A squirrel round up

Posted by Sappho on May 20th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Whimsies


Here is a post by John Scalzi that includes a photoshopped image of a squirrel riding a Pomeranian.

Squirrels and birds can talk to each other. Evidently, Felix Salten’s novel about the squirrel Perri is actually a documentary.

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What actually happened, as best I can determine, with Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Genealogy


Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a story reporting that AncestryDNA had turned over customer DNA to the police without a warrant. This story turns out to be false. But, for reasons that I’ll make clear when I tell you what actually did happen, I found it tricky to figure out just what AncestryDNA had or hadn’t done. Here, as best I can tell (with links) is the truth of the story.

First, a bit of background.
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Links, the “it’s not so easy staying 100% positive 100% of the time when you have freaking cancer” edition

Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Health and Medicine


I see that it has been a week since I posted here. That’s because I gave my fourth Toastmasters speech yesterday, and spent my free, non-work time practicing the speech instead of blogging. I do have some ideas for posts, but more ideas than time to write them at the moment, so I’ll give you a few links, instead, so you know that I’m not dead yet.

I’m not dead yet, in part, because, more than three years out from my cancer diagnosis, I am still in remission. Some others are not so lucky. One of those others, Kevin Drum, is currently under treatment for multiple myeloma (the illness that killed my father), and, in his honor, Jim Henley, who went through cancer treatment more recently than I did, is doing some cancer blogging. Here is Jim Henley’s Quora post on how to support someone with cancer, which I warmly second. Among other things from that post:

3. Offer to do specific, time-consuming things that will ease the lives of patients and caregivers. Then do them. Babysitting. Dog-walking. Cat-feeding. Transportation. Oh yes transportation. A lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to the facility at least once a day for 2 to 6 weeks. That’s 10-30 trips someone has to make, and it shouldn’t be the patient, and the patient’s primary caregiver – if she’s lucky enough to have one – can use a break.

Yes, yes, yes! Transportation is really useful when you’re going through treatment for cancer. Radiation is an every day event, and chemotherapy, though less frequent, is absolutely exhausting.

Just as a lot of people don’t realize that a typical radiation patient has to go to a facility once a day for 2 to 6 weeks, a lot of people may not know that the American Cancer Society offers rides to treatment for those who can’t drive themselves. So, if you know someone with cancer, offering transportation can be one of the best ways to help (and I’m also forever grateful to the friends who offered pet care and freed my husband to be with me), and if you don’t currently know anyone going through treatment for cancer, but are looking for volunteer work that will make a difference, the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program is a worthy place to volunteer.

How does the program work?

Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars so that patients can receive the life-saving treatments they need. If you or your loved one needs a ride to treatment, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to be matched with a volunteer, or enter your zip code below to check for programs in your area.

I also second Jim Henley’s thoughts on

OK, that’s actually more writing than I thought I was going to do, when I started this post. Non-cancer related links are below the fold.
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Support Your Local Police State

Posted by WiredSisters on May 7th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, Democracy, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race, Torture


You might want to google “police history” before reading the rest of this post. There are a bunch of good books and articles on the subject out there, and what they mainly tell you is that the wild-eyed Marxist radicals who usually get dismissed as overwrought ideologues are, if anything, pulling their punches in characterizing the police as lackeys of the ruling classes. The whole idea of having a police force was invented by a ruling class to keep the lower orders in their place. At the time, in 18th-century Britain, there was no racial element to it, unless you count anti-Irish prejudice. But there were lots of poor people who could not possibly survive within the limits set for them by employers, landlords, church, and state. For them, as for poor people and especially homeless people today, survival required lawbreaking, because the law made their lives illegal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Noah Millman on Africa

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Africa news and blogwatch


And, because today’s my day for linking Noah Millman, here’s another of his posts, on why Africa Matters.

Africa is the largest place on earth that it is possible, most of the time, to ignore. It won’t be forever. The journalistic cliché is that, as the 20th was the American century, the 21st will be the Chinese. But there is a plausible case to be made that, within a few short decades, we’ll be talking instead about the African century.

The reason is simple arithmetic. Demographically, Africa is expanding at a rate unmatched by any other remotely comparable region. Of the 25 countries with the highest total fertility rates, all but two (Afghanistan and East Timor) are African—and included in that list are some of Africa’s largest and most populous countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo….

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I’m not in love. So don’t forget it …

Posted by Sappho on May 7th, 2015 filed in Sexuality


Noah Millman writes, in Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him, Tell Him Right Now, about the Modern-Love-contest-winning essay

… about a woman who is so terrified of losing what little she has, romantically-speaking, that she dare not tell the truth about her feelings.

I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of making the Big Master Post (or series of posts), that will tell you all exactly what I think about sexual ethics and advice, and what the good life really is, where sexual and romantic relationships are concerned. I never do, because every time I sit down to do it, it all becomes complicated. What’s defensible in secular terms isn’t the same, in important ways, as what’s defensible in faith-based terms. What should be legal isn’t the same as what’s right. What I can easily, in secular terms and without any appeal to Bible or any faith tradition, say is flat out wrong isn’t the same as what may sometimes work, but often doesn’t, and may on the whole not be prudent or wise.

But I’m fairly sure that, if I did write that post, or that series of posts, a big part of it would be two rules: Don’t do what predictably makes yourself unhappy. And don’t do what predictably makes other people unhappy. Think of it as a version of Hillel’s famous questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?”

What I love about Noah Millman’s reflections on sexual and romantic relationships, when he does write about them (mostly he’s more of a literary blogger these days), is the fact that he seems to write with a grasp of the value of both those questions. So many people don’t. And so we get, either “war of the sexes” arguments in which it’s each person’s business to look out for herself, and it’s unreasonable for her to ask any regard for her feelings and perspective, because each person’s just out for what she wants, any way she can get it, or else arguments that suppose she can expect the other person to be a mind reader, and know that of course a person’s going to feel led on in such-and-such a situation. Millman hangs onto both points, sometimes drawing out one, and sometimes another, as the case requires. Here it’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

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The flames of the Tigers are lighting the road to Berlin

Posted by Sappho on May 5th, 2015 filed in Books, Music


This year’s Hugo Awards have proved more controversial than usual, with the sweep of several categories of Hugo Award nominations by two slates known as Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies.

I don’t mean this to be a post about Puppies. If you want to know more about puppies, you can check out the blog of, well, almost any science fiction author right now, or Google “Hugo Awards 2015″ and look at all the Puppy posts and articles. But the debate about Puppies raised a meta-Puppies point that interests me: the relationship between politics and art.

You see, two things are true, at the same time. The first thing: Art has always been, and always will be, political, and in the sense in which “politics” is being discussed here, politics can’t be extracted from art. The second thing: What Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money likes to call aesthetic Stalinism – preachy message fiction where the message overwhelms the story, and preachy reviews that evaluate books, movies, music, or other art solely on their political implications – is really, really annoying.

I have been trying to think of how to write about this, and finding that the post in my head kept growing way too long, as I ran through all of the examples and qualifiers that I wanted. Then I ran across three other people’s posts that said different aspects of what I wanted to say, so I’m going to link them, and make my post much shorter.
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Oh, the fox went out on a chilly night …

Posted by Sappho on April 29th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary


Here is a fox, in the vicinity of Chernobyl, making a bacon sandwich.

On a more serious note, Cheryl Rofer, at Nuclear Diner, explains why the forest fire near Chernobyl is a threat only to those in the path of the fire.

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Ebola NOT still going strong in Liberia

Posted by Sappho on April 27th, 2015 filed in Health and Medicine


The last confirmed case of Ebola in Liberia died on 27 March and was buried on 28 March. You wouldn’t know this fact, though, to look at americanthinker.com“>this post at the American Thinker. In the post, Sierra Rayne makes a simple mistake. She links a graph of Ebola cases at the CDC web site, but misinterprets the graph. The graph is real. And it really does show a continuing linear increase, in Liberia, after the last confirmed case died. But go look at the actual CDC page to see what the graph is tracking. It is not tracking total cases of Ebola. It is tracking total suspected, probable, and confirmed cases of Ebola. Liberia, as well it should, is still actively looking for cases of Ebola. After all, it has only been one month since the last case was buried, so two full incubation periods haven’t passed yet. And, given that Sierra Leone and Guinea border on Liberia and still have Ebola cases, and given, further, that there is the possibility of sexual transmission beyond the normal incubation period, Liberia may still want to continue more than usual monitoring even if and when it reaches that 42 day mark. Now, given that other illnesses cause diarrhea and vomiting, it’s expected that, during this period, there will continue to be suspected cases of Ebola in Liberia. It would be irresponsible of the doctors in Liberia not to have checked out some people, during this time period, for possible Ebola. But, unless and until we see a new confirmed case of Ebola in Liberia, Ebola is still going strong in Guinea, and still going (but waning) in Sierra Leone, but we are not currently seeing new Ebola cases in Liberia, and haven’t seen any for about a month. Here is the latest WHO situation report, with the full details. There will be another report in two days.

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Looking at mtDNA and Y DNA lines in my genealogy

Posted by Sappho on April 24th, 2015 filed in DNA, Genealogy


Autosomal DNA tells much more about your ancestry than mtDNA or Y DNA, since you inherit autosomal DNA from all your grandparents. But that same limitation of mtDNA and Y DNA, of course, is their main area of interest: they can tell you something about where your ancestors on one particular line came from (even if it’s just where they came from thousands of years ago). And it turns out that, through looking at the results of close cousins, you can sometimes get mtDNA or Y DNA lines of people other than your parents. Here is what I’ve been able to learn about mine:
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SAVING MARRIAGE FOR THOSE WHO STILL WANT IT

Posted by WiredSisters on April 21st, 2015 filed in Family, History, Law, Marriage, Sexuality


Marriage has been evolving for a long time, as Stephanie Coonts (“The Way We Never Were”) points out in her thorough analysis. In my lifetime, it seems to have been doing it at top speed. My mother (born in the middle of a string of 8 children, in 1915) was the only one of her mother’s 4 daughters who never got divorced. Her oldest sister (“the flapper,” my mother called her) did it while it still had the makings of scandal. That is, she dropped out of high school to get married, had a child, and then got divorced under cloudy circumstances that involved her husband’s family getting custody of the child. She then decided to finish high school where she had started—a fairly progressive public high school in a Boston suburb, or they never would have let her come back at all. But they allowed it only if she promised never to have any social or personal contact with any of her fellow students—just go to class, turn in her work, and go home. I’m not quite sure whether that was because she had been married (and therefore knew what marriage was all about, which of course her virginal classmates should not know from) or because she had been divorced under some kind of scandalous circumstances. That was, presumably, in the 1920s or maybe early 1930s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Conversations on Race

Posted by WiredSisters on April 15th, 2015 filed in Democracy, Dreams, Guest Blogger, Moral Philosophy, News and Commentary


I’m a liberal. If there were a bumper sticker saying “It’s Not That Simple,” and if I still had a bumper, or a car to attach it to, I would get one. I consider any other proposition short enough to fit on a standard-sized bumper sticker oversimplified. I’m the person at parties off in a corner with the local maverick, trying to out-maverick him (it’s almost always a him.)

So okay, do we need, as so many smart, well-intentioned, and influential people are saying these days, a “national conversation about race”? And if so, how complex does it need to be? And who-all needs to be involved in it? Me, for instance? In a way, I’m a two-fer, because I still have Mr. Wired, and his positions on race issues, in my head, and will enunciate them on request or sometimes even spontaneously. I spent the forty-plus years of our marriage arguing with him about it.

[Given the context of most of people’s racial conversations these days, it might make more sense to have a national conversation about cops. But let’s save that for my next post.] I grew up in the still-segregated South–South Florida, to be exact, which wasn’t quite as segregated as the rest of the state, but still had separate restrooms and drinking fountains and bus station waiting rooms. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the US. Mr. Wired, on the other hand, used to eat lunch with Martin Luther King, back when he (Mr. Wired, I mean) was a college kid stuffing envelopes for the NAACP in Boston. He hired the first Black salesman for the company he worked for in the middle 1960s. When our foster daughter was considering marriage, Mr. Wired and I agreed that, of the two possible candidates for her hand, we preferred the one with the heavier dose of melanin, because he was also Jewish. (She ended up marrying the other one, who wasn’t, but we get along okay.) His best friend’s wife is biracial. So are our favorite surrogate nephews. Two of my favorite clients are African-American. So was one of the people in my law school study group (for those unacquainted with the structure and mores of the law school study group, that’s a pretty close relationship—as close as many relatives, anyway. And, by the way, I almost certainly have a bunch of Afro-Caribean relatives, from my father’s family’s sojourn in Jamaica.) As a matter of principle, when we moved to Chicago, we moved into one of its few integrated neighborhoods, where I still live today. So okay, our hearts were/are in the right place.

But Mr. Wired believed very strongly that the only way to overcome the evils of racism was to become color-blind. He liked to point to the fact that, back in the day (the days of medieval England, specifically) blond hair and blue eyes were the mark of the Saxon underlings, and now blonds tend to be privileged in all sorts of ways. Somehow or other, in the intervening four hundred years, that particular prejudice just somehow disappeared. His theory was that it disappeared because people stopped talking or thinking about it. So he wanted to “ban the box”—not the box indicating a felony conviction in one’s past, but the box indicating one’s race or ethnicity. On principle, he refused to check that box on any form he filled out. But then again, he was a computer programmer, accustomed to dealing with entities that paid attention only to what the user told them to attend to. If something isn’t on the paper, it isn’t a problem. As a lawyer, I believe the only way to deal with a problem is to put it down on paper and then tackle it, and specifically that the only way to overcome discrimination is to document it. (This means, of course, that once we recognize something as a Problem, the statistical incidence of it will appear to rise, from better documentation, for quite a while before it goes down from better behavior.) That was our eternal argument.

But getting back to the “national conversation” conversation, maybe the real issue is who should do the talking—the well-intentioned white folks who want to be let off the hook for lynching and Jim Crow and cop misconduct, or the people who have actually had to live with the downside of race for the last several centuries. As a Jew, I fervently deny that any of my ancestors had anything to do with crucifying Jesus (see my last post.) But as a descendant of rednecks on my paternal grandmother’s side, I almost certainly have some ancestors who took part in lynchings. I know I had ancestors on both sides in the Civil War. Am I looking for a certificate of “non-racist whiteness”? Not hardly.

Once again I enunciate Mr. Wired’s point of view. This one, I really like—prejudice is something we’re all born with. We are uncomfortable with and often hostile to people who aren’t like us, whatever that means. It’s as close as I get to believing in original sin. But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people—just that we’re people. What’s immoral is acting on one’s prejudice. That’s discrimination, and it needs to be overcome. So okay, we’re all racist to one degree or another, no big deal. (No, I’m not going to get into the ancient argument over whether people of color can be racist. Let’s just say “prejudiced”, okay?) Do I discriminate? I don’t think so, but I’m open to being proved wrong, and to learning how better to avoid it. And that’s not because I want to be absolved from some kind of guilt, but because that’s how a decent person behaves.

Sometimes the argument gets more complicated. Back when I had no health insurance, I got most of my medical care at Cook County Hospital, most of whose clientele was African-American and Hispanic. Was I condescending by mingling with people of color? Or using resources they needed more than I did? By living in an integrated neighborhood, am I using housing resources they need more than I do, while I could perfectly well move to a whiter and more expensive neighborhood they couldn’t get into?

This all reminds me of the Augustinian and Calvinist moral calculus, which I had occasion to study in college and divinity school—do I try to behave like a decent person so I won’t go to hell when I die, or so my neighbors will think I’m a good person, or is it just possible that I’m doing it because I am at least on good days a decent person?

I think, in fact, that the American ethos is a kind of pop-Calvinism, and that many liberals and ex-liberals worry about being crypto-racists precisely because of that ethos. Paul Samuelson, of whom I generally expect better, once said that “do-gooders” are as selfish as anybody else—they just want to “feel good about themselves” rather than, say, feel good about their bank balances. The novel “Magnificent Obsession,” which was a best-seller in the 1950s or thereabouts, had as its axiom that one should try to do good as covertly as possible, but be as open as possible about one’s faults and misdeeds. I think that’s all pop-Calvinism.

The Jewish ethos works differently, and, I think, better. We don’t care that much why somebody does the right thing, as long as it gets done. And we want those right things to be as public as possible, because they set an example and shape a culture for other people to emulate. In a culture in which everybody flaunts their faults and conceals their virtues, the ordinary person just trying to get along is likely to be led into despair. Who wants to be the only person on the block who gives to the Salvation Army or doesn’t use the n-word in casual conversation? Not only that, without examples to follow, that ordinary person may be utterly clueless about how to do the right thing. The juvenile literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras is full of Good Examples, sometimes to the point of tedium. But that’s a criticism of style, not content. Judy Blume, Martin Berman-Gorvine, and the other Y.A. writers I like best present lots of Good Examples too, they’re just more subtle about it. We need them. Y.A.s (Young Adults) especially need them. So, getting back to Paul Samuelson, even if he’s right, all he’s really saying is that good people enjoy doing good things and bad people enjoy doing bad things. Duh. Whose world would we rather live in?

And getting back to the issues of race, even if white liberals are mainly trying to be absolved for being the descendants of lynch-mob members, or having used “whites-only” facilities in the past, or even living in all-white suburbs now, if that search for absolution leads them to behave in a less-prejudiced manner, what’s the problem? Sure, they/we could maybe do better. It’s important to be open to learning how to do better. So that’s what the “conversation” should probably cover, on the side of us colorless people. And, even more important, what we maybe need most is to listen to people of color about their experiences and what we could do to improve them.

“The Talk”, for instance—the talk that every parent of a child of color has as soon as the kid is old enough to be viewed as any kind of threat to the larger community—we need to think about that. Parents of girls, regardless of race, may have an easier time doing that, because we have our own version of The Talk, for our daughters. Not about How to Avoid Getting Shot By the Cops, thank heaven, but about How to Avoid Being Raped. In a just world, neither of those Talks would ever have to be given. But in this world, they’re inescapable, and people who have never given (or been given) those Talks need to hear how it feels, and start thinking about what we can do to reduce the necessity for them. If there is to be a national conversation, that’s what it needs to cover.

Red Emma

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Wanderer [fiction]

Posted by WiredSisters on April 6th, 2015 filed in Bible study, Historical Jesus, Torture, Yizkor


It was my usual Sunday afternoon visit to my grandfather. He sat by the window of the cluttered, faded West Rogers Park apartment, looking out over the park as a cloud of dust and noise blew toward us from the softball game. I picked up my glass of iced tea from the stack of Yiddish magazines between us, and crunched an ice cube as he said, “Malkeleh, how would you like a free trip to New Jersey next month?” Read the rest of this entry »

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A round up on the Iran nuclear deal (and one link on the Garissa attack)

Posted by Sappho on April 6th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary, Peace Testimony


Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner discusses the framework agreement with Iran here and evaluates the agreement and what remains to be determined here.

Josh Busby at Duck of Minerva has a round up and open thread on the pros and cons of the Iran deal.

Golnaz Esfandiari and Farangis Najibullah at Informed Comment ask How are Iranians reacting to Nuclear Deal?

Africa is a Country blog on How to make sense of the #GarissaAttack in Kenya (you may want to switch off television news).

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At the cross her station keeping …

Posted by Sappho on April 3rd, 2015 filed in Music, Worship


Stabat Mater, a Latin version of the “At the cross her station keeping song” that we always sang at the Stations of the Cross service when I was a child. This version makes me realize that, though this is a Mary focused song in any version, the English version that I learned as an Episcopalian child actually removed some cult of Mary from the song. The song works well with Stations of the Cross because it has so many verses, so you can sing a different verse at each Station.

A different Stabat Mater.

And here’s a more modern song that references Mary’s grief.

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Links: From drug wars and disabilities to convergent Quakers, and lots of links in between

Posted by Sappho on April 1st, 2015 filed in Blogwatch


From Bint Alshamsa: In the Drug Wars, People With Disabilities Are Often Collateral Damage

“Oh, you want heavy narcotics strong enough to kill an elephant? Okay! But first let’s make sure you aren’t using anything harmful like marijuana.”

This is what I go through every eight weeks and that’s when things are going well….

Jennifer Raff: New paper deals blow to hypothesis that Native Americans have European ancestry

However, an idea that there must be a European origin for at least some Native Americans has persisted in various forms. In its modern iteration, this idea is known as the “Solutrean Hypothesis.” The Solutrean hypothesis claims that the Clovis people, the makers of the earliest known stone tools in the Americas, were the cultural and biological descendants of the Solutrean peoples of southwest coastal Europe.

I have written before about why the genetic diversity present in contemporary and ancient Native Americans does not support this hypothesis (“Problematic science journalism: Native American ancestry and the Solutrean hypothesis”). Here, I want to discuss a new challenge to the Solutrean hypothesis that came out in the archaeological literature just today.

A guest post at High Clearing: I Search the Body: What Role-Playing Games Taught Me About Writing Fiction, by Harry Connolly

When I was a kid, there was a certain scene that came up often in the books and TV shows I loved. Superspy Hero, trapped in the villain’s stronghold, would break out of his cell. He’d jump the guard from behind (taking him out with a single karate chop to the shoulder, natch) then skulk down the hall.

I used to shout “Take the guard’s gun!” at the TV. “Take his gun! Search him for keys! Don’t just leave him there!”

But of course Superspy never bothered, because he didn’t need any of those things. Anything he needed, the narrative would provide later. That was the expectation….

Emma Pierson (who blogs statistics at Obsession with Regression) has a piece at the Atlantic on running statistics on her email exchanges with her boy friend.

Then I wondered if differences in our personalities would show up in our emails. I compared the words I used with the words he used; this revealed that, contrary to gender stereotypes, I am probably more aggressive. I am responsible, for example, for more than 95 percent of the profanity in our emails. He is much more likely to use the phrase “I am not sure,” and is also responsible for 60 percent of the incidences of “sorry.” I have a penchant for bleaker topics, and am more likely to mention “pain,” “cancer,” and “suicide.” I am also more likely to make sweeping generalizations about men, as evidenced by my more frequent use of “boys” and “male.”

Here I’ll note that Watson, when given samples of my text to analyze, keeps telling me I’m “fiery.” What do you mean I’m fiery, you stupid AI program! I’m the most gentle person I know! Well, OK, not quite the most gentle. Just the most modest person I know.

In her article, Pierson linked a post at FiveThirtyEight, In the End, People May Really Just Want to Date Themselves. The main point of the piece, that for most traits similarity actually attracts more than opposites, isn’t too surprising. But some of the details interest me.
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Pharaoh’s army got drownded

Posted by Sappho on March 31st, 2015 filed in Bible study


Nothing quite says “God stands against injustice” like a story in which God rescues actual slaves.

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The Dress, and other blogging and articles about genetics (mostly)

Posted by Sappho on March 30th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, DNA


Sometimes it’s as interesting to find out where an odd difference probably isn’t strongly influenced by genetics as to know when it does. A month ago, when the Dress swept the Internet, 23andMe customers asked whether their friends’ perverse inability to see the fact that the Dress was blue and black/white and gold/blue and gold (I’m #TeamBlueAndGold, but I’m in the minority) might have something to do with genetics. 23andMe obliged with a survey of selected customers who had agreed to participate in research, and reported on the results here and here (including a white paper on the survey). Because 23andMe has already collected a bunch of survey information from customers who have agreed to participate in research, they were able to correlate responses to a few simple questions about the Dress (what colors do you see in this picture, what colors did you see when you first saw the Dress, do you see the colors as constant or do they shift) not only with the customers’ genes (or at least the subset that 23andMe samples), but also with other survey responses. Here is what they found.

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Now, about that Germanwings plane

Posted by Sappho on March 27th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary


First, if you read French, the French papers tend to be fuller on details here (or full on details with less delay); here, for instance, is yesterday’s article in Le Monde about the prosecutor’s assertion that the co-pilot probably deliberately downed the plane. A friend of a friend also passes on this article and this article in Liberation.

Second, you can check out the Guardian live blog for lots of updates (as I write this, the last update appears to be 20 hours ago, perhaps there’s a newer one for today’s updates or perhaps not). I note that the number of airlines requiring two people in the cockpit at all times has just dramatically increased.

Third, though having two people in the cockpit at all times does sound like a good idea (even if the flight attendant who becomes the second person when the pilot steps out can’t fly the plane, he or she can let the pilot back in), it’s worth remembering that there’s a reason why cockpit doors are reinforced to begin with, and that, infrequent though terrorist attacks on planes may be, terrorists are still more common than suicidal/homicidal pilots. Bruce Schneier has said, “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” (I’m not sure that the measures that Schneier says only deter stupid terrorists are entirely useless, because many people are, in fact, stupid. But I’m sure he’s right that these two things protect us way more than any of the other measures.)

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Razib Khan and the New York Times

Posted by Sappho on March 27th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary, Race


I found out a week after the fact that Razib Khan, one a science blogger at Discover Magazine and now a blogger at Ron Unz’s site, got hired and fired by the New York Times in a single day. If he had still been blogging at Discover I’d have found out right away, because I read him regularly for a while, back then, but as it is I was spending my news reading time paying attention to Ebola, and whether Tsipras can settle his disagreements with Merkel, and just what happened to that Germanwings airplane, and so almost missed altogether how the New York Times hired 20 new people at once, and then quickly fired one of them.

Anyway, if someone was going to be hired and fired by the NYT in one day, Khan is about the least surprising person this could happen to. He is, in fact, both exactly the sort of person I’d expect the NYT to hire, and exactly the sort of person I’d expect them to fire. Nothing about this incident really surprises me (including Khan’s post shrugging the incident off and saying he’s off to relax with a good book – while Khan can be as touchy and ready to take offense as the next blogger if he thinks someone has insulted him, he’s always struck me as someone allergic to seeing himself as any kind of victim – railing about losing a job isn’t the kind of thing he’d want to do).

The issue, of course, was race. “Of course,” I say, because if you’d followed Khan for any length of time, that’s just what you’d expect the sticking point to be. But putting it that way makes it sound unsurprising that Khan would be fired without explaining why it would be unsurprising that he would be hired. By “of course” I don’t mean “anyone who spent five minutes Googling Razib Khan or checking his work ought to know that he’s a flaming racist.” Let me explain.
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Swallow Day

Posted by Sappho on March 21st, 2015 filed in Daily Life


Today, Joel arranged an outing for our support groups: we attended the Swallow Day parade at San Juan Capistrano.

Every year at this time, the story goes, the swallows return to the old mission church at San Juan Capistrano. When we moved down here and visited the mission, someone told us that these days, the swallows actually return to the Mission Viejo mall. But, either way, every year in San Juan Capistrano, there is a parade to welcome them back.

Among those included in the parade:

  • People in old Wild West outfits firing guns (I presume not real, but with noise and smoke that were real enough and that moved the little dogs near us to bark).
  • People in military uniforms, some mounted and some not, until I began to wonder whether this would be mostly a military themed parade. (Sometimes I think that we are, after all, the Klingons: a proud warrior people.)
  • Closing out the military themed groups, a celebrated war horse (evidently the most famous war horse alive today?).
  • Friars (whether actual or reenacted I am not sure).
  • More men and women in Wild West garb.
  • Mixed with them, men and women and children in Mexican garb.
  • People from the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation;
  • An Italian language group, including people singing “O Sole Mio”.
  • Children from the Boys and Girls Club.
  • Girl Scouts.
  • Children from many local schools. Mostly Anglo schools, mostly Latino schools, and thoroughly mixed schools (with Asian-American and black kids intermingled in all groups). A school that boasted a 71% college admission rate for students who, when admitted to college, were, 95% of the time, the first in their family to attend college. A charter school from Mission Viejo, whose name included “Oxford.” Boys playing instruments and girls swinging flags and batons.
  • Little girls being pulled in wheeled canoes, who shrieked when the men pulling the canoes spun them.
  • People walking alongside the parade, but not officially in it. I noted a T-shirt proclaiming its wearer “pi-lingual” (but with the letter pi, not the word), a T-shirt saying “I can’t breathe,” and a sign protesting the closing of a local community center.
  • Women from the Daughters of the American Revolution, in colonial garb.
  • Reenactors of the Mormon Battalion.
  • Mexican-Americans in Aztec garb.
  • Police and fire brigades from various local towns.
  • Horses, horses, and more horses. Joel and the others estimated that there were 500 to 1000 horses.
  • Many more groups. Enough to fill two hours, from the first who passed us to the last.

Afterwards, we went for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant.

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