Looking at mtDNA and Y DNA lines in my genealogy

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

Autosomal DNA tells much more about your ancestry than mtDNA or Y DNA, since you inherit autosomal DNA from all your grandparents. But that same limitation of mtDNA and Y DNA, of course, is their main area of interest: they can tell you something about where your ancestors on one particular line came from (even if it’s just where they came from thousands of years ago). And it turns out that, through looking at the results of close cousins, you can sometimes get mtDNA or Y DNA lines of people other than your parents. Here is what I’ve been able to learn about mine:
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Posted by WiredSisters on April 21st, 2015 filed in Family, History, Law, Marriage, Sexuality

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

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Conversations on Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Emma

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Wanderer [fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the cross her station keeping …

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

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

A different Stabat Mater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now, about that Germanwings plane

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

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

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

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

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Razib Khan and the New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among those included in the parade:

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

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

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Praise for the Community of Christ

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

When I posted about the Mental Health First Aid workshop that Joel and I attended (and that three other members of our DBSA chapter have now attended, one with us and two at an earlier workshop), I left out one of the most impressive things about that workshop: who showed up. There was one church that sent 19 people, to that Mental Health First Aid workshop. That church is the Community of Christ. When we gave our introductions, the people from Community of Christ (like the rest of us) spoke about their reasons for attending. They came from different congregations. They spoke of different congregational needs. One had an open air church that met in a local park, and attracted many homeless people. Others wanted both to care better for people in their congregations who lived with mental illness, and to work in ministries with people living with mental illness. It was inspiring to see how much commitment this church showed to helping their members fill these needs.

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Mental Health First Aid

Posted by Sappho on March 19th, 2015 filed in Bipolar Disorder, Classes, Lectures, and Conferences

On Tuesday, I took a vacation day from work, so that I could attend a workshop on Mental Health First Aid. I’m copying to my blog an email that I sent to the leader of our DBSA chapter’s caregiver group, about the workshop (with personal names obscured, other than my husband’s name):

Here’s what I can tell you about the workshop. We heard of it from one of our board members, C, who had already gone through the training, and Joel and S and I signed up and attended. We each got a booklet with the course. I will give you mine, after I finish reading it, since Joel and I don’t need two copies. The booklet covers depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, and eating disorders. The workshop, which is eight hours long, leaves out eating disorders, but covers the others.

The acronym that they use to describe what the teach is ALGEE:

  1. Assess the risk of suicide or harm.
  2. Listen non-judgmentally.
  3. Give reassurance and information.
  4. Encourage appropriate professional help.
  5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

They discuss the prevalence and symptoms of the various disorders, helpful resources, and how to deal with crises and encourage people to get appropriate help. The format is a combination of lecture, short videos, role play, and quizzes.

Sheets of resources were also available. I took some extra copies for you, which you can copy for people in the caregiver’s group.

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How to survive a human apocalypse, and other links

Posted by Sappho on March 18th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, DNA

How to Survive a Human Attack: A Zombie’s Guide to Filling the Emptiness and Moving Forward by K.E. Flann

Hat tip to Jennifer Raff and her Violent Metaphors Facebook feed for the next couple of genomics links.

Survival of the richest? mathbionerd announces her paper A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture, which shows an extreme reduction in the number of males who reproduced, without an accompanying reduction in the number of females, at about the time of the rise of agriculture. (Here’s Dienekes Pontikos blogging on the same study.)

Genetics: No evidence of role in racial mortality gap. A new study from McGill University fails to find a genetic basis for differences between blacks and whites in cardiovascular disease.

“After nearly a decade of genome-wide association studies (GWAS), no assessment had yet been made of their contribution toward an explanation of the most prominent racial health disparities observed at the population level,” says Jay Kaufman, of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Occupational Health in the Faculty of Medicine.

Kaufman and colleagues assessed the reported associations from published genomic studies, “The fact that our results show so little stable evidence of genetic explanations for racial disparities in CVD could be attributed to a general failure of GWAS to explain observed disease phenotypes,” adds Kaufman.

(Here I’ll note, as an aside, that I really don’t have any prior commitment to expecting this sort of study to come out one way or the other. I’m suspicious, of course, of theories about genetic racial differences in which all the racial differences amount to the speaker coming from the race with all the morally superior impulses. But I could easily imagine that we might, say, live in the hypothetical world where there is real genetic variation between different geographic populations in susceptibility to diabetes, given a particular diet, because different geographical populations had different things available to eat, and in turn faced different natural selection related to how they metabolized those different things available to eat. And I could equally easily imagine that we’d live in a hypothetical world where there are no such population level genetic differences, GWAS studies show that fact, and differences in diabetes incidence in different ethnic groups instead turn out to be pinned to social and income inequalities, difference exposure to unhealthy food, etc. It’s all a matter of what studies actually show. Apparently this one points to ethnic differences in cardiovascular health being environmental rather than genetic.)

And another genetic study link, that I didn’t get from Jennifer Raff (though it’s always possible she had it in one of her feeds as well and I missed it): Dienekes points to a study of DNA of 17th century African slaves from the Caribbean.

Also, DNA nanobots destroy leukemia (which makes me think of Borg technology, but in a good way).

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The Best Policy

Posted by WiredSisters on March 16th, 2015 filed in Uncategorized

Ben Franklin said it, but we don’t pay much attention to it. “Honesty is the best policy.”  Most people think it just means being honest is better than being dishonest.  I suspect strongly, though I have not yet been able to document it, that he was actually using “policy” in an older sense, meaning something closer to “politics” or to “shrewd maneuvers.”  In which case he was actually telling us that telling the truth could sometimes be the smartest thing to do.  Anyway, these days we tend to run into the word in an entirely different context that has absolutely nothing to do with honesty.

 Most of us have had the experience of dealing with some public or private bureaucracy, asking one of its functionaries for something perfectly reasonable–a receipt, for instance, or a list of phone numbers–and being told, “We never do that. We have a policy.” The person making the request is apparently expected by most bureaucrats to react to the word “policy” by collapsing into a pliable pile of pusillanimity, like a vampire in sunlight. All too many of us do. There is something icily intimidating about the word “policy,” and the power we attribute to anyone who claims to have one.

But there is no reason to afford such deference to the word. Policy means merely “a definite course or method of action selected to guide and determine present and future decisions.” The opposite of “policy” is making it up as you go along, complete adhocracy. Or, as Lily Tomlin’s “Ernestine,” the telephone dragon lady, put it when giving a customer a hard time, “Don’t take it personally; we screw everybody.” So anybody can have a policy. You can develop a policy. For instance, when confronted with bureaucratic jackassitude, you can ask to speak to the supervisor of the jackass in question, and proceed up the chain of command as high as necessary to get satisfaction. Or you can write a letter to the elected official or corporate executive ultimately responsible for the bureaucrat’s area, and name names. Whichever modus operandi you choose to adopt, it is your policy. Telling the jackass in question about your policy may cause him to cave in. It’s always worth a try.


Red Emma

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Preparing for my third Toastmasters speech

Posted by Sappho on March 12th, 2015 filed in Daily Life

I’m planning to do my third Toastmasters speech on the European sovereign debt crisis. If you have questions about the EU debt crisis, and a speaker has only five to seven minutes to answer those questions, what questions would you want answered?



Lent, sin, and other links

Posted by Sappho on March 9th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Theology

A lovely sermon on the meaning of Lent, the nature of sin, and John Scalzi’s book Redshirts. (Hat tip, John Scalzi.)

Many people wrote last week about the Justice Department’s findings on the Ferguson police department, but I found Ta-Nehisi Coates particularly interesting.

The Justice Department conducted two investigations—one looking into the shooting of Michael Brown, and another into the Ferguson Police Department. The first report made clear that there was no prosecutable case against one individual officer. The second report made clear that there was a damning case to be made against the system in which that officer operated: …

Also, I always love TNC’s posts about learning French, like this one about getting better at difficult things.

Bruce Schneier on North Korea, the Sony Pictures breach, Attack Attribution and Cyber Conflict.

Brian Krebs on phishers using default passwords to hack routers. Change your router’s password from the default!

And, via my old college friend Andrew on Facebook, Islamic Holdem’


Some links that I have already posted on Facebook, and some that I haven’t

Posted by Sappho on March 2nd, 2015 filed in Blogwatch

Natalia Antonova writes that Russians’ faith in Putin may not be shaken by Nemtsov’s barbaric death.

Johan Maurer: Choose curiosity

Jennifer Raff’s links for Darwin Day.

How to sabotage encryption software (and not get caught).

An interesting history of in loco parentis, by Philip Lee of Harvard University.

Greek historical records from the state archives.

Echidne of the Snakes on To Praise Saunas. Or Not?

Andrew Shields on Voltaire misattributions

Keith Gatling on Slow Down Your Email

Kitty Cooper on Triangulation: Proving a Common Ancestor.

Aled Jones sings a duet with his younger self: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.

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Scattered Thoughts on Nerds and Feminism

Posted by Sappho on February 24th, 2015 filed in Feminism, Sexuality

Belle Waring, at Crooked Timber, has a post on Male Nerds and Feminism, which inspired a long comment thread with some interesting comments. I find that I have more to say than a comment, and, since I’m a female nerd and feminist, I’m making my own topic “nerds and feminism” rather than just “male nerds and feminism,” since part of my reaction is to compare male and female nerd experiences. Anyway, in no particular order, my reactions to the discussion.
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Things the Truman Show Missed

Posted by WiredSisters on February 23rd, 2015 filed in Fiction, History, Marriage, Memory, Moral Philosophy, TV

(“The Last of Life for which The First Was Made” part I)

By now anybody with the remotest degree of interest in British soaps has read everybody’s articles, reviews, and posts about the latest episode of Downton Abbey. Most of the authors, if they are not getting paid to review such things, start out by referring to it as a guilty pleasure, usually right up there with chocolate and caffeine. I prefer to save my guilt for places where it can accomplish something, so I just view DA as a harmless and sometimes interesting frivolity. This week, it also presented an interesting philosophical wrinkle. The aristocratic curmudgeon everybody loves to hate has redeemed himself this week in several different ways all at once. We find ourselves becoming sort of fond of him. One of the minor-league villains below stairs has also engaged in a bit of skullduggery for the greater good this week. A female character who started out as the local equivalent of a Valley Girl and a flibbertigibbet has become a serious family member and a loving wife. Is this the coming of the Peaceable Kingdom?

Well, no, of course not. It’s easy enough for us to recognize that this is simply a case of writers either mellowing toward their characters, or being replaced by more mellow writers. It happens all the time in TV dramas. It certainly happened all the time in ER, where Dr. Kerry Weaver started out as a workaholic spinster-in-waiting, then became an “out” lesbian, and ended up in a couple of torrid heterosexual relationships. In her case, the writers all seemed to have been conspiring to stick her character with whatever seemed like the most interesting thing a woman might be doing at the moment, no matter how inconsistent it might be with what she had done last month.

But in real life—well, as a divorce lawyer, I am always being surprised by my former clients. It generally takes them longer to do the one-eighty, because real life moves more slowly than most TV prime-time dramas these days (as distinguished from daytime soaps, in which reprises of the previous episode and previews of the next installment can take up as much as half of the non-commercial time.) But the results, two years or so after the divorce, can be almost as startling. A woman who saw her husband as physically, emotionally, and financially abusive may now consider the same man (as her “ex”) her best friend. A woman who believed her husband was unfit to have custody of or even unsupervised visitation with their child while the custody issue was pending in court may leave the kid with him all the time, without blinking an eye, now that they are safely split. Was she exaggerating in the first place? Has he done a one-eighty in the meantime? A bit of both?

For that matter, there are the politicians. Harry Truman (speaking of the Truman Show, no relation) was the object of condescension and ridicule while in office, and two generations later came to be viewed as one of our best presidents.  Richard M. Nixon, while in office, was almost universally viewed as an ultra-conservative crook. As an ex-president, he lost little time becoming an elder statesman, a prudent moderate, and a competent pianist. Jimmy Carter, viewed while in office as one of the worst presidents we have ever had, is now perilously close to canonization. If Obama has any perspective on the matter, he is probably looking forward eagerly to spending the rest of his post-2017 life as the Sage of Honolulu (or, I suppose, Hyde Park. But if I had the chance to retire in comfort to Hawaii, I certainly wouldn’t stay in Chicago.)

No, I find myself concluding. They have all gotten themselves better writers. Bloody well about time. American lives not only have second acts, the second acts are usually a lot better than the first. We, or at least our writers, really can learn from experience—we just don’t get to do it while we’re in a position to make (or avoid making) the mistakes in the first place. Consider this the first installment of a meditation on the benefits of aging.

Jane Grey

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