Gene of the day: DRD4

Posted by Sappho on February 18th, 2017 filed in DNA, Genealogy

Now that I have mapped, in at least some cases, from which grandparent I and other family members have inherited particular segments of DNA (I may explain how this is done in another post), I have been having fun seeing which genes I may have inherited (one copy at least) from particular ancestors.

Usually this takes me to genes whose function is a little obscure to me, though my mother may, when I supply her with the information, be able to make more of the gene. For instance, I have determined that my mother inherited her copies of the RYR3 (Ryanodine Receptor 3) protein coding gene from her mother’s father and her father’s mother, while her brother inherited his copies from his mother’s mother and his father’s father. This gene affects the release of calcium from intercellular storage. My mother knows all about such things, but I, as a simple computer geek, do not.

DRD4, though, is a gene whose possible function is more accessible to lay people, since it’s one of the few genes possibly associated with a personality trait. But I have to put a bit of emphasis on possibly. In the first place, we have to remember that personality traits, even if partly genetic, also have a heavy environmental component. Besides this, it seems that the evidence isn’t entirely in on the effects of this gene; here is what a 2002 article by Beth Azar found at the APA web site has to say:

Finding any real “personality” genes is decades away. But researchers have a good start….

To date, there are only two real candidate genes that anyone speaks of with any confidence. The first potential link is between some behaviors related to the Big-Five trait novelty-seeking and a gene that produces the protein responsible for creating a dopamine receptor called DRD4. While some studies have failed to replicate this connection, others have identified a link between the DRD4 gene and other traits linked to novelty-seeking, such as drug abuse and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The indication is that this gene–or perhaps some other gene related to it–may influence all these interrelated characteristics.

So, I can’t be sure whether my DRD4 gene influences my novelty-seeking or lack thereof (though it’s apparently a more likely link than for most candidate personality genes). But I do know where I got one of my copies of DRD4, for this is a segment that I have mapped.

I inherited my maternal copy of my DRD4 gene from my great-great-grandmother Hannah Burton, who was born in Lancashire, England, married a barrister named James Gooden, and followed him first to South Africa and then to California.

Perhaps, then, I owe a tiny bit of my personality to her.

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what goes around comes around

Posted by Topaz on February 12th, 2017 filed in Uncategorized

If all undocumented farmworkers in California were deported, the crops will not be picked. If the crops are not picked then the farmers will have financial problems. If the farmers have financial problems then they will charge more. If the farmers charge more then the people who are so concerned about undocumented workers are taking jobs away from US citizens will pay more for food. If they need to pay more then they will complain about prices,

Perhaps they will be angry at the state of California. Trump said the state was “out of control”. Will this be used are another reason for antagonism?

Then again, the oraville dam is flooding. Some residents of Oroville ave been told to evacuate. Te dam isunder the supervision of the Army Corp. od Engineers. Some dams in California are under sttate controll and some are Army Corp. of Engineers. I understand that at least one engineer said that it did not matter wat they found, there was no money to repair them. Another example of our failing infrastructure.

My question is whether Trump will “punish” California by refusing to declare a state of energency. Will he create an alternate reality where the federal government and the Corp. of Engineers have no responsibility whatsoever for the dam.

What then? Judicial action?

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On Darwin and slavery

Posted by Sappho on February 12th, 2017 filed in History, Race, Science

Sometimes Twitter’s an endless loop of “someone is wrong on the Internet.” But other times, you can learn interesting new things. Today’s discovery:

Karen James ?@kejames
For #DarwinDay, a review of Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution:

An excerpt from the book review:

The result is fascinating and provocative. Written with much of Darwin’s flair and energy, Desmond and Moore tell an under-told story of how Darwin’s repugnance at slavery continued throughout his life, flaring up at times with all the emotional intensity of when he saw a female slave whipped in Argentina and an old lady’s collection of screws kept to crush the fingers of recalcitrant slaves. This book does the great service of humanising Charles Darwin. We see how keenly-fought debates over the nature of non-white peoples, their ultimate origins, even their capacity for interbreeding, occupied much of Darwin’s time and helped shape the reflections which led him to his mature theory. Along the way the reader receives a vivid, detailed, and utterly engaging lesson in the racial debates of Victorian Britain and America, with believers in a single origin for all humans as described in Genesis pitted against the often pro-slavery exponents of polygenesis, the idea that each race had been created separately. It is in the context of these conflicts, fought out in clubs and societies but with implications for plantations and slave markets, that Darwin formulated an evolutionary riposte to the polygenists. Or so Darwin’s Sacred Cause argues.

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More self-published short stories at Smashwords

Posted by Sappho on February 11th, 2017 filed in Fiction

I have now self-published ten short stories at Smashwords. These stories are temporarily free (through the end of the month), in the interest of maybe getting reviews for some of them. My Smashwords author page is here. The short stories (some of them short story length, others more flash fiction length) are:

Declutterers, Inc.

A Little Sister’s Tale (part of the series: The Fall of the Ubagane Empire)

The Chaplin’s War (part of the series: The Fall of the Ubagane Empire)

The Chaplin’s Rescue (part of the series: The Fall of the Ubagane Empire)

Blood Will Tell

Crazy for You

Dear Reader

In Her Dreams

Tempting a Ghost

Tower of Babel

I have half a dozen other short stories waiting to be published once I have drawn covers for them.

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Who said that names can never hurt you?

Posted by Topaz on February 7th, 2017 filed in Uncategorized

  • I am not a “dummie”.
  • I am not a whiner.
  • I am not a loser.
  • I am not a total loser.
  • I am not a sore loser.
  • I am not any <adjective> loser.
  • I do not have sour grapes.
  • I am not a buttercup.
  • I am not a poor little snowflake.
  • I am not a cry baby.
  • I am not a hater.
  • I do not have my opinion while you have yours, when mine are verifiable facts.
  • There is not my truth and your truth.
  • I have already given him a chance

Why do people say these things to me in order to me to shut up?

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Woe to thee, O land!

Posted by Sappho on February 4th, 2017 filed in Bible study

And here’s the passage that caught my eye today, as I read through Ecclesiastes a chapter at a time:

Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

Ecclesiastes 10:16


Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.

Posted by Sappho on February 3rd, 2017 filed in Bible study

I am reading through Ecclesiastes, and came across this passage in my reading today. The passage reminds me of an odd fact.

A. J. Jacobs, a not particularly devout Jew, decided, as an exercise, to spend a year following all the commandments that he could find in the Bible (Christian and Jewish), and to write a book about his experience. His experience was varied. But one thing that struck me was that one of the “commandments” that he actually found meaningful was this one, “let thy garments be always white,” something that even the most literal minded reader of the Bible would likely take as a metaphor rather than a commandment.

I think this says something about the meaning of ritual, even rituals that really, when you come down to it, are more personal than anything else.

If you find it a helpful reminder to yourself, it’s probably a good idea to keep doing it.

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Religious Freedom is Dogmatic Slavery

Posted by WiredSisters on February 2nd, 2017 filed in Abortion, Catholic Worker, Law, Marriage, Moral Philosophy, Quaker Practice, Sexuality

(One More for Orwell)

These days, every time I see the phrase “religious freedom,” I wince.  Once more a good name for an honorable principle has been defiled.  “Religious freedom” used to mean the moral right of an individual or group to follow the principles of its religion.  It’s what the First Amendment guarantee of “free exercise of religion” is supposed to protect.  It is what the conscientious objector clauses in military regulations and the Selective Service Act are supposed to protect. There is even a conscientious objection clause in immigration law, stating that an applicant for US citizenship who has religious objections to the requirement to pledge to bear arms for the US can be exempted from it.  The Amish have similar exemptions, by law or custom, from various license plate requirements for wheeled vehicles, and schooling requirements for children.  Many pacifist groups and individuals have advocated a similar exemption in federal tax laws, permitting them some accommodation under the Internal Revenue Act regarding paying taxes for military purposes.  Most such objectors are willing to pay taxes for non-military purposes, such as Social Security, environmental protection, and national parks, and are asking only for assurance that their individual tax monies will be directed only for such purposes.

Whatever one may think of that argument, it follows logically the pattern for conscientious objection exemptions from military service—that it, it affects only the person or group requesting the exemption.

Now, a whole new class of “religious liberty” exemptions have been created, having to do with same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. What they have in common is that they do not merely create rights of the objectors to practice the customs of their own faith, but a right for them to abrogate the rights of third parties, such as persons applying for same-sex marriage licenses and health insurance beneficiaries seeking reproduction-related health care.

These new “religious freedoms” are accepted by many conservative religious groups, apparently because those groups think the people whose rights they are restricting have no religious principles of their own, and their mere secular preferences are trumped by the religious rights of conservative Christians.  But in fact, many mainline religious denominations consider responsible use of contraception not merely a secular option, but a religious mandate.  Similarly, many such denominations recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry, and the obligation of such couples to enter into matrimony “solemnly, soberly, and in the fear of God” (Book of Common Prayer marriage service) rather than just shacking up.  These are not cases of religious rights versus secular options, but of competing religious rights.  It is well-settled First Amendment law that the government may not favor one religion over another.  The only right religious individuals and groups have against the general public is to be left alone by them—not to deny them their own right to be left alone.

And more recently, many of the “get tough” rules having to do with feeding homeless people (or pigeons, for that matter), or providing food, shelter, and other necessities to undocumented aliens, actually forbid practices many religious groups and individuals consider basic to their faith.  We no longer execute people for refusing to burn incense to Caesar.  But we are perfectly willing to jail people for practices which faithful Catholics consider works of mercy and practicing Jews consider mitzvoth.  That’s real  religious freedom, and it is in more danger than ever these days.



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Proud Daughter of an Immigrant

Posted by Sappho on January 31st, 2017 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary

The sidewalk was thick with signs (my friend Vivian estimates about 200 people in all). There was a sign quoting Republican Representative Mimi Walters’ words from last year, about Trump’s then campaign promise of a Muslim ban, back at her. There was the “I’m With Her” sign that took an old Hillary sticker and pointed the arrow at a picture of the Statue of Liberty. There was the sign quoting Abraham Lincoln, and the sign quoting Desmond Tutu, and the sign announcing “Legal Visas! Let Them In!”

But her sign caught my eye, “Proud Daughter of an Immigrant.”

“Me too!” I said.

I am, in fact, the daughter of an Greek immigrant. I’m also a daughter of the Mayflower. And a daughter of the people who met the Mayflower on its arrival. I am an American mixture of things.

She is the daughter of a Persian immigrant. And a stay at home mother who is working on her master’s. And an American.

We shared stories. I told her about my father growing up under Nazi occupation, and she told me about her family’s enthusiastic embrace of American freedom. About her toddler. About her worries, on seeing the rules so suddenly changed.

Who knows who will be kept out, when already acquired visas are meaningless, and people with green cards have been detained? I have a Palestinian friend who reports that a family member of his, though not from any of the seven countries in the executive order, was held for hours without being allowed water, or a trip to a restroom, or access to lawyers or family. I have a college friend who tells me a Persian friend of hers, though in possession of a green card, was detained for three days before being released.

Proud Daughter of an Immigrant tells me how she copes.

“I check the news every two days,” she says, “and then I go to a protest. So that I can take that energy and do something constructive.”

The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. What can be more American?

Please, please, let these grievances be redressed.

First they came for the Muslims. And here, in California’s 45th Congressional District, we said, hell, no.

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Bearing false witness

Posted by Sappho on January 29th, 2017 filed in Bible study, Quaker Practice

The Bey paused and released his grip, seeming to collect himself.

“At the same time, you must take care not to bear false witness. It is, according to Muhammed at least, among the four great sins.”

The Oracle of Stamboul

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

When I read Exodus as a child, my interpretation of these words was, simply, that the ninth commandment was one against what we call defamation. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. As an adult, I’ve learned that some consider it a general command against lying.

For all that the Quaker testimony of integrity says that we are not to lie at all (or at least not unless we’re hiding Jews in our attic to keep them safe from Nazis), I have always found that my childhood reading resonates more for me than the “don’t lie at all” reading. For one thing, it fits the text more; there’s a qualification there to the lies we shouldn’t tell. For another, however bad lying in general may be, some lies really are worse.

A little over 60 years ago, a woman named Carolyn Bryant told a lie about a boy named Emmett Till. She has now admitted the lie. Till had, perhaps, wolf whistled at Bryant, or perhaps lisped in a way that was mistaken for a whistle. For this offense, Bryant’s husband kidnapped the young teenager, beat him brutally, and killed him. And Carolyn Bryant gave false testimony against Emmett Till at her husband’s trial, claiming that the boy had not only whistled, but grabbed her and made lewd sexual remarks. As a result, a man was able to murder a boy and get off scot free.

False testimony against your neighbor. Not just any old lie.

Thinking back on Emmett Till, if Muhammed did say this was one of the four great sins, perhaps on this point Muhammed was right.


Links: Russia, Turkey, Trump, Pussy Hats, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land

Posted by Sappho on January 29th, 2017 filed in Blogwatch

From Duck of Minerva: WPTPN: Different Paths to Regional Economic Hegemony: Russia and Turkey Compared

From Ottomans and Zionists: Welcome to the Jungle (about the uncertainty as to just what Trump’s Israel policy is).

A semi-hopeful note from Lawfare Blog on Trump’s Self-Defeating Executive Order on Interrogation:

… People forget that under the Bush administration, the DOD in 2003 successfully revolted against aggressive interrogation techniques that the DOJ has at the time ruled lawful, and that the CIA interrogation and black site program had basically ground to a halt after 2006 in light of the changes in the law forged by the Detainee Treatment Act and Hamdan. They forget that the CIA refused, after the DTA but before Hamdan, to accept a DOJ interpretation of the DTA that would permit a return to waterboarding….

Pentagon rejects notion that Defense Department is trolling Trump on Twitter.

A Guardian article on a Michigan town where people who aren’t following the news all that closely think Trump’s first week went just great.

Der Spiegel, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, reports on a neo-Nazi group called Combat 18.

The case for removing Bannon being an achievable goal.

Trump’s new immigration restrictions risk violating international law and cutting foreign allies’ support.

John Holbo at Crooked Timber on Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats (the piece by Will Wilkinson that he links is also interesting).

An old friend of mine reflects on the Women’s March in LA, including thoughts on next steps (Swing Left, Indivisible, Votivator, gatherings).

Thoreau at High Clearing reflects on Trump and Russia

I want to clarify something: I actually think that improved relations with Russia would be a good thing, overall. Taken in a vacuum, I’d have no problem with a President who wanted to ease off the tensions with Russia. We can talk about exactly how/when/where to do that, but the general principle of warming things up a bit is perfectly fine with me.

My problem with Trump is that on any other foreign policy topic he’s basically a giant jerking knee….

Gregory Eran Gronbacher at Patheos on Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land.

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To descendants of Veniamin (Benjamin) families of Thessaloniki, wherever you may be

Posted by Sappho on January 27th, 2017 filed in Genealogy, Yizkor

I have written a Facebook note of what I have found in the civil records of Thessaloniki about Veniamin (Benjamin) families who lived there between the two world wars. I will update that note as I find more information. Here is a link to the note (made public, so any other Veniamin descendants can see it).

The comments to this post, like the comments to all my posts, will automatically close in a couple of weeks to deter spam. Till them, if you have information to share about any of the Veniamin families of Thessaloniki you can leave a comment. After then, if you have information to share you can email me or leave a comment (please, no commercial spam) on the public Facebook note that I have linked above.

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A Gambia update

Posted by Sappho on January 25th, 2017 filed in Africa news and blogwatch

Gambia: Ecowas Force to Remain for 6 Months

The ECOWAS Commission has said its coalition force in The Gambia would remain for the next six months, as requested by President Adama Barrow.

Gambia: New President Names Female VP Who Vowed to Prosecute Jammeh

President Adama Barrow has appointed as deputy leader a woman who had vowed to prosecute exiled leader Yahya Jammeh. Barrow, still in Senegal, said the appointment was designed to address gender imbalance.

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Kittens and Trump

Posted by Topaz on January 23rd, 2017 filed in Uncategorized

A friend sent me a program what would change photographs of Trump with photographs of kittens.  It works part of the time.  It’s a chrome extension.

At the time I was nearly terrified of when seeing those Trump faces.

A friend was concerned that it might normalize Trump.  I can understand that reasoning.  If one associates Trump with a kitten may bring an association between something bad with something good thereby making the bad thing seem less bad.  It could happen that way, but for me it’s been a profound relief.  I need less medication for anxiety, my body relaxes,I take a deep breath, “A kitten.  Oh, a kitten.”   It occurs to me that a photo that I find horrific absolutely needs to be replaced by a picture so innocent, so endearing, in order to cope with this horrible man and the news concerning him.

It works!  I save a photograph of a kitten and thought, “what disgraceful thing has Trump done now?”  It wasn’t about Trump.  It was about a kitten who needed rescue.

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Please welcome my new co-blogger, Topaz

Posted by Sappho on January 22nd, 2017 filed in Blog maintenance

Topaz joins me and WiredSisters blogging here.


Women’s March, Santa Ana, Orange County, California

Posted by Sappho on January 22nd, 2017 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary

Sign: I March because I’m the daughter of an Arab immigrant, the wife of a Mexican, an engineer who believes in science, and someone you can’t grab.

We knew we’d have trouble parking if we came close to the official start of the event, which was at 9am. So we left Louise’s home in Mission Viejo at 7am, and arrived in plenty of time still to find parking. Though I’d expected enough of a crowd to make an early arrival wise, I had naively expected that we’d find all of our friends once we made it there, that Louise and Vivian and I would easily find Tracy and John and Jeanette in one place, and Becky and Riley in another. That was not the case. The crowd was huge, and, though I did see one friend by accident, for the most part our friends were lost in the crowd, their presence only visible when I got home and checked Facebook.

How huge was the crowd? At one point, while we were listening to the speeches at the beginning, a speaker announced twenty thousand. For all that I stood in a sea of people without an obvious end, I thought that couldn’t be us. Santa Ana, twenty thousand? Surely that was a big city, DC maybe, or New York, or LA. In fact, though, the big city demonstrations were more than ten times larger than that, and twenty thousand was our own Santa Ana.

There was a woman dressed as a suffragette, and a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and a woman with an American flag hijab, who spoke in the second batch of speakers, at the end of the march. There were people handing out free water and people handing out free yoghurt. There were news helicopters flying overhead, at whom we waved our signs.

Here were some of the signs, as I live tweeted them at the time:

Sign: I know signs. I make terrific signs. Everyone says so.

Sign: IKEA has more qualified cabinets than Trump.

Sign: A woman’s place is in the rebellion. Makes me think of @KameronHurley (and Kameron Hurley replied that the sign was even historically accurate)

Sign: You’ve pissed off Grandma

Sign:Hate has no home here.

Sign: Girls just want to have fun-damental rights.

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Today’s collection of cheerful news

Posted by Sappho on January 20th, 2017 filed in Africa news and blogwatch, Blogwatch

South African street art robots.

Knitted jumpers to keep elephants warm.

African billionaire launches 100 million dollar program to help African and African-American entrepreneurs.

And war in West Africa may be averted:

Mauritania’s president, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, says that after 12 hours of talks Yahya Jammeh has agreed to step down, ending his attempts to cling to power.

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Posted by Sappho on January 19th, 2017 filed in Africa news and blogwatch

The showdown that has been in the works ever since last month’s presidential election in Gambia is now at hand. For any of you who may have missed this story, the brief summary is that Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, lost the election and refused to step down, the winning candidate, Adama Barrow, took refuge in neighboring Senegal, and ECOWAS (the Eastern African regional association to which both Senegal and Gambia belong) threatened to intervene. Here are the latest reports.

Gambia’s Adama Barrow Sworn in as New President in neighboring Senegal.

Thousands of Gambians flee ahead of Presidential showdown.

Gambia’s Jammeh recruits mercenaries.

Senegalese troops move toward the Gambian border.

Here is the International Crisis Group page on Gambia.

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LGM on Manning and on Assange

Posted by Sappho on January 19th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

At Lawyers, Guns, and Money, dnexon celebrates the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, while Scott Lemieux shakes his head at Wikileaks’ turn toward evidence free conspiracy theories. They’re both right.

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You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

Posted by Sappho on January 18th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

Remember that White House Correspondents Dinner when Obama strode out on the stage to the sound of the chorus from “Cups.”

“You can’t say it, but you know it’s true.”

Evidently, it is. The most abrupt decline in public approval ever recorded between an outgoing President and an incoming President Elect.

Ed Yong notes on Twitter that “Trump will take office as most unpopular president in at least 4 decades” and Sam Wang replies “… while Obama leaves with a popularity close to Eisenhower or Kennedy.”

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On Mistakes

Posted by Sappho on January 16th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

My perspective is that the mistakes that you make only once don’t tell a lot about you, but the mistakes you make more than once need to be listened to.

This isn’t a matter of despair (oh no, I’m making this mistake again!) It’s a matter of how to focus your energies.

Because pretty much all of us have mistakes that we make only once, where we can look at what happened, learn the lesson, and then not waste time kicking ourselves with “Why did *I* make this mistake?” And then save the self-examination for the things we repeatedly have trouble with. Which won’t be the same for everyone.

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