in PPP rather than exchange rate units: local costs such as compensation for engineers, factory workers, etc. predominate. Since the PRC economy is already significantly larger than the US economy in PPP terms, and growing faster, they can afford more (new, advanced) military hardware than we can in the coming decades. Add to this that their focus is concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, while the US spreads its capability over the entire world, and it seems almost inevitable (barring economic collapse) that the military balance of power in the Asia region will shift in favor of PRC.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Kathryn Paige Harden Profile in The New Yorker (Behavior Genetics)

This is a good profile of behavior geneticist Paige Harden (UT Austin professor of psychology, former student of Eric Turkheimer), with a balanced discussion of polygenic prediction of cognitive traits and the culture war context in which it (unfortunately) exists.
Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters? 
The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything. 
Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a talented writer who also wrote a very nice article on the NYTimes / Slate Star Codex hysteria last summer.

Some references related to the New Yorker profile:
1. The paper Harden was attacked for sharing while a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation: Game Over: Genomic Prediction of Social Mobility 

2. Harden's paper on polygenic scores and mathematics progression in high school: Genomic prediction of student flow through high school math curriculum 

3. Vox article; Turkheimer and Harden drawn into debate including Charles Murray and Sam Harris: Scientific Consensus on Cognitive Ability?

A recent talk by Harden, based on her forthcoming book:



Regarding polygenic prediction of complex traits 

I first met Eric Turkheimer in person (we had corresponded online prior to that) at the Behavior Genetics Association annual meeting in 2012, which was back to back with the International Conference on Quantitative Genetics, both held in Edinburgh that year (photos and slides [1] [2] [3]). I was completely new to the field but they allowed me to give a keynote presentation (if memory serves, together with Peter Visscher). Harden may have been at the meeting but I don't recall whether we met. 

At the time, people were still doing underpowered candidate gene studies (there were many talks on this at BGA although fewer at ICQG) and struggling to understand GCTA (Visscher group's work showing one can estimate heritability from modestly large GWAS datasets, results consistent with earlier twins and adoption work). Consequently a theoretical physicist talking about genomic prediction using AI/ML and a million genomes seemed like an alien time traveler from the future. Indeed, I was.

My talk is largely summarized here:
On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits 
https://arxiv.org/abs/1408.3421 
How do genes affect cognitive ability or other human quantitative traits such as height or disease risk? Progress on this challenging question is likely to be significant in the near future. I begin with a brief review of psychometric measurements of intelligence, introducing the idea of a "general factor" or g score. The main results concern the stability, validity (predictive power), and heritability of adult g. The largest component of genetic variance for both height and intelligence is additive (linear), leading to important simplifications in predictive modeling and statistical estimation. Due mainly to the rapidly decreasing cost of genotyping, it is possible that within the coming decade researchers will identify loci which account for a significant fraction of total g variation. In the case of height analogous efforts are well under way. I describe some unpublished results concerning the genetic architecture of height and cognitive ability, which suggest that roughly 10k moderately rare causal variants of mostly negative effect are responsible for normal population variation. Using results from Compressed Sensing (L1-penalized regression), I estimate the statistical power required to characterize both linear and nonlinear models for quantitative traits. The main unknown parameter s (sparsity) is the number of loci which account for the bulk of the genetic variation. The required sample size is of order 100s, or roughly a million in the case of cognitive ability.
The predictions in my 2012 BGA talk and in the 2014 review article above have mostly been validated. Research advances often pass through the following phases of reaction from the scientific community:
1. It's wrong ("genes don't affect intelligence! anyway too complex to figure out... we hope")
2. It's trivial ("ofc with lots of data you can do anything... knew it all along")
3. I did it first ("please cite my important paper on this")
Or, as sometimes attributed to Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”



Technical note

In 2014 I estimated that ~1 million genotype | phenotype pairs would be enough to capture most of the common SNP heritability for height and cognitive ability. This was accomplished for height in 2017. However, the sample size of well-phenotyped individuals is much smaller for cognitive ability, even in 2021, than for height in 2017. For example, in UK Biobank the cognitive test is very brief (~5 minutes IIRC, a dozen or so questions), but it has not even been administered to the full cohort as yet. In the Educational Attainment studies the phenotype EA is only moderately correlated (~0.3 ?) or so with actual cognitive ability.

Hence, although the most recent EA4 results use 3 million individuals [1], and produce a predictor which correlates ~0.4 with actual EA, the statistical power available is still less than what I predicted would be required to train a really good cognitive ability predictor.

In our 2017 height paper, which also briefly discussed bone density and cognitive ability prediction, we built a cognitve ability predictor roughly as powerful as EA3 using only ~100k individuals with the noisy UKB test data. So I remain confident that  ~million individuals with good cognitive scores (e.g., SAT, AFQT, full IQ test) would deliver results far beyond what we currently have available. We also found that our predictor, built using actual (albeit noisy) cognitive scores exhibits less power reduction in within-family (sibling) analyses compared to EA. So there is evidence that (no surprise) EA is more influenced by environmental factors, including so-called genetic nurture effects, than is cognitive ability.

A predictor which captures most of the common SNP heritability for cognitive ability might correlate ~0.5 or 0.6 with actual ability. Applications of this predictor in, e.g., studies of social mobility or educational success or even longevity using existing datasets would be extremely dramatic.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

US debt, dollar-rmb, digital rmb (Gavekal)

 

I agree with Louis Gave's take on most of the topics discussed. Gavekal manages a China fixed income fund and some other China-focused funds, so he is talking his book. But the arguments stand on their own.

At ~45m, a good discussion of digital RMB and why it will break the technology record for fastest adoption by first 1 billion users. See earlier discussion (Ray Dalio) on de-dollarization and digital RMB here

This is a scary graph from Gave's presentation:



This is another good interview:

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