Knowing Humans

Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Taiwan Independence Is Not Worth A Cupertino

During the Cold War, it was fine for Taiwan to free-ride on America's anti-communist containment strategy, and to shelter under America's dominant nuclear umbrella. But the situation changed around the time the Cold War ended in 1989.

While communism as an ideology lost the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party studiously avoided the Soviets' fate. The CCP adopted just enough market freedoms to generate the easy catch-up prosperity needed to bribe its recently-starving citizenry into continued servility. But the CCP's legitimacy also leans heavily on the idea that the evil capitalists and oppressors who took refuge in Taiwan must never gain independence. The CCP's propaganda has convinced its 1.4 billion citizens that Taiwan independence is an intolerable affront to Chinese national identity. Of course, the real problem is that Taiwan is more than 3 times more prosperous than China, and enjoys vastly more political freedom. Together, these two undeniable facts are an existential threat to the ideological legitimacy of the CCP.  For at least thirty years, the CCP leadership has known that they are only one Beijing Spring away from spending the rest of their lives in jail (or worse).

So the CCP leadership is playing for keeps in aspiring to finally complete the conquest of Taiwan. The American guarantee of Taiwan's defense was arguably a good idea back when it had almost no marginal cost. But now, a credible defense of Taiwan would cost America more than Americans (or the people of Taiwan!) are willing to pay. Even worse, it runs a constant and growing background risk of a catastrophic war that would stretch from the Taiwan Strait to at least Guam, inland China, Japan, Wall Street, near-Earth orbit, and cyberspace.

And it could easily lead to nuclear war. If China set up a sea and air blockade of Taiwan, the U.S. would have to either back down, or challenge this act of war by eventually shooting its way through the blockade. Win or lose, the resulting conventional war would be a catastrophe for America's economy. But worse, the war would be an existential threat to the CCP leadership. Military defeat would not be acceptable when they have a nuclear arsenal just sitting there. So they likely would nuke some mainland American target, or at least threaten to.

Which one? It would be a target with high strategic or economic value relative to civilian casualties. So forget Washington D.C. or Manhattan or any major metropolitan downtown. A lower-yield nuke into Pearl Harbor would mostly spare Honolulu, but the Pacific Fleet's carriers would once again not be present, and the historical precedent is not a good one. Hollywood would be an interesting economic/cultural target, but the population density is high, and the headline would be "L.A. Nuked". A better target would be anywhere along the 13-mile line from Sand Hill Road to Santa Clara Stadium. That line is the backbone of Silicon Valley: venture capital, Stanford University, the Page Mill Rd. Stanford business park, the Google campus, and the remainders of the Valley's aerospace and semiconductor industry. That's where South Korea might aim a trans-Pacific nuke if it could. But China would instead be tempted to aim five miles south, and take out the Apple campus in Cupertino -- especially if they thought it would help them dominate the smartphone industry.

Whatever target they chose, America would be much more averse to this escalation than would the CCP. And so America should game this out, and cut its losses. There is no strategic hope for the 24M people of Taiwan to remain independent from those whose control of 1.4B Chinese depends on a commitment to ending that independence.

Taiwan has been a losing hand since the Berlin Wall fell and China's market economy rose. It's just an accident of geography that the CCP victory in 1949 was not total. When the freedom of Taiwan was relatively cheap to guarantee, it was worth guaranteeing. But it's not worth sacrificing a Cupertino.

This is not yet understood -- neither in official Washington nor in Taiwan itself. More than half of the people of Taiwan expect America to fight for their independence, but the people of Taiwan are unwilling to mount a credible deterrent.  So some U.S. president should say publicly what Trump said privately: "Taiwan is like two feet from China. We are 8,000 miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a f***ing thing we can do about it."


Monday, March 22, 2021

Oversupply Of Woke Journalism Considered Harmful For Woke Journalists

Freddie deBoer is a self-proclaimed Marxist with "a PhD in English from Purdue University, where [he] studied writing assessment" -- but he spells en masse as "in mass". Still, he understands enough economics to diagnose why an over-supply of woke journalism leads to sharply declining compensation for woke journalists:

A really important lesson to learn, in life, is this: your enemies are more honest about you than your friends ever will be. I’ve been telling the blue checks for over a decade that their industry was existentially fucked, that the all-advertising model was broken, that Google and Facebook would inevitably hoover up all the profit, that there are too many affluent kids fresh out of college just looking for a foothold in New York who’ll work for next to nothing and in doing so driving down the wages of everyone else. Trump is gone and the news business is cratering. 

Why have half a million people signed up as paying subscribers of various Substack newsletters, if the establishment media is providing the diversity of viewpoints that is an absolute market requirement in a country with a vast diversity of opinions?

Establishment media’s takeover by this strange brand of academic identity politics might grow even more powerful, if that’s even possible, but dissenters will find a place to sell alternative opinion; there’s a market. What there might not be much of a market for anymore is, well, you - college educated, urban, upwardly striving if not economically improving, woke, ironic, and selling that wokeness and that irony as your only product. Because you flooded the market. Everyone in your entire industry is selling the exact same thing, tired sarcastic jokes and bleating righteousness about injustices they don’t suffer under themselves, and it’s not good in basic economic terms if you’re selling the same thing as everyone else. You add that on to structural problems within your business model and your utter subservience to a Silicon Valley that increasingly hates you, well…. I get why you’re mad. 

In the span of a decade or so, essentially all professional media not explicitly branded as conservative has been taken over by a school of politics that emerged from humanities departments at elite universities and began colonizing the college educated through social media. Those politics are obscure, they are confusing, they are socially and culturally extreme, they are expressed in a bizarre vocabulary, they are deeply alienating to many, and they are very unpopular by any definition. The vast majority of the country is not woke, including the vast majority of women and people of color. How could it possibly be healthy for the entire media industry to be captured by any single niche political movement, let alone one that nobody likes? Why does no one in media seem willing to have an honest, uncomfortable conversation about the near-total takeover of their industry by a fringe ideology?

And the bizarre assumption of almost everyone in media seems to have been that they could adopt this brand of extreme niche politics, in mass [sic], as an industry, and treat those politics as a crusade that trumps every other journalistic value, with no professional or economic consequences. They seem to have thought that Americans were just going to swallow it; they seem to have thought they could paint most of the country as vicious bigots and that their audiences would just come along for the ride. They haven’t. In fact Republicans are making great hay of the collapse of the media into pure unapologetic advocacy journalism. Some people are turning to alternative media to find options that are neither reactionary ideologues or self-righteous woke yelling. Can you blame them? Substack didn’t create this dynamic, and neither did I. The exact same media people who are so angry about Substack did, when they abandoned any pretense to serving the entire country and decided that their only job was to advance a political cause that most ordinary people, of any gender or race, find alienating and wrong.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Gary Kremen For Tax Assessor

Gary Kremen has a background in private-sector innovation, and a track record in public office for challenging entrenched interests. One of California's entrenched interests is its over-reliance on income taxes, as opposed to land taxes -- which economics textbooks recognize as the least bad form of tax.

This scientific insight about optimal tax structure has no better living advocate than Santa Clara County's own Fred Foldvary, the economist who coined the term geolibertarian and who advocates so eloquently for a Green Tax Shift.

If California is ever to going to shift its tax structure to be more economically and environmentally sustainable, then we will need someone like Gary in place to make sure that the Tax Assessor's office can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century. That's why I support Gary Kremen for Santa Clara County Tax Assessor.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

RH Negativity Is Not Alien

There is an idea circulating on the internet that RH negativity is evidence of humans having been hybridized with aliens, either through breeding or genetic engineering. This idea misunderstands the science of RH negativity.

A good introduction is Why Rh Negative is not Blood of Gods or of Alien Origin. It says:

While the ABO classification is based on the two antigens A and B, the Rh group has 50 antigens! However, the main Rh classification is based on one single antigen of special importance, called the D antigen. So, if your blood has the Rh D antigen, then your blood group is Rh+, else it is Rh-. The reason for the importance of this antigen is that a mismatch in the D antigen can prove fatal during blood transfusion [...]

If the mother’s immune system has prior [exposure to the] Rh D antigen, either due to some previous blood transfusion of Rh+ blood, or if this is not the first pregnancy and the earlier pregnancies carried a Rh+ child, then the mother’s immune system is already aware of Rh D antigen and has antibodies against it ready, which can be of an immediate concern for the fetus health. [...]

Rh- indicates the absence of the Rh D antigen which otherwise is quite abundant in most (85%) humans. So what could be the contribution of alien blood here? Obviously, there is nothing alien here, because there is no alien genes present here, it's actually the “absence” of our own genes which produce the Rh D antigen in most humans.

The last sentence is wrong. Absence of an antigen can of course come from breeding, because that is how RH- people acquire it. RH negativity is recessive, so to be RH- you have to get from each of your parents a version of the RH blood group that omits the RH D gene. But the article goes on to correctly point out that a maternal immune reaction to the child does not suggest alien breeding:

We have seen newborns die because of this attack even in horses, cats and dogs! Read about Neonatal isoerythrolysis. [This happens] in all those species where the mother has a negative antigen blood group, and the fetus has a positive antigen blood group, and mother’s blood comes in contact with fetal blood. 

For that matter, [in humans] it is not only restricted to Rh D antigen either. It is also very much possible that mother whose blood group is O, gives birth to a child whose blood group is B, and if the mother’s blood comes in contact with fetal blood, then there will be antibodies against B produced by the mother’s blood! It's only that in this case it is not life threatening, while in the case of Rh D it can be life threatening to the baby.

The article then asks: why does the mother's immune system react so violently to RH D? It answers:

Some recent studies have indicated that Rh- people are resistant to some parasites like Toxoplasma. So it might have served an advantage [in European populations] NOT to have the Rh D antigen. 

One can find many such instances across human evolution. For example, humans who come from an ancestry which started domesticating cattle and consuming dairy products have digestive systems which generate an enzyme called lactase which helps in digesting [the lactose in] milk. However, a significant population of humans are lactose-intolerant, which means they cannot digest milk products. Does this mean lactose-intolerant population are from an alien ancestry? 

Some evolutionary gene modifications might prove fatal when expressed, but are nevertheless are useful while [recessed]. For instance, Sickle Cell anemia is a fatal disease where red blood cells [deform to sickle shape] causing life threatening complications. However, those humans who are only carriers of the [recessive] gene causing Sickle Cell Anemia are resistant to Malaria.

A 1997 article in Human Molecular Genetics traces the genetic family tree of the RH blood group: Evolution of the Human RH (Rhesus) Blood Group Genes: A 50 Year Old Prediction (Partially) Fulfilled. Using blood from different people possessing various haplotypes of the RH blood group, the authors sequenced the exact parts of chromosome 1 that control these antigens. 

The high degree of homology between the coding regions of the RHCE and RHD genes is consistent with an ancestral gene duplication. The ∼4% divergence over the coding region would suggest, assuming an average nucleotide substitution rate of 4 × 10−9 per nucleotide per year, that duplication occurred some 10 million years BP. This timing is consistent with the finding that the gorilla and chimpanzee are unique among the anthropoid apes in expressing homologues of both the human D and c antigens [...]

So any alien hybridization or genetic engineering had to happen 10 million years ago, and was performed on a common ancestor to humans, apes, and chimps. Those were very patient aliens!

Another article summarizes what is known about the origin of RH D:

The Rh blood group system consists of two genes RHD and RHCE on chromosome 1, positioned in opposite directions and separated by 31.8 kb, in which the TMEM50A gene (previously SMP1) is located. The RHD gene arose as a duplication of the RHCE gene in the common ancestors of humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas [37]. Both genes have 10 exons and share an overall 93.8% gene sequence identity and 96.4% exon sequence identity [38,39]. The RHD gene is flanked by two 9 kb regions of 98.6% homology, the so-called Rh boxes. [...]

At present (December 2017), 54 antigens, 378 RHD alleles, and 116 RHCE alleles have been recognized in the Rh blood group system. The main mechanism responsible for the generation of hybrid RH genes is thought to be gene conversion, explained by the opposite orientation of the highly homologous RHD and RHCE genes. Multiple exons can be converted, but often microconversion events lead to single amino acid changes. 

So not only do we know that RH D arose 10M years ago, but we also know what kind of mutation caused it. And we know that it is just one of many mutations that have happened in the RHCE and RHD genes, yielding a myriad of human haplotypes besides the A/B/O/Rh-D combinations that we so often hear about. (See here for lists of the many blood group variants in gorillas, chimps, pygmy chimps, orangutans, gibbons, macaques, and a dozen monkey species.)

If the omission of RH D is alien handiwork, then it was disguised to look very much like all the other random small antigen mutations in these genes across all these primates. It just so happens that one of these 54 human antigens can sometimes have devastating maternal-fetal interactions, but has not been evolved out of our genome. Evolution is not perfect, but it's always trying to make us better -- and that means it sometimes makes us worse.

Summary: If something walks, swims, and quacks like a random 10Myr-old mutation, it's probably just that, and not alien breeding.