Nor Any Drop to Drink

Posted by WiredSisters on April 17th, 2014 filed in Climate Change and Desertification, Environment, Guest Blogger, Health and Medicine, Science


Heard this on NPR yesterday:  Federal law now requires schools to provide “free, unlimited potable drinking water” with their lunches (2013 amendments to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA.))  Actually, the law has been in effect for almost a year, but nobody seems to have noticed until very recently. My first reaction was “but hasn’t drinking water always been free and unlimited?” 

Well, not these days, apparently.  Drinking water is no longer that stuff that runs out of the faucet until you turn it off.  Now it is that stuff that comes in a plastic bottle, costs at least a dollar per bottle, and, at least in public eating places, has to be purchased from a food supplier who may or may not be able or willing to supply it.  This is still hard for me to get my mind around, but then, I’m a senior citizen.

 And in the meantime, the Food Fundamentalists seem to have decided that most of the alternative beverages are or should be off-limits to school children.  Soda, of course, is sugary; so is chocolate milk.  So, apparently, are fruit juices.  Whole milk is too fatty.  And 1% milk, which is the only alternative left, causes problems for kids with lactose intolerance.  So okay, let ‘em drink water.  But now this will happen only if the feds  mandate it and NPR publicizes it.  O tempora o mores!

 It all started (for me, anyway) in South America.  In 1962, I spent the summer in Santiago, Chile, where my parents lived at the time.  On my way back to Boston at the end of the summer, I arranged to spend a weekend in Lima, Peru, where I had to change planes anyway.  My parents set up hotel reservations and booked me a bus tour to Machu Picchu.  And–oh yes!–they warned me about the water.

The tap water in Santiago was perfectly drinkable.  The water in Lima, apparently, was not.  Drink tea, I was told.  Or soda pop.  Or wine (so far as I know, there is no legal drinking age in South America.) Or bottled water.  Don’t use tap water.  Not even to brush your teeth.

So I checked into the hotel and went looking for bottled water.  I quickly discovered that the locally available brands cost more than the bourbon in the hotel’s duty-free shop.  So I spent the entire weekend brushing my teeth with bourbon. That was, in a manner of speaking, my first acquaintance with bottled water.  (I didn’t use bourbon long enough to bother asking my dentist whether it was a good idea.)  It was also, perhaps not coincidentally, my first encounter with street beggars, whom I encountered again in the U.S. only in the 1980s.

Since that time, I have travelled out of the U.S. only for a couple of trips to and through Canada. My next contact with bottled water was also sometime in the ’80s, when I first heard of Perrier.  It was what yuppies drank instead of wine or cocktails.  I liked the idea because, by that time, I pretty much never touched liquor, and was getting tired of ordering tonic and lime at parties.

Sometime after 1980, but I can’t remember when, I started hearing about bottled water as an alternative, not to alcohol, but to tap water.  And then I started seeing it everywhere.  To some extent it went with the jogging and physical fitness craze.  But soon I started seeing the bottles in offices, classrooms, libraries, and waiting rooms–where clearly no strenuous exercise was taking place.  The trend seemed to result from a convergence of three social realities:

1)      the health experts were becoming aware of the importance of proper hydration, even among non-athletes

2)      the bottlers had found a whole new market, and

3)      the public had become mistrustful of the safety of public tap water.

 This mistrust may be the most important cause of the trend, so let’s look at it more closely.  Over the past 15 years or so, the public drinking water supplies of several American cities have suffered temporary contaminations with various chemicals and pathogens.  Local well water, especially in rural areas, is often found to be contaminated with fertilizer or pesticide runoff.  People whose immune systems have been naturally or artificially suppressed have become seriously or fatally ill from city water pathogens.  But most of the time, most of the public water supplies in the U.S. are safe.  And studies done on bottled water have turned up occasional chemical and pathogenic contamination too.

In all honesty, I frequently keep a bottle of water in my briefcase in hot weather.  However, I don’t usually buy it; I bring it from home.  At home, I don’t buy bottled water either.  I distill it.  I use distilled water for steam irons and tea kettles, to keep hard-water crud from boiling out of the tap water and clogging up the machinery.  We started using it for drinking because my husband had a chronic illness.  Most of the people I knew who use bottled water at home also have some kind of chronic health problem. (And, yes, dear reader, our still could have been rigged to generate moonshine rather than pure water, but we never got around to it.)

But what seems to drive the general public to bottled water is a deep-seated conviction that government can’t do anything right.  Which is borne out by one of the things the state of Florida is doing these days, involving bottled water:  exporting it.

Heard this on NPR, of course.  A very large proportion of our most popular brands of bottled water comes from Florida.  The bottlers pay a minuscule fee for the right to pump it.  Then, of course, they put it into plastic bottles which ultimately end up in landfills. Now the sovereign state of Florida wants to tax the water, and the bottlers are very upset.

What NPR doesn’t mention is that Florida is running out of fresh water.  The notion of Florida as a desert is a bit mind-boggling, of course, and that isn’t exactly what’s happening.  Florida is surrounded on three sides by water, after all.

Salt water.

Which, as the fresh water is pumped out of the aquifers, gets pulled in to replace it. This is not good for the local flora, including many important farm crops, like tomatoes and citrus.  Most Floridians didn’t start worrying about this till about ten years ago (my aunt, of blessed memory, was keeping an eye on the situation thirty years back, being a birder and environmental activist.)  A few years ago, Florida was hit by a drought so severe that weeds on the dried-out bottom of Lake Okeechobee (Florida’s largest source of fresh water) caught fire. 

I had known about the drought, and the salt water intrusion into the water table, and the periodic fires in the Everglades (I remember those from when I was a kid.)  I had not known that, through all this, Florida was actually exporting fresh water, and doing it for a mere pittance.  It’s particularly annoying here in Illinois (which, along with the rest of the Great Lakes states, has recently been characterized as the Saudi Arabia of fresh water.)  Dasani (marketed at and by McDonald’s), Zephyrhills (Perrier/Dannon—both foreign companies), Crystal River, and several other nationally popular brands turn up on our shelves, when fresh water is one of the few things Illinois has more than enough of, and Florida is running out.  Not to mention the landfill burden caused by the bottles.

My aunt is no doubt spinning in her grave. 

So let’s quit with this bottled water nonsense.  We can start by getting our schoolchildren back into the habit of drinking from the tap or the water fountain, rather than the dollar-a-bottle alternative to dollar-a-bottle “sugary drinks” and “fatty milk.”.  If you really worry about the quality of your tap water, filter it, or distill it the way the Wired household does (run the still every night, and have perfectly good water by morning.  Sears carries an excellent line of distillers. For some reason, distilled water does not cause whistling teakettles to whistle.  Anybody out there have an explanation?)  Most of the crud in your tap water probably comes from the pipes in your house, anyway, not from the public water system. But if your pipes are more than thirty years old, that’s probably a good reason to filter or distill. It is not a good reason to turn Florida into a salt desert and fill up all your local landfills with plastic bottles.  Or condemn our schoolchildren to slow dehydration. 

Red Emma

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More on Heartbleed: Don’t be too quick to assume the NSA is omniscient

Posted by Sappho on April 17th, 2014 filed in Computers


Via a friend of mine on Facebook, I give you this link: Lavabit case undermines claims NSA had Heartbleed early.

On the other hand, someone has finally been found who actually used Heartbleed in an attack: Canadian Mounties just arrested a teenager who they say used the Heartbleed bug to hack into the country’s tax system.

The IRS has assured US citizens that its systems are not affected.

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On Heartbleed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and Palm Sunday

Posted by Sappho on April 15th, 2014 filed in Computers, News and Commentary, Peace Testimony, Theology


By now I’m sure you’ve heard the news of the latest computer security hole, the one Bruce Schneier describes as

“Catastrophic” is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

The best quick explanation of Heartbleed, made easy enough for someone who’s not a computer geek to understand, is this xkcd comic. It’s a kind of security hole that’s common enough that it has a name, a “buffer overflow” bug. A buffer overflow bug is a security hole that works in the following way: You request a buffer, but the programmer has neglected to check the size of the buffer you check, so you can request a larger buffer size than the program really expects, and use that larger buffer to access data that you weren’t supposed to see. This particular buffer overflow is in a function called a heartbeat function, designed to keep a connection alive while you’re not actively transmitting data. The heartbeat bleeds data that it wasn’t supposed to show you, hence the dramatic name, “Heartbleed.”

Now, in some ways, Heartbleed is less catastrophic than the 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 that Bruce Schneier gave it. We don’t know that it’s been exploited much before it was found (though, since it was introduced two years ago, it could have been). And, if you do exploit it, you don’t have much control over the random bits of data that you get. There’s a good chance that none of your personal passwords happened to be in the random bits of data that anyone got off this bug, and that fewer passwords, overall, were exposed than we already know have been exposed by other security holes (lots of passwords get exposed all the time). A later post by Schneier gives the reassuring news that extensive testing shows that it’s “very difficult, if not practically impossible, to steal SSL private keys with this attack.” (One person did manage to retrieve a private key, but it’s harder than originally thought.)

Still, it’s a very big deal to the computer security community, because SSL is what makes electronic commerce run, OpenSSL is one of the most widely used SSL packages on the net, and this bug has been in OpenSSL for two years before it was caught. This raises the question, among my not so computer geeky friends who have managed to understand the bug after seeing explanations like the one in the xkcd comic: This seems like something so obvious. Why wasn’t it caught?

A year ago, at the Boston Marathon, two brothers set off two pressure cooker bombs that killed 3 people and injured 264 others. In real damage, it was a catastrophe that makes Heartbleed look like a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. But it raised some of the same questions as Heartbleed, as information trickled out after we had found the bombers. Russia, we read, had warned the US about Tsarnaev, but somehow the warning had been missed. Accounts varied as to how (a spelling error? lack of follow up response from Russia?), but, as reporters combed over all aspects of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s life, people wondered, how did the FBI miss a threat this obvious? With that Youtube channel, and that warning from Russia, and the fact that he had already been a suspect in a triple homicide? This seems like something so obvious. Why wasn’t it caught?
Read the rest of this entry »

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Papers, Please?

Posted by WiredSisters on April 14th, 2014 filed in Anarchism, Law, News and Commentary


The idea of a required national identification paper makes many Americans squeamish.  It calls to mind the infamous passes of apartheid South Africa, and the internal passports of the Soviet Union (and their predecessors of Czarist Russia.)  But the one thing worse than being required to carry such a document is being required to carry one and not being able to get it. Or, at any rate, not being able to get an identification document that will satisfy a particular official or private inspector.  When I was in college, I went home with my roommate to New York for spring break.  Back then the legal drinking age in NY was 18, although it was 21 in Massachusetts where I went to college.  I had a perfectly valid learner’s permit indicating I was 19, and kind of looked forward to being able to finally get a legal drink over the break.  But the tavernkeeper in Albany looked at my Florida learner’s permit and shook his head.  “Can’t take this,” he said.  “It’s from out of state.”  And then made all of us leave, including my roommate and her friends, who were also over 18 and could prove it.  It did not occur to any of us until later that his decision might possibly have been influenced by the fact that one of those friends was African-American.  More recently, there are now states that will accept a Firearm Owner’s ID card as valid documentation for voting, but not a student ID. 

We are all familiar with situations in which “legal” ID is legal for some things and not for others.  Probably most of us have produced a driver’s license or whatever upon police request, only to have the police officer in question look at it and say, suspiciously, “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” by way of commenting that the license revealed a South Side address and I was driving through a North Side park.   I am old enough to remember my fourth-grade teacher telling us about the evils of the Cold War USSR, where you had to have a passport to travel from Moscow to Leningrad, or even to move from one part of the city to another. Miss Rozelle, where are you now?

In fact, I was actually arrested for being unable to produce local ID, back in 1978, when the local Nazis were having a major demonstration a few miles to the west of the Wired home, and I and my friends were counter-demonstrating against them.  As we walked across Western Avenue, the police stopped us and demanded ID.  We showed it.  All of our addresses were several miles due east of Western.  The officer shook his head and told us we could not cross into the neighborhood, since we did not have local ID.  We walked off, ducked down an alley and across a couple of side streets, and finally back across Western, where, alas, the same bunch of police caught up with us and arrested us for “disorderly conduct”, ie violating a police order.  Ultimately we sued them and got a decent settlement for violation of our First Amendment rights.  The issue of whether we had to have local ID to cross a street never came up in the litigation.

There has been considerable litigation since then on whether a peaceable citizen going about his business can be required by a police officer to produce ID.  The latest word seems to be Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), which states that a person can be required at police request to stop and identify himself, including giving his name, and even producing documentation.  However, they declined to specify what kind of documentation could be required, although they did state that one state’s law requiring “credible and reliable” identification had been struck down for vagueness. This leaves us where we started—in the worst of both worlds.  Yes, The Man can demand ID, but no, we won’t tell you what kind he has to accept. 

Traveling only makes things worse.  The infamous USA PATRIOT ACT requires ID for travel by air.  Amtrak sometimes requires it and sometimes doesn’t.  The bus lines are even more capricious.  Whatever ID one uses had better match the name under which the ticket was purchased, which sometimes causes problems for honeymoon travel, where the bride buys the tickets before the wedding and then changes her name before the honeymoon.  And, of course, one cannot even walk across the US-Canada or US-Mexico borders without a passport.

I share our president’s ire at the use of voter ID laws to make voting more difficult for people who already have more trouble than they should.  Sure, let’s get rid of those laws, which sound like a solution in search of a mostly nonexistent problem (so far as anybody can tell, nobody has even been arrested for impersonating a voter.)  But while we’re at it, let’s recognize that it is no longer possible to exist in a modern industrial post-9/11 society without a universally accepted identification document.  I’d like to abolish the whole system too, but it won’t happen any time soon.  In the meantime, why can’t we just insist that (1) everybody should be able to obtain a universal ID, free of charge and, if necessary, without having to leave one’s home, and then (2) everybody should be required to accept it.  So okay, the local Recorder of Public Documents, or whatever they call it in your part of the world, may have to hire some people to make house calls, and tote a camera and a notary seal, to visit the elderly and people with disabilities and anybody else who can’t make it to the local bureaucracy.  Oh, the humanity!  And then various common carriers, bartenders, and police officers will actually have to accept it, even from people they don’t like.  That’s not quite as good as being able to go anywhere on lawful business without having to account for oneself to any public official.  But it’s all the freedom we’re likely to get, for a while anyway.

Red Emma

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John Paul Stevens on the Constitution

Posted by Sappho on April 11th, 2014 filed in Blogwatch


Back when Wired Sisters and I were both at Alexandria, she made an interesting post raising the question of how we might want to amend the Constitution, given the opportunity. So I thought she might be interested in Josh Blackman’s blog post summarizing the six amendments to the Constitution that former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens would favor (and also this post by Scott Lemieux making the case for three of them – though I see gerrymandering as a bigger issue than Lemieux does).

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Colors at my Quaker meeting

Posted by Sappho on April 10th, 2014 filed in Quaker Practice


Holi is an Indian festival of colors, in which people throw colored powder at each other. This year, it came a few weeks ago, right around the same time as Purim.

Our Religious Education session, on the first First Day of the month, takes the form of an intergenerational activity that adults and children can all take part in, so this month, in honor of Holi having taken place not long ago, a member of our meeting whose husband is from India brought some colored powders used for Holi for us to see, and then (as throwing colored powder at each other would have made for some difficulty cleaning the meetinghouse afterwards) had ready another color themed activity, making pictures of colored sand.

It was my day to be greeter, so I came enough before meeting to greet, but too late to be part of Religious Education (I knew I’d need to be in the other room greeting anyway). When I came, little tables stood throughout the refreshment area, each with its own sand painting, and adults and children stood around some of the tables adding colored sand.

After meeting, we took our refreshments outside, to let the colors stay a little longer.

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Happy Equal Pay Day

Posted by WiredSisters on April 8th, 2014 filed in Economics, Feminism, Guest Blogger, Moral Philosophy, Race


According to the public radio pundits, this is the day when a woman who started working full-time on January 1, 2013 would finally catch up, financially, with a man who had started working at the same job on the same day, and quit work on December 31, 2013, while she carried on working.  Hope the guys have enjoyed their vacation.

But seriously, folks, my public radio station is full of tips for women on how to negotiate for an initial salary on being hired, and for raises and promotions thereafter.  Maybe they are coming at it from the wrong angle?  In the first place, most Americans really don’t like negotiating, especially in situations where the other side has major advantages in power and information.  A lot of car dealerships advertise fixed prices, and a whole new economy has arisen to provide would-be car buyers with information about the car market in general and particular vehicles specifically, so they can bargain from a position of equal information.  (The economy has already given them equal power, in that most of us are reluctant to buy cars right now anyway.)  Our stores advertise their prices in print and online.  This is not a Third World country (not officially, anyway.)  Some of us like bargaining (the late Mr. Wired was raised not to pay list price, almost as an article of faith.)  Some of us can adapt to it if necessary (when I resided in South America, I quickly learned to say that my father would never let me pay so much for whatever it was, –and of course, never to go shopping with my father.  Had I stayed there longer, I would have been invoking my husband instead.)  But most of us really don’t.

So why do we have to do it about one of the most important transactions we will ever engage in?  Because (like car dealers until recently) the people in charge of the transaction like it that way. It not only reduces their costs, it impresses the worker with the power of the boss at crucial moments, which is good for workplace discipline.  The administration is working hard to reduce the imbalance of information in this transaction, which is certainly praiseworthy.  But we already have two sets of employment markets in which all compensation information is publicly available—union workplaces and civil service—and no skies have fallen as a result.  Why not extend this system to all other workplaces? No names, of course, just job title, seniority, and salary.  Publish it twice a year, and poor Lily Ledbetter can sue within 180 days of when it comes out, instead of getting her information by accident years later—too late, according to the Supremes.

Or, better still, just publish a schedule setting compensation in the abstract, for anybody with a specific job title and seniority (including starting salary.)  “Here’s what this job is worth, if you are qualified to do it.  If you’re not qualified, apply for some other job.”  (Many years ago, a friend of mine switched careers in mid-path, and went out looking for jobs in her new field.  On her first interview, she was asked what kind of salary she was looking for.  She had done her homework, and named a figure that the Wall Street Journal considered reasonable.  But the interviewer shook his head, saying “We would never pay our girls that much.”  My friend, who was young and snippy at the time, said, “Well, what would you pay a woman?”  Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.)  (Another friend of mine applied for a job with an advertised salary range of “$5.00 to $7.50 an hour.”  She had been an executive secretary with high qualifications before she quit to have a baby, so she had no qualms about asking for the top figure.  The interviewer said they were offering $6.00.  My friend said she was not willing to work for such a low salary, given her qualifications.  The interviewer bristled.  You can’t tell me how much to pay you,” she said.  My friend diplomatically refrained from making pointed references to the Thirteenth Amendment, and simply said that, given the cost of childcare and commuting, she could not afford to work for so little.  But, needless to say, she didn’t get the job either.)( And then there are the two or three clients I had, back when I was doing a lot of employment law, who were fired for asking for a raise. These were all separate cases, different women working for different employers, utterly randomly assorted, except that they were all women of color.  The employer’s rationale, in every instance, was:

Asking for a raise=refusal to continue working at the current salary
Refusal to continue working at the current salary=insubordination
Insubordination=valid grounds for firing)

No doubt these cases are all outliers, and the bargaining process doesn’t usually go this catastrophically wrong.  But eliminating it altogether could make the worker’s life a lot easier.  Americans don’t like bargaining, for good reason.  We want to be able to plunk our cash, or our qualifications, down on the table, and walk away with what it entitles us to.  What’s wrong with that?

Oh, there’s that word: “entitled.”  Anybody who has paid attention to recent budget discussions in Congress has learned to wince at the word “entitlements.*”  Like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA payments. Like welfare used to be.  When we hear the word, we are meant to think of somebody who says “I’m entitled to that.  Not because I’ve worked for it or earned it, just because it says here in this government regulation that I should have it.”  “Entitled” is what we expect to hear from our grown kids when they demand to come home and live in the basement because they don’t feel like getting a job.

*Okay, this is a digression.  The original use of the word “entitlement,” by law professor Charles Reich, and in the Supreme Court case of Goldberg vs. Kelly in the late 1960s, was meant to be a contrast with state and private “relief” payments, before the New Deal, and with the original New Deal relief payments themselves. All of those got paid out by the discretion of some state or private bureaucrat.   That bureaucrat could refuse for any number of arbitrary reasons.  But he was most likely to do so because the claimant was the wrong race.  Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, in the early 1960s, was mainly an effort to extend the benefits of the New Deal to African- Americans, who had originally been deliberately excluded from those benefits (the result of FDR’s deal with the powerful Southern senators to get the New Deal passed at all.)  “Entitlements” were payments a person could get in spite of being the wrong race. 

While we’re on the subject, here’s another way to reduce workplace discrimination.  Most of the discrimination in hiring these days does not result from hiring an unqualified person of the “right” gender, ethnicity, age, etc., rather than a qualified person of the “wrong” ethnicity, gender, age, etc.  Rather, it results from discriminating against one qualified person in favor of another, for reasons irrelevant to job qualifications.  Mr. Wired suggested, many years ago, that if an employer does a good enough job of defining job qualifications (which is fairly rare these days, but easy enough to do with appropriate help from industrial psychologists,) he has nothing to lose by being legally required to hire the first person who comes through his door meeting those qualifications. 

In short, it’s all very nice to provide workers with tips on how to bargain effectively in the workplace.  But it would be better still to eliminate the necessity for bargaining at all.

Red Emma 

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What’s happening in Taiwan?

Posted by Sappho on April 8th, 2014 filed in News and Commentary


For several weeks, protesters have occupied the legislature in Taiwan, in response to a proposed trade agreement with China. Yesterday, they agreed to leave in response to a concession.

The protesters agreed on Monday to end the sit-in, a decision that came a day after the legislature’s speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, visited the occupied chamber and offered a key concession. He said that a bill that would allow lawmakers to have closer oversight of agreements with China should be approved before the legislature resumed consideration of the trade pact. As speaker, Mr. Wang is responsible for convening meetings between parties, a powerful tool in organizing the legislative agenda.

A few links regarding the protests:

Taiwan’s protesters are fighting for the very democracy of the island, Hsiao-Hung Pai wrote a couple of weeks ago at the Guardian. In addition to the expected union concerns about the free trade agreement,

Taiwan’s trade unions believe that free trade agreements are bad for workers. The Taoyuan Federation of Trade Unions says that 16 years ago, when the government opened the island to free trade, it left “waves of Taiwan’s workers laid off without redundancy and pension… This will happen again with the trade agreement today”.

Wages in Taiwan, particular in service industries (in which 60% of Taiwan’s working people are employed), have been on the decrease, by 6% in the past decade….

Hsiao-Hung Pai relates concerns that increased economics by mainland China that such an agreement could facilitate threaten political dominance and undermining of Taiwanese democracy:

The deal will give China’s large media and publishing companies far greater access to Taiwan. The island’s China Times Group, for instance, was bought in 2008 by the pro-China Want Want Holdings, one of the largest food manufacturing conglomerates in Asia. Given Taiwan’s history – it split from China in 1949 after the KMT retreated to Taiwan – the fears are that there will be many more China Times-type takeovers. And, further, that economic dominance will lead to political dominance, under which the gains made by Taiwan’s people over the past two decades – such as a multi-party parliamentary democracy and press freedom – will be lost….

… There have been street lectures, debating China’s state capitalism and “what does free trade do to free speech?”

Will Taiwan-China be the next Ukraine-Russia? asks Taiwan Explorer. I’d hope not, given that the protesters and the Speaker of the legislature just reached an agreement. But I’m linking this because of the parallels regarding concerns about trade links with a larger and dominant neighbor.

The Wall Street Journal, as you might expect, has a blog post skeptical of the protestors, arguing that Taiwan Protests Can’t Stop China Trade.

Quartz reports that To mainland China, Taiwan’s student protests prove that democracy doesn’t work.

Global Voices collects the voices of bloggers supporting the occupation of the legislature.

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Wait, not so fast

Posted by Sappho on April 5th, 2014 filed in Genealogy


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my discovery that my maternal DNA line might be an Acadian line, going back to Barbe Bajolet. But such an assumption can’t be taken for true until it’s been tested. I’ve been mistaken before (for instance, one line that I at first thought might be Scots-Irish proved on further investigation to be Pennsylvania German). So the next step has been to test this theory. And, telling how I’ve done this is a good way to introduce you to some of the blogs I’ve been reading, by people who know far more about genetic genealogy than I do. (For those of you who are more politically inclined, I’m planning later to talk about a rather different set of genome bloggers. But genetic genealogy first, since that’s what’s brought me to the world of genome blogs, and what remains my area of interest in the topic.)

As I said before, 23andMe has my mtDNA haplogroup as X2b. FamilyTreeDNA has it as X, because I didn’t get the full sequence that would have shown a more specific haplogroup. And Barbe Bajolet’s mtDNA haplogroup, based on a matrilineal descendant of hers who did get the full sequence, is X2b7 on FamilyTreeDNA. So my first question was, can X2b on 23andme be X2b7 on FamilyTreeDNA? For that, I turn to DNAeXplained’s post on Haplogroup Comparisons Between Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. This starts with a basic explanation of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and how they are typed (basic, visual, and illustrated with pictures of jellybeans), which you should go read if you want a better and clearer explanation of haplogroups than I can write. Since I know the basic drill, I’ll focus on what I learned that I didn’t know already.

You can see, below, that these results, shown above, do carry these mutations, which is how this individual was assigned to haplogroup J1c2f. You can read about how haplogroups are defined here.

At 23andMe, they use chip based technology that scans only specifically programmed locations for specific values. So, they would look at only the locations that would be haplogroup producing, and only those locations. Better yet if there is one location that is utilized in haplogroup J1c2f that is predictive of ONLY J1c2f, they would select and use that location.

This same individual at 23andMe is classified as haplogroup J1c2, not J1c2f. This could be a function of two things. First, the probes might not cover that final location, 9055, and second, 23andMe may not be utilizing the same version of the mitochondrial haplotree as Family Tree DNA.

By clicking on the 23andMe option for “Ancestry Tools,” then “Haplogroup Tree Mutation Mapper,” you can see which mutations were tested with the probes to determine a haplogroup assignment. 23andMe information for this haplogroup is shown below. This is not personal information, meaning it is not specific to you, except that you know you have mutations at these locations based on the fact that they have assigned you to the specific haplogroup defined by these mutations. What 23andMe is showing in their chart is the ancestral value, which is the value you DON’T have. So your jelly bean is not chocolate at location 295, it’s tangerine, apricot or grape.

I went to my 23andMe account, clicked on the options specified, and got my first answer. 23andMe does not tests for subclades of X2b. In principle, an X2b at 23andMe can be an X2b7 at FamilyTreeDNA.

So, if X2b7 at FamilyTreeDNA can match X2b at 23andMe, and if Barbe Bajolet is a perfect match for me on HVR1 and HVR2, then I’ve confirmed my hypothesis that she’s my ancestor, right? No, not so fast. Because X2b7 at FamilyTreeDNA can also not be a match for X2b at 23andMe. So my next question was, short of getting the full sequence from FamilyTreeDNA, is there any evidence that I can find, with what I have already, that will eliminate Barbe Bajolet as a possibility?

23andMe never looks at any locations in the jelly bean jar other than the ones to assign a haplogroup, in this case,17 locations. Family Tree DNA reads every jelly bean in the jelly bean jar, all 16,569.

23andMe only looks at a limited number of locations in assigning your haplogroup, but it also provides you with the ability to view your raw data. So there are two possibilities here: 23andMe may not have sampled, at all, the location which Family Tree DNA is using to assign you to a subgroup, or 23andMe may have sampled it, and supply it to you as raw data, but may not use it in their chip for assigning a haplogroup. To find out which of these possibilities I’m dealing with here, I needed to look at the defining haplogroup mutations used by Family Tree DNA for mitochondrial DNA. It turns out that the required mutation for X2b7 is T4216C. What that means is that, to determine whether you have that mutation, you look at location 4216 in your mtDNA. The reference mtDNA sequence, to which every other mtDNA sequence is compared, has a T in that location. You can have either a T or a C. If you have a C, and if the rest of your mutations already put you in haplogroup X2b, then you are X2b7. I checked my mtDNA raw data at 23andMe. It does not include all the locations used by FamilyTreeDNA in its mtDNA full sequence assignments of haplogroups, but it does include location 4216. I have a T there. I checked my sister as well, for further confirmation. She also has a T. It appears that I am not X2b7.

So, how long ago do I share a matrilineal ancestor with Barbe Bajolet? We all share a matrilineal ancestor as far back as genetic Eve, and those of us who share a haplogroup share an ancestor more recently; at one point if you are X (long enough ago for X to be both a Native American and a European haplogroup, which is pretty darn long ago), at another point if you are X2b (still tens of thousands of years ago), and at still another point if you’re both X2b7. I wasn’t able to find exactly when X2b7 split from X2b (and, for all I know, they may not know yet, since X2b7 is a relatively new haplogroup), but I did find this explanation of DNA smart matching at DNA eXplained, telling why a match may sometimes not be a match.

Family Tree DNA does their best to make our matches useful to us and to eliminate matches that we know aren’t genealogically relevant.

For example, this week, I was working on a client’s DNA Report. Let’s call him Joe. Joe is haplogroup J1c2. I am haplogroup J1c2f. J1c2f has one additional haplogroup defining mutation, in the coding region, that J1c2 does not have.

Joe and I did not show as matches at Family Tree DNA, even though our HVR1 and HVR2 regions are exact matches. Now, for a minute, that gave me a bit of a start. In fact, I didn’t even realize that we were exact matches until I was working with his results at MitoSearch and recognized my own User ID.

I had to think for a minute about why we would not be considered matches at Family Tree DNA, and I was just about ready to submit a bug report, when I realized the answer was my extended haplogroup. This, by the way, is the picture-perfect example of why you need full sequence testing.

Family Tree DNA knows that we both tested at the full sequence level. They know that with a different haplogroup, we don’t share a common ancestor in hundreds to thousands of years, so it doesn’t matter if we match exactly on the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, we DON’T match on a haplogroup defining mutation, which, in this case, happens to be in the coding region, found only with full sequence testing. Even if we have only one mismatch at the full sequence level, if it’s a haplogroup defining marker, we are not considered matches. Said a different way, if our only difference was location 9055 and 9055 was NOT a haplogroup defining mutation, we would have been considered a match on all three levels – exact matches at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels and a 1 mutation difference at the full sequence level. So how a mutation is identified, whether it’s haplogroup defining or not, is critical.

So, if I may have been on the wrong trail with Barbe Bajolet, am I even right about Acadia? I went back and looked at my French Canadian shares. I have identified 74 cM as French Canadian (that doesn’t count Louisiana shares that might be French Canadian). A woman’s genome is 4782 cM. That means 74 cM is roughly 1.5% of my genome. How many generations ago is that? If a great-grandparent supplies 12.5% of my DNA, than a great-grandparent’s great-grandparent supplies roughly 1.5% of my DNA. So if one of Alice Leonard Moore’s great-grandparents were French Canadian, that would roughly fit. Aurilla Angevine, the furthest back mtDNA ancestor for whom I have a paper trail, is Alice Leonard Moore’s great-grandmother. She can’t, herself, be entirely French Canadian, but it’s possible more than one line connects. Or some of the DNA could come from connections all the way back in France, some from relatives who moved to Quebec, and some from a more recent direct ancestor. Or I could simply have inherited a little more than expected from a particular 18th century ancestor, such as Aurilla’s mother, the not yet confirmed by paper trail woman known as possibly Mabel.

I think, though, that I can take it as given that an amount of DNA that’s enough to give me a mid or late eighteenth century ancestor can’t all come from a connection back in France on the Angevine line, since that would be an early seventeenth century connection. Our bits of Native American DNA, which must be 17th century if they’re real, are a much smaller portion of our genomes than the French Canadian segments. That means either someone from my family heading to Canada, or someone from Canada coming here.

Now, it turns out that I have multiple ancestors with Loyalist cousins who moved to Canada, but most of them are English, and wouldn’t lead to such a strong French Canadian connection. On the Angevine side, I’d need a brother or at least a first cousin of an ancestor to leave this much of a connection.

Here I went to check what sources genealogists had been using for their information on the Angevine family. It turns out that the sources are books written on the Angevines by Clyde V. Angevine, J. Stuart Angevine, and Erma Angevine. J. Stuart Angevine’s book The Angevine Family traces his own Angevine line from New Rochelle to Canada. Erma Angevine’s book The Angevine Family in America focuses more on her line, Angevines in the USA, and fleshes out the stories of the early Angevine immigrants with information from the written records they left. Clyde Angevine systematically collected information from and about all branches of the Angevine family in the USA and Canada, and published a book in 1977. I found Clyde Angevine’s and Erma Angevine’s books online through FamilySearch.org. Here I learned the source for Aurilla’s mother’s name. Clyde Angevine has her as Mabel based on “Letter from #1368 Philip Angevine – who listed Aaron’s wife as Mabel and their children: Henry, Polly, Loony and Aaron B. (no sources shown).” He comments that Aaron Burr Angevine’s widow, possibly Mabel, may have remarried, since there are no further records for her. I also learned from Clyde Angevine’s book that the Angevine line that moved to Canada was descended from the brother of my earliest immigrant Angevine ancestor, so too distant to explain 74 cM of French Canadian segments. I checked the other families intermarried with the Angevines, and all the really close relatives to my line stayed in the USA after the Revolutionary War.

It follows that the most likely reason for the shared segments is someone French coming from Canada to New York or New England sometime in the middle of the 18th century. While such a person could have come from Quebec, large scale immigration from Quebec came later, in the 19th century (when all my lines are accounted for and don’t include immigration from Canada), and the large scale immigration that happened in the 18th century was the expulsion of the Acadians. That means, given that I’m looking for an ancestor of my maternal grandmother, Aurilla’s mother Mabel Last Name Unknown, or Aurilla’s mother-in-law Sarah Last Name Unknown (who married Cornelius Stacy), or else, on Alice Leonard Moore’s father’s side, Jacob Weaver’s mother or Nancy Fogle’s mother. I don’t see any other slots. And of those slots, the woman married to a man whose line goes back to France looks a more likely than the women married to German or English men.

Since Mabel is on my mtDNA line, I then looked up a list of mtDNA haplogroups of Acadian mothers. Some are still untyped. So I can’t disprove Acadian ancestry on my maternal line in this way, even if I don’t wind up matching anyone, just show it as likely if someone is a match.

At this point, FamilyTreeDNA, which just discontinued its last less than full sequence mtDNA test (I was, apparently, one of the last people to get it), offered a weekend sale to get as many people as possible to upgrade to the full sequence. It was a major price reduction, so I upgraded. At some point (weeks?), I’ll have my full sequence, and know who my full sequence matches are. But right now, I’m guessing that Barbe Bajolet isn’t one of them.

Here are some other genetic genealogy blogs:

CeCe Moore’s blog

Kelly Wheaton’s beginner’s guide to genetic genealogy

Kitty Cooper’s blog

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy

Dienekes Pontikos is not a genetic genealogy blogger (and I’ll write more about him later, when I blog about other topics), but he puts out an admixture analysis program, DIYDodecad, that is useful for genetic genealogists (though it’s written more to track admixture in populations than individuals).

Not genetic genealogy, but given that I’m writing about searching for a possible Acadian ancestor, here’s a web site on Acadian genealogy

Besides getting the full mtDNA sequence, I’ve sent a written request off for some information that’s in some historical files in the town where Aurilla Angevine lived at the end of her life (Granville, Washington County, New York), and it’s possible that may also have some clues. Till then, my search for the French Canadian (or Acadian) connection rests.

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More Coates v. Chait

Posted by Sappho on April 5th, 2014 filed in Blogwatch, Race


The latest two from Ta-Nehisi Coates, in the Coates v. Chait discussion:

Race, Culture, and Poverty: The Path Forward (on the study of inner city fathers, Doing the Best I Can)

And Black Pathology Crowdsourced. In this one, TNC highlights a discussion he had with Yoni Applebaum, including this from Yoni:

Spot on.

But I’d add that it works this way in reverse, too. It’s a point seldom made. I was reading a new memoir the other day, by a Harvard graduate who went to work as a prison librarian. Much of the book is an account of his acculturation. He discovered that his robes and spell books, so to speak, were a lot less useful than plate and a broad-sword. That he couldn’t afford to be seen as a punk. He was perfectly equipped for a comfortable, upper-middle-class life—and wholly unprepared for his new environment.

We tend to associate culturally-specific practices with the relative successes of the cultures with which they’re associated. Things rich people do must be beneficial; habits of the poor, not. The reality is more complex. Culture of Poverty is a label attached to a wide array of behaviors. There are behaviors—physical assertiveness—well-suited to that environment that may tend to inhibit success elsewhere. There are other behaviors—emphasis on familial and communal ties—that will cut both ways, sustaining people in difficult times but sometimes making it harder for them to place their individual needs above the demands of the group. And there are others—initiative and self-reliance—that are largely positive, and in many ways, even more advantageous if carried further up the social scale.

I bristle when I see people discuss the culture of poverty as a pathology. That’s too self-congratulatory, and too cramped a view. The reality is that, like all cultures, it has aspects that translate well to other circumstances, those that translate poorly, and those that are just plain different. And that’s no different than the Culture of Affluence.

On this TNC remarks:

That was crucial. I understood that cultural practices made sense in their context. But Yoni complicated it even further—some practices hurt, some practices help, and some practices don’t matter at all. This really was a knock-you-on-your-ass moment for me, because I could think of my own life and see exactly that. At Howard University, I had a culture—a set of practices—that I employed in intellectual debate that are different than most people I encounter online. We tended to argue from history, and there was premium (somewhat obnoxious) on book citations.

That tradition came out of a sense that we had been “robbed” of history and culture and had to reclaim it—as Douglass did, as Malcolm did, as Zora did. Consider the constant (if inaccurate) quip employed in the black community that the easiest place to hide something from a nigger (and that was how it was said) was between the pages of a book. We were responding to that. My style of arguing—a practice coming out of my environment—was formed there. I would not trade it for anything.

(See his post for the rest.)

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Coates v. Chait, and “a culture of poverty”

Posted by Sappho on April 4th, 2014 filed in News and Commentary, Race


The reason I looked up that GK Chesterton quote on the rich (“… But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.”) was that I was reminded of it (though most of the participants in this particular net discussion aren’t Christian) by a blog debate that’s been taking place, mostly between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait, but with a couple of others commenting, on, as Noah Millman summarizes the point under debate, “the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a “critique of black culture” as part of a rhetorical strategy against crime/unemployment/teen pregnancy/etc.” I meant to make some comments of my own, but I keep putting that off, because I find that anything I have to say isn’t up to the standards of what’s been said already. So instead I’ll just link.

For the exchange between Coates and Chait, start here and continue here, here, here, here, and here. Ross Douthat joins the discussion here, and Noah Millman adds his two cents here.

Actually, I do have one thing to add. The appeal of “pound cake” speeches to social conservatives is easy enough to see, right? As Ross Douthat puts it,

Of course exhortation has its limits, but that doesn’t mean it’s always ineffective. (The aforementioned national campaign against teen pregnancy, for instance, has seen some real success.) You don’t have to regard morality as at the seat of all our troubles to recognize that it’s intertwined with some of them; you don’t have to write off public policy to concede that there are ills that policy alone can’t solve; you don’t have to ignore structural disadvantages to recognize the importance of asserting individual agency — saying ”there are things under our control that we’ve got to attend to …,” as the president has put it — in the face of collective difficulty.

But why does “pound cake” sometimes appeal to liberals as well? I think part of it is that, because of our particular weird racial history, most of the white voices talking about responsibility, fatherhood, and such what not, are ones that, sooner or later, tie these themes to things most social liberals can’t abide. Maybe it will be Brad Wilcox arguing that American wives are happiest if their husbands make 68% or more of the family income. Or maybe it will be a certain dubiousness about birth control (which 98% of us use at one time or another). Or maybe it will be an ongoing focus on the grave threat of same sex marriage.

I haven’t read Charles Murray’s latest book, because, well, The Bell Curve. I did, though, read David Frum’s multi part critique of it, and so I’ve heard (as I guess most people who have read the discussion about it have heard) that one of Charles Murray’s arguments is that the upper middle class doesn’t preach what it practices. There are some things I question about that argument (partly because people like Maggie Gallagher also seem pretty upper middle class to me, partly because I think there are serious limitations to preaching, especially to people you don’t know, and partly because, if there are bourgeois virtues, there are also not so bourgeois virtues, and so the suggestion that middle class folks should start preaching more about their excellent family values reminds me uncomfortably of that GK Chesterton quote). But it is true, I think, that most middle class and upper middle class liberals hold work and family values that, well, have very real differences from Ross Douthat or Maggie Gallagher (seeing as one of those values is, premarital sex with birth control is just fine and dandy and a great thing), but that do have things to say about responsibility, and hard work, and parents sticking by their kids, including fathers sticking by their kids. And don’t always talk much about them, for the same reason that even patriotic liberals don’t tend to display American flags much; the language and symbols have been tied too much to the other side of certain debates.

Black men, on the other hand, get called on to declaim on the value of fatherhood and responsibility, whether they are, in other ways, conservative or liberal. And the result is, for me any way, that most of the accounts of fatherhood that I really like and find inspiring come from black men. Sometimes it’s a celebrity who gets questioned about fatherhood and what not in his interviews because he’s been visibly married for a long time and present for his kids. Sometimes it’s a politician, like Obama. Sometimes it’s a writer, like Steven Barnes. And sometimes it’s a community organizer. But what I’m seeing in all of these voices is that, since the conversation isn’t confined to men who think women should earn less, or to men who think women shouldn’t use birth control, or to men who are freaked out by the thought of gay men, I get to hear what some men think of fatherhood separate from all that crap. But then, there’s a whole other problem with looking to black men calling on black men to overcome a culture of poverty to be your voices on fatherhood. And we come back to Coates v. Chait.

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“Why Don’t They Just Get Taller Girls?”

Posted by WiredSisters on April 3rd, 2014 filed in Feminism, Marriage, Uncategorized


A 9-year-old boy, on first seeing a classical ballet performance, is reported to have asked his mother that not unreasonable question.  We have no record of her reply.  But the kid had a point.  Our culture these days has two sets of expectations of women: they should be able to parallel and compete with men, as well as to complement and attract them.  So they should get the same age-graded education, while hanging out with and dating men somewhat older than themselves.  And, of course, marrying, and bearing and rearing children at biologically appropriate ages, while simultaneously rocketing through the arduous first stages of their careers.  This isn’t quite the same question as Henry Higgins’ “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”, because that’s only half the equation.  It’s more like “Why can’t a woman be more like a man except when men, or The Economy, need her to be different?”

Getting down to specifics: for the last two or three decades, family-life pundits have been belaboring women for waiting too long to get married and have children, and for allowed their careers to be delayed and sidetracked by those activities.  Most recently, Susan Patton’s Marry Smart and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates have taken up these cudgels.  These twin questions make sense only if we assume that the female calendar is identical to the male.  Fortunately, it isn’t.  Educational authorities have known for nearly a century that girls mature, neurologically and academically, earlier than boys.  They are able to handle reading and other academic tasks between one and three years earlier than boys in the same birth cohort.  Our educrats in their wisdom have decided to split the difference, putting the girls into suspended animation for two or three years in grade school, while dragging the boys along, bruised and bleeding, behind the wagon.  We could solve the problem of the Female Delay (along with the problem of the Male Acceleration) easily enough by allowing girls to start first grade at the age of five, or even four-and-a-half, while encouraging the parents of boys to start them at seven.  The girls would then graduate college at nineteen or twenty, and could use the next two or three years getting married and starting a family while waiting for their male agemates to catch up, so they could go into the workforce leaning in together, shoulder to shoulder.

The other aspect of the female calendar that we don’t pay attention to except when it turns into a disadvantage that can allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums is that women live longer, and stay healthy later.  Amazingly enough, I have recently heard of some bureaucrats actually allowing this to constitute an advantage for women—apparently some medical schools that have an informal age cutoff for applicants are now setting it higher for women, on the theory that they will be able to stay in practice and contribute to the profession later than their male age-mates, so it’s okay if they start med school later.  One hopes this is the start of a trend.

But another trend has been around, unnoticed, for a while, and deserves to be noticed and emulated a lot more.  Let’s call it Leapfrog Parenting.  These days, it seems to happen mostly among women of color, but it may be the wave of the future for all of us.  Girls have their babies in their teens or early twenties (when they are at their biological peak for bearing and running around after babies), and then finish their education and start their careers just in time for their mothers to retire and raise the babies.  This is especially helpful, given the reluctance of many employers to hire and retain older female employees.  So Mama has a job, Grandma has a useful alternative, and Baby gets well cared-for.  By the time Mama is ready to retire (or her boss is ready to retire her), Baby has babies of her own and Grandma is ready to retire from retirement. 

I keep coming up with these ideas ten years before they become The Next New Thing, so try to remember: You Heard It Here First.

CynThesis

 

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GK Chesterton on wealth

Posted by Sappho on April 2nd, 2014 filed in Quotes


I had been looking for this quote for a while, and finally found it, so I’m posting it.

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.

Chapter VII : The Eternal Revolution

It was actually the last four sentences that I vaguely remembered:

It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.

Now that I see the whole thing, I see that it’s even more skeptical about the size of the camel and needle than I had remembered. Am I willing to go that far? I’ve had rich friends. I liked them. Each of them had one good quality or another.

But I’m sure that the last sentence is true.

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A New Grouse-Out

Posted by WiredSisters on March 31st, 2014 filed in Uncategorized


Am I the only one who notices/cares about  (a) listing an online opus multiple times and/or under multiple titles, so that the reader clicks on it multiple times?  Like “are purple unicorns destroying Romania?” 3 or 4 times under “biology,” “European problems,” and “world politics”, plus “How do purple unicorns affect Eastern Europe?” and “Is there a solution to the Purple Unicorn problem?” under some of the same headings, all on the same page?

And an older but closely related phenomenon, publishers who put out a new paperback edition of a hardcover bestseller in three or four versions differing only in the color of the cover?  For a while, everybody was doing it, trying to trick the reader into buying all of them. Ultimately the readers caught on, but every now and then it still happens.

Red Emma

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The Grouse Season

Posted by WiredSisters on March 30th, 2014 filed in Uncategorized


Apologies in advance to readers unfamiliar with or unbothered by the phenomena described herein..

Unnecessary words: not excessive words, but specific words that didn’t need to be invented because we already have the right words for them, like admonishment or diminishment or abolishment (whatever happened to admonition or diminution or—good grief, here in America, how can we not remember abolition?)

Why is CBS trying to kill The Good Wife?  Or is Chicago the only market where it airs right after The Great Race, which always runs 30 to 45 minutes late?

Why doesn’t the “delicate fabrics” setting on electric clothes driers ever work on delicate fabrics?  Either it generates no heat at all, and your clothes are still damp when its cycle finishes, or it reverts to the “normal”setting and destroys your clothes. 

People who don’t pay their lawyers:  this seems to be a major indoor sport in America.  Do we hate lawyers because we generally encounter them only in really unpleasant situations, so we have unpleasant associations with them?  Is it because we think all lawyers are rich and don’t really need to be paid by this particular client?  (Actually, the lowest-paid quartile of lawyers makes a LOT less money than the lowest-paid quartile of doctors.)

Just heard that one-third of the workforce, according to the GAO count in 2006, is “contingent,” ie temporary or part-time or independent contractors, or in some other way utterly lacking in job security. Watch this space for a piece on the Just-in-Time Workforce.  And seven million Americans are working second jobs.  Yikes!!

People who don’t want to pay anybody who works for them:

  • writers or editors or journalists, because (I suspect) we neo-Puritanical Americans don’t believe people should be paid for doing anything they might conceivably enjoy  (This is especially egregious among people who not only don’t want to pay for writing, but who nonetheless insist on keeping the rights to the work in question — if you don’t get paid, this is sure as hell not a “work made for hire.” Gimme a break.)
  • ·       Now that we are once again becoming interested in trades and crafts of the kind that many people would also find pleasurable, we need to be really careful about making sure people get paid for “fun work,” at least if we are not going to provide them with unpleasant but remunerative day jobs.  I do, admittedly, have one client who works on a City of Chicago garbage truck, and is protected both by a strong union and civil service, as well as by the inherent unpleasantry of the job.  But his is probably the last generation to have either civil service or a union. 
  • There are too many ways to dodge paying the people who do work for us—“he’s on Social Security or disability…”, “she’s a retired cop with a pension…”, “her husband makes good money…”, “she’s a stay-at-home mom anyway…”, “he’s a teenager, lives with his parents…”  We have seen many of these most recently as arguments against raising the minimum wage.  All of these are just ways of saying “I want whoever supports you to subsidize me while you work for me.”  Why should the taxpayer, or a spouse, or parent, or pension fund, subsidize a boss, probably a total stranger, looking for cheap labor?  You want my nephew to close your restaurant after he clocks out for the night?  Move your freakin’ restaurant to Bangla Desh!  This is America. Or anyway it used to be.
  • “This generation of college students aren’t prepared for work,” or “don’t have the right attitude,” or “don’t have the proper work ethic.”  By which, I suspect, they mean “this young person wants to be able to support himself on this job, and to get the working conditions the law provides for him, like breaks for lunch, and payment for overtime, and predictable hours…can’t have that.”

Happy April, anyway.

Red Emma

 

 

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On Ebola in West Africa and cancer research at Stanford

Posted by Sappho on March 27th, 2014 filed in Africa news and blogwatch, Health and Medicine


Here are two stories that are unrelated except that they both have something to do with health and medicine.

The bad news: If you’re given to prayer, please pray about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It has taken 60 lives in Guinea, and some cases have spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Guinea borders Senegal, among other countries, so I’m really, really hoping the outbreak doesn’t spread farther, since I have family in Senegal.

The good news: You may have seen the headline from Fox News and other outlets, “Scientists Discover Treatment That Kills Every Tumor Tested.” Since I tend to be skeptical of any regular news report of a cancer treatment quite that promising, I went to the horse’s mouth, which in this case turns out to be Stanford University. Stanford reports “Anti-CD47 antibody may offer new route to successful cancer vaccination

Scientists at the School of Medicine have shown that their previously identified therapeutic approach to fight cancer via immune cells called macrophages also prompts the disease-fighting killer T cells to attack the cancer. The research, published online May 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that the approach may be a promising strategy for creating custom cancer vaccines….

In the new study, the Stanford team showed that after engulfing the cancer cells, the macrophages presented pieces of the cancer to CD8+ T cells, which, in addition to attacking cancer, are also potent attackers of virally infected or damaged cells. As a result, the CD8+ T cells were activated to attack the cancer cells on their own. “It was completely unexpected that CD8+ T cells would be mobilized when macrophages engulfed the cancer cells in the presence of CD47-blocking antibodies,” said MD/PhD student Diane Tseng, the lead author of the study. Following engulfment of cancer cells, macrophages activate T cells to mobilize their own immune attack against cancer, she said. Related News » Single antibody shrinks variety of human tumors transplanted into mice, study shows » Many cancer cells found to have an ‘eat me’ signal in study » Leukemia cells evade immune system by mimicking normal cells, Stanford study shows The Stanford group plans to start human clinical trials of the anti-CD47 cancer therapy in 2014. The new research provides hope that the therapy will cause the immune system to wage a two-pronged attack on cancer — through both macrophages and T cells. The approach may also give physicians early indicators of how the treatment is working in patients. – See more at: http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2013/may/cd47.html#sthash.amJc3P7o.dpuf

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The SoTeC Birds of a Feather session and STEM Advantage

Posted by Sappho on March 27th, 2014 filed in Classes, Lectures, and Conferences, Computers, Feminism, Race


At our table on support for non-traditional students in STEM, we had basically two conversations. The first conversation was the one where the men at the table asked the women at the table how we had gotten into STEM, out of interest in figuring out how best to encourage daughters and other girls and women they might know, who might do well in STEM. The second was the one where the woman who had organized the table told us about STEM Advantage.

In the first conversation, I laid out the various supports and obstacles I’d run across on my way to a STEM career. Supports included parents who encouraged me, some early (not early by today’s standards, but early by the standards of people my age) exposure to computers, in the form of being selected with other bright math students to get brief access to a computer in junior high school and later being part of a computer club in high school. Obstacles included a guidance counselor who doubted my ability to take both the advanced math track and the advanced science track when entering high school (since I had the recommendations of my teachers and the support of my parents, and knew I could do it, I insisted on his approval until he gave way, bartering away only the selection of a different art class in place of the graphic design class I’d originally wanted), and boys who grabbed the single high school computer for games before I could get to it (here I was less assertive, and fell away from the computer club despite the club advisor’s efforts to make space for me on the computer, delaying till college my real introduction to programming). Though I’d mentioned some obstacles, when I got to the end of my story, it was the support that the man questioning me remembered, and as he listed, one by one, the advantages I’d had and the people who had helped me on my way, I realized that yes, I had had a lot of support. This sense was enhanced by comparing my stories with those of the other women at the table. As a Stanford alum, I had easily the most elite college education of the women there, and I also had parents who were better positioned to advise me on my career than some (some women were the first in their family to go to college). In a lot of ways, I had had it easy.

We next turned to STEM Advantage. STEM Advantage is a program whose mission is to “Mentor, prepare & inspire young women & underserved communities, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering & math (STEM).” The organization gets college students majoring in STEM at places like Cal State Dominguez paid internships.

Now, when I was at Stanford, a lot of my friends at the computer center had paid internships working with computers. Stanford has an active career center, a certain reputation, and close relationships with Silicon Valley technology companies. (In fact, Stanford has been called “a giant tech incubator with a football team.”)

California State, Dominguez Hills, a public university in the South Bay region of Los Angeles, doesn’t have those advantages. Enter STEM Advantage. STEM Advantage arranges mentors and scholarships for tuition, fees, and books, for promising Cal State Dominguez students majoring in STEM. They hold networking events to raise money. At the beginning of November 2013, when I attended SoTeC, they were planning such a networking event for November 19. That’s obviously passed, so I looked at their web site for the next fund raiser, and it’s on Saturday, May 10, 2014; 6:00-9:00pm.

They are looking for other people to get involved as mentors and inspiration, for companies that do internships (paid only) and for help with fund raisers.

Cal State Dominguez has the highest rate of Latino students graduating on the West Coast. Cal grants apply at the freshman and sophomore level, so they looked at juniors and seniors.

My notes also mention Toyota and a boys and girls club in East Los Angeles. I think this must be what my notes were talking about.

Torrance, Calif., August 13, 2013 – Toyota Financial Services (TFS) recognized today 100 high school students who overcame considerable hardships on their paths to college, presenting them with $1 million in scholarships. This is the first year in which TFS has expanded its Making Life Easier scholarship program to $1 million. The program provides scholarships to underserved students through Boys & Girls Clubs of America, as well as other TFS nonprofit partners.

To celebrate their achievements, volunteer work and future success, more than 30 students and their families joined TFS associates at a Community Day event today in Torrance, Calif., featuring retired NBA player and philanthropist AC Green. Green is a Boys & Girls Clubs alumnus, and he spoke to the youth about his experiences, the importance of mentors and moral character. Among those in attendance was Helen Yuan, a past scholarship recipient and now TFS intern….

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Conscientious Objection in the Hobby Lobby

Posted by WiredSisters on March 26th, 2014 filed in Abortion, Anarchism, Health and Medicine, History, Moral Philosophy, Peace Testimony, Sexuality


Back when I was a graduate student in sociology, I did a research paper on conscientious objection to military service.  This may seem like an esoteric subject these days, since it mostly applied to young men faced with conscription into the armed forces.  We don’t conscript any more, we let the economy do the job for us.  Any young person, male or female, who has a high school diploma or the equivalent, and any hope of going to college, is going to give a lot of thought to military service, which is one of the few available ways of paying for college.  But nobody gets forced to join up, so nobody much needs to look for legal exemptions from having to do so.

Back then, though, you had to prove that your objection to serving Uncle Sam arose from sincerely held religious or moral or ethical beliefs.  Your sincerity got judged mostly by your draft board, a bunch of local civilians who asked you stuff like “What church do you belong to?”, “Where did you get these weird ideas?”, “What makes you think you’re better than the guys who joined up?”, and “What would you do if somebody was raping your sister?”  Shortly after writing the research paper, I became a draft counselor for people facing conscription into the Vietnam War, and had to help them in earnest in the search for non-silly answers to such silly questions. 

 Now the proprietors of the Hobby Lobby claim to be facing a similar situation, and the Supreme Court seems to be applying a lot of the same rules to their case.  I watch eagerly to see whether any of the Supreme Court cases that arose out of the Vietnam War rear their heads again (think “Seeger” and “Welsh” and “Kerley.”)  But I’m not holding my breath.  Given their average age, the Supremes can be excused for having difficulty remembering cases from 50 years back, when most of the rest of us can’t even remember Vietnam in any context other than restaurants with interesting soups (“pho”)  and sandwiches (“ban my.”) Dunno how old the Hobby Lobby’s lawyers are, but they probably don’t remember either.

 A lot of the questions are the same, however.  The government requires somebody to do something that conflicts with his,her, their, or its religion.  The First Amendment rears its hallowed head.  The judiciary wants to know how much of a conflict the government’s demands really impose, and how sincere are the plaintiffs in their religion.  Who will suffer the most if the government wins?  How about if the plaintiffs win?

But nobody is trying to draft Hobby Lobby.  All that is being demanded of them is that they either: provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception, or pay a financial penalty for NOT providing any health insurance at all, and letting their employees fend for themselves on the ACA insurance exchanges.  The said penalty, apparently, is LESS than the cost of providing the insurance, so they don’t even lose any money through choosing that alternative.  They claim that the only reason they don’t want to pay the penalty is that they want to think of themselves as good-guy law-abiding employers.  How is this evidence of a sincerely held religious belief?  How is it parallel to the penalties imposed on young men back in the Vietnam era, who faced up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine for refusing to comply with the draft?

 There are a bunch of other holes in the Hobby Lobby’s arguments, too.  One is that there is no way to know in advance whether any of their employees will use their insurance to pay for contraception.  Conceivably (you should pardon the expression) their workforce is old enough, or male enough, that the issue might not arise at all.  All the ACA does is request the employer to provide insurance for the employee which might be used for that purpose.  The employer is also, presumably, providing that same employee with a paycheck that, in the absence of a contraceptive insurance mandate, she might use for the same purpose.  Wouldn’t the Hobby Lobby bear the same moral burden either way? And if so, can they require their employees to promise not to use their paychecks for that purpose?  Or just not hire any non-sterile women of childbearing age?  Or anybody who isn’t an observant conservative Catholic?  At what point does the Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom collide with the sexual, medical, or even  religious freedom of their employees? And what happens when it does?

 I am gritting my teeth while I wait for the Supremes to rule.  I will be equally perturbed if the body of law supporting the right to refuse military service for religious or ethical or moral reasons, formulated in the twentieth century, gets perverted to buttress the moral vanity of a corporation, or if it is forgotten entirely.  The two outcomes, at the moment, seem equally likely.

 Red Emma

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On mentoring STEM students who aren’t white or Asian men

Posted by Sappho on March 26th, 2014 filed in Computers, Feminism, Race


A few months ago (in early November of last year, to be exact) I went to the Southland Technology Conference, aka SoTeC. I’ve been to this conference a few times before, as it’s put on by a collection of local professional organizations that includes one of which I am a member (and a past board member). It has several tracks, with sessions on quality assurance, project management, and other matters related to IT.

Usually, when I go to this conference, I try to blog my notes on it soon after the conference (when I used to have a boss who read my blog, I would direct him to my blog for my notes). This time, though, I only blogged a general summary of what I’d attended, and am just now getting around to blogging my notes. I want to begin with the birds of a feather lunch. Topics are posted at different tables, and you sit at a table that has a topic that interests you. I sat at the table whose topic announced a discussion of getting encouraging non-traditional STEM students.

Part of why I’ve waited to blog this topic is that I wanted, before I talk about the program that we learned about at the table, to talk about another topic. Why encourage anyone to go into STEM at all? Do we even really have a shortage?

The last time I talked about efforts to get more women involved in STEM, a commenter questioned whether I should be encouraging this at all, on grounds that there isn’t really a STEM shortage, since the real high salaries are in finance. I was left a little skeptical of said commenters motives for objecting to purely private, not even government funded, efforts to encourage women who might want to study STEM subjects, since he had previously argued against me in favor of encouraging women to settle early for whatever husband they could find, undercutting his “why not just leave women to their own choices” argument on STEM. But there are serious arguments about how far we really have a STEM shortage, and, if so, what sort of a STEM shortage we really have.

Thoreau at High Clearing frequently posts on why, in his opinion, the STEM shortage is overblown. Probably more overblown in his field than in mine, since I gather he’s in theoretical physics, which doesn’t have a hopping job market, while I’m in computers, where there are shortages at least some of the time in at least some specialties. But he does make a fair case that we’re not seeing economic evidence of a broad STEM shortage.

Guys, the STEM crisis is bad. Really bad. Don’t believe me? Just ask the CEO of Eli Lilly. He says in a recent op-ed that we need more people trained in STEM. He should know. The economic fallout of our STEM shortage forced him to trim $1 billion from his company’s R&D budget. There’s so little STEM talent that nobody can afford a STEM worker, so they’re trimming the research budget. If STEM talent were plentiful, we’d have a stronger economy and STEM workers would be affordable. But they aren’t affordable, and Lilly can’t get enough revenue in this weak economy that is a direct consequence of a STEM shortage, so he has to lay off STEM workers. Because there aren’t enough of them. (Hat-tip to In The Pipeline via Chemjobber.)

Next up: America’s dire shortage of people who understand basic economic principles.

Walter Hickey, at Business Insider, suggest that we have a shortage, not so much of STEM workers, as of STEM workers with the skills industry actually wants, at the salaries industry wants to pay.

But the thing is, there isn’t really a STEM shortage. There are plenty of graduates of technical fields in the U.S.

There is a different kind of shortage, but the American people won’t like to admit it.

What there is, is a shortage of ultra-elite American-born talent, and Silicon Valley wants to hire the very best in the world. The view from Silicon Valley is that a lot of the U.S. talent, while bountiful in number, just doesn’t stack up.

But Silicon Valley doesn’t want to just come out and say this, since it will sound offensive to a lot of American-born grads. So Silicon Valley argues that there’s a general STEM shortage.

Daniel Faigin, arguing with someone who wants cybersecurity shifted from STEM degrees to VoTech programs, suggests that we do need more people who understand STEM both in general and in the field of cybersecurity in particular:

Let’s start with STEM. The author seems to believe that the emphasis on STEM is at the university level — that we only want STEM degrees. That’s wrong and misguided. Emphasizing STEM is important much earlier — from the first days of education to the end of high school. We need to be raising students that are unafraid — who perhaps even love — science, engineering, math, and technology. The ability to understand these disciplines is key to having adults who think critically, and who can recognize pseudo-science when they see it (and thus, believe neither the creationists nor the climate-change-denouncers). Being familiar with these disciplines is also key if you are going to exist in the modern world, where technology is everywhere (and technical terms are everywhere). They are particularly important even if you are going into VoTech — just because you are working with tools doesn’t mean you don’t apply scientific principles or use mathematics. In fact, most CNC tool programmers use mathematics regularly. Familiarity with technology is required in almost every field today — even the soft fields are making extensive use of technology….

Cybersecurity requires individuals who are familiar with technology, systems, mathematics, engineering… and can think critically, and can present their thoughts and findings (which is where the arts come in, and why you see a movement from STEM to STEAM). Successful cybersecurity is much more than running vulnerability scans. It is getting in with the engineering team from day 0 — identifying the security requirements and how they trade off other engineering and mission requirements….

Here’s the thing. I agree with Thoreau that there isn’t an across the board shortage in the pipeline of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math majors. I also agree with Daniel Faigin (and Thoreau’s acknowledged the same) that, more than STEM degrees, we need students who are unafraid of science, engineering, math, and technology, people who have some understanding of science, whether that winds up being their actual field or not. I do think, though, that even if we’re talking narrowly just about STEM degrees, if we don’t have an across the board shortage, we also don’t have such abundance that we want to throw talent away.

I’ve been in the computer field for decades now. Sometimes, there’s been a shortage, and I’ve seen it in the very economic ways Thoreau talks about; salaries have risen, benefits have been good, and companies have offered bonuses of thousands of dollars to employees who made referrals that panned out. Other times, there have been layoffs and hiring freezes. Sometimes there are shortages in particular specialties, such as computer security, while other specialties have been flush.

But, through times of high demand and times of slack demand, it’s still a field where the pay, benefits, and working conditions are not bad, one where you can make a good living for yourself if you find the work interesting. And, through times of higher demand and times of lower demand, it’s still a field with enough demand, over all, that you don’t want to lose good people because they didn’t see enough people who looked like them to think the field had a place for them at the table.

Now, “hey, let’s get more minorities in science” arguments can be taken in directions that I think foolish and wrong. Here, for instance, is an old Volokh Conspiracy post using a “science mismatch” as an argument against affirmative action (because minorities would really do better if they went to less selective schools):

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

Do you know who was an instance of STEM attrition when he was at Stanford? Andre Braugher. I don’t know whether affirmative action helped him get into Stanford or not; he’s pretty darn smart and might have gotten in anyway without it. I do know that, if affirmative action did help him get in, I’d consider that an argument in favor of affirmative action. Seriously, would either Andre Braugher or the world around him be better off with an Andre Braugher who went to a less elite university and stayed with his original plan to study engineering rather than the Andre Braugher we actually have, who switched to drama, continued to Juilliard, and became the fine actor he is today?

The point is not to get everyone in STEM, or even to get equal proportions of every group of people in STEM. (It may be just fine if we never have exactly the same number of women in STEM as men.) The point is that STEM needs to be open enough that you get plenty of good people of both sexes and all races, that no one rules out STEM from the get go by assuming it’s not for her.

Now, tomorrow I’ll talk about that actual birds of a feather sessions, and what we talked about at our table.

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On leaning in, and on being a pattern-seeking, story-telling animal

Posted by Sappho on March 25th, 2014 filed in Books, Feminism


Ham. Do you see yonder cloud that ’s almost in shape of a camel?
Pol. By the mass, and ’t is like a camel, indeed.
Ham. Methinks it is like a weasel.
Pol. It is backed like a weasel.
Ham. Or like a whale?
Pol. Very like a whale.

Not long ago, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and liked it so much that I recommended it to my mother, who just finished reading it. I liked it because it balanced encouragement to “lean in” to your career with understanding of why sometimes you might not want to, and because its anecdotes balanced accounts of Sheryl Sandberg’s triumphs with accounts of how she had learned from her mistakes.

Later, I ran across an Impact X blog post by Joel Bion, from last month, titled “Do you propagate ‘well-meaning’ stereotypes?” in which he writes

Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” recently recalled sharing a stage with Cisco CEO John Chambers where he mentioned to the audience: “I realized that we — my company — we have called all of our senior women too aggressive, and I’m standing on this stage, and I’m sorry. And I want you to know we’re never going to do it again.” I was lucky enough to be in the audience.

John made an important observation that needs to be understood and expanded upon because it goes well beyond gender.

So, my first thought was, wow, Joel Bion’s writing a blog post. I never expected that. Because, back in our Stanford days, he wasn’t, like me or Judy Anderson, given to flaming people on the LOTS computer bulletin board. But, after I got over that surprise, I looked at the content of the post, in which Joel talks about how we’re likely to make the mistake of stereotyping people multiple times a day, what it’s like to be stereotyped, and why we tend to do it anyway.

Now, there are a lot of pieces to this problem that Joel doesn’t touch on in his short post.

  • I’m back at Stanford, engaged in a fierce debate on the computer bulletin board with other students about a letter someone wrote to the Stanford Daily. The letter was by some guy who suggested that the obvious solution to rape was for women not to go out alone at night. I don’t know that I’d call the degree of cluelessness in that particular letter “well-meaning.” But another guy, a good friend of mine, who hasn’t read the letter, is genuinely puzzled by my anger. I don’t get angry at him, he says, when he suggests I not walk alone at night.

    Now, there’s a lot of things I could say here. I could talk about the old anecdote about Golda Meir, where, when Israel was experiencing an epidemic of violent rapes and someone at a cabinet meeting suggested women be put under curfew until the rapists were caught, Meir shot back, “Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under curfew.” Or I could remind my friend that lots of rapes aren’t committed by strangers at night. Or I could be gentler and assure him that his offer, sometimes, to escort me really isn’t the same thing as the letter writer telling me that I can fix the problem of rape by not going out alone at night.

    But what actually goes through my head is this: The Stanford Escort Service, that women can call if they want someone to walk with them at night, closes at midnight. The mainframe that Stanford calls Low Overhead Timesharing System and that we computer geeks affectionately nickname Largely Overloaded Timesharing System isn’t really free of high loads and long queues until well after midnight. No true computer geek avoids those early morning hours, and no one can get full access to those early morning hours who confines herself to the times of the night when she can get an escort. Why should I accept that academic and professional disadvantage? Of course I’ll take a friend’s offer to walk with me, but of course I’ll go alone to the computer center if no one’s around to offer.

    What I’m getting at, here, is that sometimes difficulties that are just plain obvious to people who live them aren’t obvious at all to people who don’t live them (even if they care about you, or men and women wouldn’t misunderstand each other nearly as often as we do, since pretty much all of us, even those of us who are gay or lesbian and still have fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, at some point love someone of the opposite sex).

  • I’m in a sociology class at Stanford. A small cluster of us, before class, are talking, and I hear a man impatiently dismiss a woman’s account of some experience I know well, some form of stereotyping I figure all women experience. The other man in the group, Peter Salovey, turns to the man who was so dismissive and says, “She’s right,” and explains why. The man who spoke first listens. After he leaves, Peter turns to me, and remarks, “He believed me because I’m a man.” People really don’t like to think this of themselves, because it’s hard to see as well-meaning, but sometimes stereotyping even affects who you’re willing to believe about the stereotyping (and, until a Peter Salovey happens along, it’s a closed circuit).
  • I’m reading a thread at a feminist blog. A guest blogger is posting on black women’s fraught relationship with their hair. A few white women jump in to say that they can empathize, because they have trouble, too, with how their bodies fail to match advertising images. Soon, black women in the thread are pleading with the white women to shut up, and, though I may never fully understand the hair thing, even I can see why: given that white women outnumber black women on this blog, if white women jump in to share experiences that in their mind are similar every time a black woman talks about, say, hair, soon a thread that was, originally, about the ways that white women get held up as beauty models and black women don’t, turns into yet another thread about white women’s concerns. Sometimes, the things you think you’re saying to be understanding are part of the problem.
  • A friend of mine on Facebook, appalled, shares an article about research showing that white people become more supportive of the death penalty when presented with evidence that it’s applied in a racially biased way. I’m not surprised, because I’ve seen this kind of thing in person often enough: people get pissed off, and their views boomerang against you, if you suggest that they, or any people they want to believe in, are in any way prejudiced.

It’s the last point, though, that leads me to what I like in Joel Bion’s post. If defensiveness is part of the problem in combating stereotyping, then finding ways to think about the problem that break down defensiveness can be part of the solution. And seeing stereotyping, not as a peculiar moral defect, but as a perceptual problem in the way our brains work, like those optical illusions we like to play with, is one way to be less defensive about finding, sometimes, a tendency to stereotype in yourself.

Joel writes:

As an ‘American white guy’, one might assume I have been spared from facing the consequences of these assumptions and to a significant degree, I have. I have not suffered (in terms of career) issues based on race, gender or culture, no matter where I have been employed. But I have heard other prejudicial comments from customers, co-workers and friends: “You are unusually articulate for an engineer.” “You seem to be able to empathize with others quite easily; that’s rare for a man.” “You understand the technology more than I would expect for a senior manager.” “Oh, we don’t want an engineer to talk to this account; we need someone who understands business relationships.” “You seem awfully young to be able to speak on this issue.” “We need someone younger to help us understand how social media websites are used.”

These statements I have heard said about me are frustrating, diminishing, and limiting. They are for all who hear them. And we ALL hear them.

There are times when you want to keep your mouth shut about this kind of analogy (think of the white women who, by virtue of greater numbers, managed to derail that thread about “good hair”). But you need to be able to think of these examples, remember whatever experience of yours is closest to the other person’s experience, to come as close as you can to understanding. Joel’s experience of having someone expect that he might not understand technology because he’s a senior manager may not be the same as my experience, when I was doing tech support, of having a customer refuse to belief I properly understood how my company’s product worked until I handed the phone to a man who told him exactly the same thing. But if his experience helps him understand mine, that’s a good thing.

Why is it so easy to make these mistakes? I don’t believe humans are inherently evil. I do believe that we humans are always trying to make “predictive generalizations” to help us simplify and understand the scary and complex world around us. A yellow stoplight is followed by a red one. A ball bouncing into a street is often followed by a small child. If we didn’t form these predictions, and if we weren’t good at it, we’d never function in day-to-day life, let alone in a larger society.

It is so often so useful for us to make these predictive generalizations that we find it nearly impossible to stop making them, even when we are both factually and/or ethically wrong in doing so.

And this, too, if you can remember it, helps to break down whatever defensiveness you may naturally feel about acknowledging that perhaps, after all, sometimes you stereotype people.

We’re pattern-seeking, story-telling animals. That why, as I wrote in my last post, I pieced together a bit of information about what DNA segments I share with a few other people along with a bit of information about who matches the HVR1 and HVR2 sections of my mtDNA, to come up with a story: I have an Acadian ancestor, descended from Barbe Bajolet, who was expelled from Acadia to New England in 1755. Now I can test that story, maybe expanding it, or maybe disproving it.

This same pattern-seeking, story-telling tendency that lets me spin tales about my uprooted Acadian ancestor (who may or may not pan out on further investigation) also helps me in activities more immediately useful to my bottom line. I can use my pattern-seeking ability to figure out how to reproduce a bug, and, having reproduced it, to document it well enough that it can be found in the code and fixed. In the same way, my pattern-seeking long distant ancestor, Woman the Gatherer, may have used her pattern-seeking to discern the best fruits, roots, and nuts to bring home to feed the tribe.

But pattern-seeking can also lead us astray, when we try to put other people in boxes that they don’t fit.

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Evangeline

Posted by Sappho on March 22nd, 2014 filed in Genealogy


Marguerite Marres
Born 1716 in Nova Scotia …
Died 1759 in @ Sea – France
Wikitree

Marguerite Marres is not my ancestor, but she may be part of the clue to my maternal line. Or may not. The paper trail is sketchy, before the nineteenth century, and the DNA is subject to multiple interpretations. This is what I know.

From 1755 to 1764, the British forcibly removed the Acadian people from their land (the present day Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and also part of the US state of Maine), which the British crown had conquered in 1710. Those expelled included some who had actively resisted the British, but also many who had simply remained neutral, and not taken an oath of allegiance. In the first few years of the expulsion, Acadians were deported to the thirteen colonies, but later they were sent to France, from which some made their way in boats to Louisiana. Others fled to Quebec, and others eventually made their way back to Nova Scotia (which included present day New Brunswick. Many died, in transit on ships, during the expulsion. One of these was Marguerite Marres.

I came to suspect that the Acadian expulsion might be part of my own genealogy based on clues in my DNA test.

  1. On 23andMe, I show segments with clusters of French Canadian relatives whom I have pinned, by cousin triangulation, to my maternal grandmother’s side (and, since Alice Leonard Moore’s husband came directly from England and her father was Pennsylvania German, that probably means Ella Merchant’s side).
  2. I also show clusters of relatives with genealogical connections to Nova Scotia who are pinned, by cousin triangulation, to the same side.
  3. I also show relatives with Louisiana as a location and French surnames in their trees, though I haven’t been able to pin these to a side, since they’re on segments that my mother and her cousin on her mother’s side don’t share.

One possible solution to the puzzle is an Acadian ancestor on my maternal grandmother’s side, probably through her maternal grandmother Ella Merchant. As I looked into the possibility, I noticed two things. First, the most natural place to fit an Acadian (or else a Quebecois) ancestor in my tree was the mother of Ella Merchant’s maternal grandmother. Ella Merchant’s maternal grandmother, Aurilla Angevine (born in New York or Vermont in 1798) is the daughter of Aaron Burr Angevine and a mother about whom little is known, only the record in one Angevine genealogy book that her name may have been Mabel.

Aurilla’s paternal line is a French Huguenot line that goes back, through the first settlers of New Rochelle, to Rochelle, France. New Rochelle recorded all of its town record in French until 1738, and continued to attract French refugees until as late as 1760. As the Angevines spread out from New Rochelle to other parts of New York and Connecticut, they still would have carried with them an understanding of French and French culture. Also, Aurilla’s mother fits a hole in the family tree that is late enough to come not long after the expulsion of the Acadians. But I also held out the possibility that she could be of Quebecois ancestry, or that the Angevines could connect with French Canadians back in France.

When I checked the web, there seemed to be a surprising number of women with X2b mtDNA who could fit the bill for my maternal line ancestor. I made a list of all women who were either X2b or some subgroup of that (allowing for the possibility that X2b4 or X2b7 might be how my mtDNA line would display if I’d gotten, instead of the 23andMe test, the full mtDNA sequence at Family Tree DNA), who were also listed somewhere as either Acadian Mothers or Filles Du Roi (Daughter of the King) who were sent to Quebec to marry settlers there.

  1. Barbe Bajolet
  2. Eugenie Boily
  3. Francoise Pilois
  4. Jeanne Ducorps dite Leduc
  5. Marie-Brigitte Guyon Dit Dion
  6. Radegonde Lambert

Then I took a mtDNA test, not the full sequence but the cheaper one that just tests the hyper variable regions called HVR1 and HVR2, at Family Tree DNA. This test turns out to supply both more and less information on my mtDNA than 23andMe did. Where it gives less information: It types me simply as X (to get the subclade, I need the full sequence). Where it gives more information (on my mtDNA only): It gives me a list of matches. People who match me on both HVR1 and HVR2 have, says Family Tree DNA, a 50% chance of sharing a common ancestor somewhere within the past 700 years. People who share only HVR1 have a 50% chance of being connected to me within the past 1,300 years. Family Tree DNA gave me a list of 108 people who matched me on both HVR1 and HVR2, and hundreds more who matched me on HVR1 alone.

I took my list of women with X2b mtDNA who had been early settlers in Quebec or Acadia (a surprisingly large proportion of X2b women, it seems to me, given that it’s not that common a haplogroup), and checked my results. Four people whose most distant maternal ancestor is Barbe Bajolet show on my HVR1 and HVR2 match list. One person whose most distant maternal ancestor is Marie-Brigitte Guyon Dit Dion shows on my list of HVR1 matches. I then joined the French Heritage project and the Mothers of Acadia project (I may have to leave the Mothers of Acadia project and come back if and when I can prove my line, which is OK with me). There, I was able to find the HVR1 and HVR2 markers of all of the women I’ve listed. I match Barbe Bajolet on all markers but one, a marker at location 234 where Family Tree DNA says I have a heteroplasmy. For all of the other women, I have differences in either HVR1 or HVR2 or both (though I do share all Marie-Brigitte Guyon Dit Dion’s HVR1 markers).

Family Tree DNA suggests that, in case of a heteroplasmy, you can determine the ancestral value by checking relatives with the same mtDNA line. So I checked on 23andMe, to see what they said about that mtDNA location for me and for my sister. They have it as a no call for me (consistent with Family Tree DNA’s report that it’s a heteroplasmy), but my sister’s value matches that of Barbe Bajolet. (I wonder, here, whether the fact that I seem to have a mutation that my sister seems to lack could have been part of the cause of my cancer, or whether my chemotherapy and radiation could have caused the heteroplasmy.) So I figure our ancestral value is a full match for hers on both HVR1 and HVR2. Add that to the cousin triangulation evidence pointing in the direction of possible Acadian ancestry and to the fact that we’re both X2b, and she looks like a strong suspect for my immigrant ancestor on my maternal line. But all of these pieces of evidence are subject to alternate interpretations, and I do have 104 HVR1 and HVR2 matches that don’t say anything about Barbe Bajolet.

And that’s why I have taken to WikiTree. I have found a list of Barbe Bajolet’s descendants, up until the time of the expulsion, and am making my way down the list both to find a possible ancestor for myself (that would be a woman descended from Barbe through a line of only women who could have ended up, after the expulsion, in New York or Connecticut) or who might link to my DNA cousins. I take each person in turn, who was born before the expulsion and died after it, and mark on my list where that person ended up. Louisiana. Quebec. Location of death unknown. Quebec. Lousiana. Nova Scotia. I haven’t yet made it to someone who wound up in the Northeast, though I think at least a few of those must exist. But right now, I pause, my eye caught by Marguerite Marres. She would have been 43 when she died.

What a vast tragedy lies behind the simple words, “died in @Sea – France.”

UPDATE: Most of her children also “died in @Sea – France.” Her son, Louis Francois Dantin, managed to survive to get to Louisiana. With most of his family dead.

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