Posted by Sappho on December 4th, 2013 filed in Books
Chapter 6 concerns cultural transmission and evolution. Culture, says Cavalli-Sforza, isn’t unique to humans, but because of our development of language, we can communicate and learn from others in a far more elaborate way than other species.
In principle, it has always been possible for a lone individual to invent differential and integral calculus starting from scratch, but the odds are low. Even Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton used existing mathematical knowledge in making these fundamental contributions.
The process of cultural “mutation” and evolution can be compared with genetic mutation and evolution, and, just as with genes, “most innovations are rarely truly advantageous” (a Burkean conservative would like this point). Ultimately, though, natural selection guides “cultural selection” as well, since culturally guided choices that help us survive to reproduce will be favored by natural selection. (LG: This doesn’t really explain large celibate communities, but then, they’d be embedded in a larger culture that includes some people who reproduce, probably even some people who reproduce and are closely enough related to them to pass on their genes.)
Cavalli-Sforza discusses several methods of cultural transmission: vertical transmission from one generation to another, horizontal transmission among peers, and cultural transmission from leaders to followers, and several transmitters to one receiver. Cavalli-Sforza suggests that some unusual family forms in Tibet (sometimes including polygyny and polyandry in the same village, usually with the multiple wives or multiple husbands being siblings marrying the same spouse to avoid dividing an inheritance) may have initially been adopted by feudal lords and then spread to the rest of the population. (LG: So Maggie Gallagher’s fear that married gay men will spread open marriage to the heterosexual masses could be valid if gay men were our feudal lords.)
And here there’s some cool stuff about different family types. “The most conserved cultural characteristics are familial,” and different family types can cut across a single country. Herve Le Bras and Emmanuel Todd mapped three major family types in France:
(1) The family with absolute patriarchal authority in the northwest in which the head of the household makes all decisions on behalf of the family’s members, a custom that may have been inherited from the Celts. (2) A more relaxed form of patriarchy that emphasizes mutual support and allows the children to marry, have children, and continue to live in the family home if they are unable to support themselves. Older members also live with the family and are cared for by relatives. This type of family is common in the southwest in an area that corresponds, at least according to our genetic data, to the proto-Basque area. (3) The strictly nuclear family frequent in the northeast, in which children can marry and have children only if they have the ability to live independently. This practice is most frequent where the Franks had the greatest influence. Franks were barbarians of Germanic origin who conquered France in the early Middle Ages and later extended their control to the rest of France. It is interesting to note that this type of family was also common in Germany and in England after the Anglo-Saxon conquest. This arrangement that, among other things, encourages youth to relocate in the search for employment probably favored industrial development.
Le Bras and Todd suggest that family structure influences political outlook, so that support for monarchy and authoritarian systems has been strongest in northwest France, the Socialist vote stronger in the southwest, while the northeast favors a free market economy.
Examples of cultural transmission include religion, politics, and IQ.
American studies in 1980 and 1981 established that only one-third of the variation in IQ among individuals was due to biological heredity. Another third can be explained by cultural transmission, while the last third appears mostly due to other unspecified, mostly random differences in personal life experience.
In particular, Cavalli-Sforza finds the argument that black/white differences in IQ have a genetic basis to be unsupported, and in fact contradicted by adoption studies.
Biology does set critical periods for acquiring certain cultural characteristics. Just as other species may “imprint” at a particular time in their life, so humans have sensitive periods for acquiring language (young) and sexual taboos. Here we get some discussion of Edward Westermarck’s theory that sexual interest is diminished when children have cohabited before puberty, Arthur Wolf’s test of that theory by studying marriages in Taiwan where the wife is adopted into the family and raised with the future husband (despite the advantages for mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relations, these marriages proved less successful than ones formed between adults) and data from kibbutzim (where children raised in the same communal nursery, in effect part of a large family of adoptive brothers and sisters, tend not to marry each other).
Cavalli-Sforza suggests that preference for geographic habitat is also formed in childhood. This actually fits for my family; I, who grew up in Westchester County, like trees and oceans, while my San Bernardino raised husband is fond of desert landscapes. Meanwhile, my Chadian sister-in-law seems to want much warmer temperatures than I do. Cavalli-Sforza says he “became interested in this when I realized that I had no particular preference,” a fact that he attributes to his parents’ moving a lot before he was four.
Our studies of Stanford students confirmed that those who moved frequently during childhood had trouble identifying with a particular environment and adapted more easily to all environments. Our data did not allow us to determine the most sensitive age, but the study did succeed in showing that a nomadic tendency can be culturally inherited, and that a psychological imprint received while young is difficult to erase later in life.
Cavalli-Sforza thinks this fact may have implications for governments or countries with large nomadic populations.
Finally, there’s some discussion of the various forms of linguistic evolution: semantic shifts, grammar (which tend to be stable, but does change over time), pronunciation shifts (such as the “Great Vowel Shift” that began in Middle English), migration (particularly of wives to join husbands), and lexical diffusion.
Cavalli-Sforza concludes with a prediction of humanity’s future: a weakening of natural selection, as we find more ways to keep everyone alive, combines with an increase in the mixing of populations, as migration is easier and faster.
And here I reach the end of Genes, Peoples, and Languages, a book that, unlike those bloggers who turn discussion about genetic differences in human populations into arguments about how the race they favor is better than another race on the qualities they value most, instead takes you on an interesting tour of how genetic variation can be combined with linguistic and archeological evidence to reconstruct human history.
Posted by Sappho on December 3rd, 2013 filed in Books
Here we get to the “languages” part of Genes, Peoples, and Languages. There are more than 5,000 languages spoken today, though some are in danger of extinction. These languages can be grouped in families, such as, in Europe, the Romance languages, the Germanic languages, and the Slavic languages. Cavalli-Sforza discusses the work of Stanford linguist Joseph Greenberg and his student Merritt Ruhlen (some of it accepted among linguists and some still controversial) grouping languages into families. These include three families of American Indian languages (Eskimo-Aleut, Na-Dene, and Amerindian), four families of African languages (Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Kordofian, and Khoisan), and a tree of superfamilies that connects most languages outside of Sub-Saharan Africa.
If you compare linguistic families with the genetic tree, in most cases they map very well. The reason isn’t, of course, that genes control what language you’re able to speak (we can all learn any language if we’re introduced to it at a young enough age). Rather, both language differentiation and genetic differentiation are a result of geographic isolation.
There are also exceptions to the rule that languages map to the genetic tree, for various reasons: Recently admixed populations, like Ethiopians and Lapps, preserve only one of the original two languages. Conquering groups sometimes spread their language further than their genes, as in China, where Sino-Tibetan languages of northern origin spread to the south, while genetic differences remained. Or a small minority, as in Hungary and Turkey, may conquer and supply the language, while most of the genes come from the original population. And sometimes, as among the Basque, an isolated language can be conserved for a long time, even as gene flow dilutes the original genetic distinction.
Still, you can combine genetic and linguistic data to map the history of human expansions, and this Cavalli-Sforza proceeds to do. He tentatively suggests (“I would not be surprised if”) the possibility that the Khoisan people who now live in south Africa, originally living further north, may have been the source of the original “out of Africa” migration, maps principal components in Asia to migratory paths, ties the expansion of Indo-European languages to the spread of Neolithic farmers, and discusses the Bantu expansion (all of these things with a lot more detail than I’m giving you here).
Posted by Sappho on December 2nd, 2013 filed in Books
Here’s the part that’s fun and interesting for anyone who has downloaded her raw data from 23andMe and played with running it through admixture software, like Dienekes Pontikos’ DIYDodecad. Here we get to read about population expansion, migration, and admixture.
The thing about these admixture tools, whether you run them by installing DIYDodecad on your own PC, or whether you use the ones at GEDmatch, is that many of them have names that don’t tie in an obvious way to your known ethnicity. My known ancestry is roughly half Greek and half English. Or actually, when I trace back farther and look a little more closely, roughly half from countries that are around the end of Europe where England is (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany), and roughly half from the end of Europe where Greece is. 23andMe tells me that we also have traces of Native American and Sub-Saharan African ancestry, whose source my family lost track of. But when I look at admixture analyses, I find, as I said in this post, that I am things like 21.85% Anatolian Farmer, 43.36% Baltic Hunter Gatherer, 3.35% Middle Eastern Herder, 0.06% North Eurasian Hunter Gatherer, 30.98% Mediterranean Farmer, and 0.36% Pygmy Hunter Gatherer. OK, it sort of makes sense that “Greek” might translate to having a fair amount of Anatolian Farmer and Mediterranean Farmer. But what do all these percentages mean, really? Or what does it mean when World9 reports that 19.61% of my ancestry is Caucasus_Gedrosia?
Now, Cavalli-Sforza has nothing to do, personally, with the World9 admixture analysis program. But chapter 4 of this book gives you an idea of what these admixture calculators are up to, when they supply you with components with names like “Anatolian Farmer” or “Caucasus_Gedrosia.” Dienekes Pontikos is an anthropologist, interested in analyzing, not so much the ancestry of individuals, as the admixture of populations.
And so we come to the first agricultural expansion, at the juncture between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, 10,000 years ago.
Albert Ammerman and I asked the following question: did migrating farmers bring agriculture along with them (a process we called “demic” diffusion), or was it only the knowledge and technology of agricultural production that spread (“cultural” diffusion)? Archaeologists have shown little interest in this question for several reasons. First, it is very difficult to distinguish between these two possibilities using the archeological record alone….
… Ammerman and I asked, as critically as possible, whether the spread of agriculture in Europe was a cultural or demic process, that is, did farming or farmers spread? Its slow pace across the continent suggested a demic process, but would it be possible to predict the rate of demic expansion merely on the basis of the growth and migration rates of human populations? And how would it compare with the observed rate of agricultural diffusion?
Cavalli-Sforza and Ammerman first analyzed plausible rates of migration and population expansion to conclude that demic diffusion was likely. But others found this reasoning insufficient.
So we searched for new methods. One in particular turned out to be very satisfying: drawing synthetic geographic maps of genes.
A geographic map of a single gene is hard to explain. We can’t tell, for instance, from a single map whether Native Americans nearly all have O blood type due to genetic drift or natural selection. But if you look at groups of genes, you can get a story of human migration. Cavalli-Sforza looked for genes that showed a gradient in their distribution, from the area of the origin of agriculture outward. This is where principal components analysis, which I didn’t really explain, but which you’ll understand better if you read the book, helps.
In the case of Europe Cavalli-Sforza and his colleagues plotted gene frequencies and came up with several principal components. One was the component that reflected the migration of early Neolithic farmers. Another was a north-south component “suggesting a correlation with climate.” The distribution of languages is also correlated with climate to some degree.
The third principal component is extremely interesting…. It shows an expansion in an area north of the Caucasus and the Black and Caspian Seas, which the archeologist Marjia Gimbutas had already proposed as the homeland of Indo-European speakers.
And there’s a fifth component that’s associated with the Basques.
Similarly, Africa and Asia can be broken down into different genetic components showing waves of migration.
Posted by Sappho on December 1st, 2013 filed in Books
By now, most of us have heard of genetic “Eve” and “Adam,” the common female ancestor and common male ancestor, whom we share, as inferred from our DNA. This chapter discusses the pair (who didn’t necessarily live at the same time and place), and puts them in the context of what we know about early human evolution and the history of human migration.
Cavalli-Sforza ranges through discussion of the development of language (“There are no ‘primitive’ languages; the 5,000 or more spoken today are equally flexible and expressive …” and “There is some indirect evidence that modern human language reached its current state of development between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago. As the archaeologist Glynn Isaac has noticed, the Paleolithic cultures during this time show increased levels of local differentiation.”), time estimates, based on dating of genetic distances between populations, for when the continents were colonized, different methods of measuring genetic distances and reconstructing trees, and the meaning of the length of branches in trees.
Here the picture from the previous chapter, where non-Africans first branched from Africans, then Oceania split from the rest, then Europe from Asia, and then Native Americans from Asians, becomes complicated, particularly in Europe, where the length of the genetic branch suggests that Europeans are actually an admixture of Asians and Africans (so, first everyone branches from Africa, and then the Europeans who branch from Asia mix with new migrants from Africa). Cavalli-Sforza estimates that Europeans are about two-thirds Asian and one-third African. So much for European racial purity.
“Eve” is inferred from analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which we can only get from our mothers, while “Adam” is inferred from analysis of Y-DNA, which is passed from father to son. They both lived somewhere or other in Africa, with “Eve” living an estimated 190,000 years ago, and “Adam” living an estimated 144,000 years ago. These dates don’t show the time of departure from Africa; rather, they have to precede the “out of Africa” move, but those migrations can come any time after “Eve” and “Adam,” even much later.
And we get an introduction to principal components (and a similar technique called multidimensional scaling), which will be the topic of the next chapter. I’m not sure I can summarize this part well and briefly. At a broad enough level, all three methods (trees, principal components, and multidimensional scaling) agree about how humans migrated from Africa to the different continents. But there’s also finer grained analysis of individual populations, such as how endogamy affects the length of the branches of Basques, Jews, and Inuit, why Berbers cluster more with Europeans than with Sub-Saharan Africans, and the interpretation of the large genetic distances among African populations. And there’s stuff on the analysis of repeated DNA sequences.
In summary, a lot of explanation for a lay audience of how population geneticists figure out what they figure out (I guess that could well be my one sentence summary of the book as a whole).
Posted by Sappho on November 30th, 2013 filed in Books
Our obsession with fossils has distracted us from a much richer source of evolutionary information: genetic data, although largely restricted to living populations, can tell us a great deal about human history.
Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, Peoples, and Languages
Having explained in the first chapter that it’s possible to calculate genetic distance between pairs of populations, Cavalli-Sforza now shows how you can use these genetic distances to construct a tree that may tell us something about human history. He starts by comparing genetic distances between populations on several continents: Africa, Oceania, America (this means Native Americans, not us settlers), Europe, and Asia.
We first look for the smallest distance – the one between Native Americans and Asians. It is reasonable to expect that the longer the time of separation between two populations, the greater the genetic distance between them; the separation between Asia and America should therefore be the most recent fission of the tree.
In this way, taking the genetic distances one after another, Cavalli-Sforza constructs a tree in which first the ancestors of all of us non-Africans leave Africa (which has the largest genetic distance from everyone else), then Asia, America, and Europe branch off from Oceania, then Asia and America branch off from Europe, and then Asia and America split from each other. This is a very simplified tree, and the story will get complicated later in the book when Cavalli-Sforza talks about admixture. But it does roughly agree with archeological evidence. The possible trees get more complicated when you start multiplying the number of populations (“With ten populations there are 34,459,425 rooted trees and 2,027,025 unrooted trees …”). There is, besides, the question of whether, in trying to calculate the most likely tree, you can assume a uniform evolutionary rate.
And here we come to the next section of the chapter, “Evolutionary Mechanisms and Rates: Survival of the Fittest and of the Luckiest.”
From the beginning of modern genetics, four evolutionary forces have been recognized: mutation, which produces new genetic types; natural selection, the mechanism which automatically selects the mutated types best adapted to a particular environment; genetic drift, the random fluctuation of gene frequencies in populations; and migration, sometimes called gene flow.
If you see genes varying between one population and another (such as the fact that nearly all American Indians have a blood type of O, while the rest of the world has lots of people with A and B blood types), the cause may be drift (American Indians are descended from a small number of people who came from Asia to America, who just happened to have blood type O), or natural selection (O blood type was more adaptive in America for some reason, perhaps a matter of disease resistance, since that blood type is known to impart resistance to syphilis).
And here we get some interesting discussion of why some genes are way more variable from one population to another than others. Genes that impart an actual selective advantage can change their population frequency quite quickly, while genetic drift is slower. Some genes (such as the sickle cell anemia gene) are held in balance in a particular area by “heterozygote advantage,” where a person with one copy of each variety of the gene has an advantage over homozygotes (in the case of the sickle cell gene, malaria resistance without sickle cell anemia).
In the first chapter, Cavalli-Sforza had said that genes tied to surface appearance were among the most geographically variable, because they were differently selected in different climates; here he adds another category of genes that tend to change rapidly and vary a good deal from one population to another: the genes for immunity, which are in a continual arms race with the bacteria and viruses that they combat. Finally, genetic distances are affected by ongoing migration between groups (particularly of women, who often move to join husbands), and by founder effects, in which “A population that has had a very small number of founders, or later demographic bottlenecks, may show an inordinately long branch.”
You can see where computers are useful here. And also how racism (not discussed in this chapter, since Cavalli-Sforza dismissed it in the first chapter) can be a cognitive error as well as a moral one, because there really are adaptive reasons why some of the most variable genes are some of the most visible ones, making it easy to believe, if you want to, that all your favorite traits will slant in the direction of your preferred group by just as much.
Posted by Sappho on November 30th, 2013 filed in Blogwatch
David Dobbs has a huge round up of responses to the FDA’s action.
A couple of posts from his list that I found particularly interesting, in terms of explaining what the real sticking point may be between the FDA and 23andMe.
Stuart Hogarth: A red letter day for consumer genomics. I found this FDA-friendly take on the situation interesting because it gave some history on what led up to this conflict. Hogarth looks back to years ago, when DecodeMe and Navigant were still competing with 23andme in the direct to consumer genomics market. (Now 23andme’s only competitors in that market focus exclusively on the genealogical aspects of personal genomics, and skip the health reports.) At that time,
I think to understand this we need to go back to the FDA’s advisory committee meeting on consumer genomics, held in March 2011. I was invited to that meeting to give an overview on the regulatory trends across the globe, so had a ringside seat at this particular fight. Much of the subsequent internet discussion of the meeting focused on the panel’s view that most genetic tests should be offered through a physician. But in my opinion that was not the real meat of the meeting. The substance of the discussion was about science, not ethics. From that perspective the highlights of the meeting included a testy exchange between the panel and deCODE’s Jeff Gulcher on statistical issues such as the importance of pre-test probability, and the FDA’s presentation on the statistical challenges of validating polygenic genetic risk assessment (which was given by the scarily brainy Marina Kondratovich).
The critical question the FDA asked the panel was whether this class of tests should be held to the FDA’s statutory standard i.e. should be able to provide “clinically significant results”. Unsurprisingly the panel was not willing to operate a policy of genetic exceptionalism for consumer genomics companies and affirmed that this standard should be applied. But genetic exceptionalism was precisely what 23andme were asking for at the meeting: they suggested that FDA needed to redefine clinical validity to deal with their type class of tests. The FDA’s new warning letter suggests that much of the tension between company and agency is at this sticking point.
Michael Eisen: FDA vs. 23andMe: How do we want genetic testing to be regulated? Michael Eisen,
I am a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for 23andme, but I am writing here in my individual capacity as a geneticist who wants to see human genetic data used widely but wisely (although I obviously have an interest in the success of 23andme as a company – so I can not claim to be unbiased).
I see a wide range of opinions from my friends on this matter – ranging from “F**k the FDA – who are they to tell me what I can and can not learn about my DNA” to “Personalized genomics is snake oil and it’s great that the FDA is stepping in to regulate it”. I fall somewhere in the middle – I think there is great promise in personalized genetics, but at the moment it is largely unrealized. Looking at your own DNA is really interesting, but it only rarely provides actionable new information. I don’t think the FDA should restrict consumer access to their genotype or DNA sequence, but I do think the government has an important role to play in ensuring that consumers get accurate information and that the data are not oversold in the name of selling products….
The FDA wants to classify genetic tests like those offered by 23andme as medical devices, and to apply the appropriately strict criteria used for medical devices to genetic tests. But the problem with this is that contemporary genetic tests will almost certainly fail to meet these criteria, and I don’t see who benefits from that scenario. Genetic tests are simply not – at least not yet – medical devices in any meaningful sense of the word. They are far closer to family history than to an accurate diagnostic. The FDA and companies like 23andme need to come up with standards for accurately and honestly describing the current state of knowledge for genotype-phenotype linkages and their application to individual genotypes….
Random unrelated things that I ran across while tracking down information about the FDA and 23andMe:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on November 29th, 2013 filed in Books
Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, professor emeritus at Stanford University, is one of the most eminent population geneticists (and founder of the Human Genome Diversity Project). I’ve been curious about population genetics since getting my DNA tested (and run through various admixture programs, beside the 23andme one), so I checked out of the library Genes, Peoples, and Languages, Cavalli-Sforza’s summary of population genetics for lay people. There are six chapters; I’m going to blog about them one at a time.
Chapter One starts with a discussion of the causes of racism (“Each population believes that it is the best in the world. With few exceptions, people love the microcosm into which they are born and don’t want to leave it.”) and how little it is supported by science (“We shall also see that the variation between races, defined by their country of origin or other criteria, is statistically small despite the characteristics that influence our perception that races are different and pure. That perception is truly superficial – being limited to the body surface, which is determined by climate. Most likely only a small bunch of genes are responsible …”).
Cavalli-Sforza then proceeds to a brief discussion of ethnic variation in hidden traits, particularly the ABO blood group, which, for whatever reason, varies a lot from one ethnic group to another, so that B is much more common in East Asia than in other parts of the world, while nearly all Native Americans (98%) are of blood group O. Most genes don’t differ as sharply as that from one population to another, but it’s possible, by looking at the genes that do, to track genetic distances between different populations, and thus to reconstruct a history of human migration.
Cavalli-Sforza sees the cut off lines between different populations as somewhat arbitrary (“If we look at enough genes, the genetic distance between Ithaca and Albany in New York or Pisa and Florence in Italy is most likely to be significant, and therefore scientifically proven.”). But he does find some order to the variation: correlations between genetic distance and geographic or linguistic boundaries that reduce the frequency with which people find mates across the boundary. He also suggests that there’s a minimum size for a meaningful social group: five hundred people (the smallest group within which people can find mates without risk of deleterious inbreeding). Endogamy tends to generate both genetic and cultural variation, but cultural variation happens much more quickly than genetic variation.
I can’t think of a whole lot to comment on in this chapter, so I’ll leave my comments for later chapters. I will note, though, that Cavalli-Sforza’s light-hearted remark that “People in Pisa and Florence might be pleased that science had validated their ancient mistrust by demonstrating their genetic differences” reminds me of the time that, on an Internet discussion list, in Greek, for Greeks, I met someone from Kozani, the Greek city where my grandfather, Evangelos Gazis, was born and raised. This fellow informed me of an old rivalry between Kozani and the nearby town of Ptolemaida. I think, these days anyway, it’s a friendly rivalry, like the rivalry between Stanford and Berkeley, or the one between Harvard and Yale. But back in the ancient days of city-states, some of these rivalries between neighboring towns were much sharper.
Posted by Sappho on November 27th, 2013 filed in Health and Medicine, News and Commentary
“Warfarin (Coumadin) Sensitivity: Increased” Thus reads one of the lines in my 23andme drug response report. And it’s this line that’s one of the bones of contention between the FDA and 23andme.
Most of my and my family’s 23andme health results are not, in fact, all that actionable.
My mother’s at reduced risk for macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s. Yay! But, since Mom is nearly 80, the fact that she’s shows as at reduced risk for these diseases is evidence that 23andme, in this case, got right the fact that Mom sure enough doesn’t yet have macular degeneration or Alzheimer’s than a solid prediction that she’ll be spared in the future. Once you reach 80, all bets are off on whether your genes will continue to protect you from any age related illnesses at all. The one condition for which Mom’s at greatest increased risk is, sure enough, something that already happened to her, so that 23andme, here, doesn’t tell us anything that family medical history didn’t tell us already.
I’m at increased risk of stomach cancer. But that increase is a jump from a 0.08% chance that I’ll get stomach cancer by the time I’m 80 to a whole 0.07% chance. I think it’s time to start making out my will.
I’m also at somewhat increased risk of atrial fibrillation and at somewhat reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Both conditions are so common that my reaction to the news of my not all that altered risk should be:
Get regular physical activity
Eat a heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
Manage high blood pressure
Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine
Maintain a healthy weight
In other words, exactly the same things I already should be doing. And the same things that I should have been doing if the increased risk had been for coronary heart disease and the reduced risk for atrial fibrillation, since the two conditions have basically the same lifestyle recommendations for prevention.
Even my health insurance company needn’t care much about my new risk assessment, since the increased and decreased risks cancel each other out, and in any case are far outweighed by the fact that I’m a cancer survivor. The particular cancer that I survived isn’t one of the ones for which 23andme provides a risk assessment, and, in any case, the genetic counselor that I saw after my treatment concluded, after reviewing my family history, that mine was unlikely to be a genetically determined cancer. (No, I didn’t smoke, and no, it wouldn’t have mattered for this particular cancer. Sometimes cancer just happens, and you deal with it as it comes.)
It’s reassuring to find, among my obesity gene results, the one that say that I’m predisposed to respond well to a Mediterranean diet. Great! My best obesity prevention strategy is the one that involves something I already enjoy. Pass the olive oil.
The lab is used by my doctor as an actual diagnostic to decide on real medical treatment.
The 23AM report is used by me to go “wow, I have 3% Mongolian ancestry”.
But that’s before we get to warfarin. If my other health results basically tell me to do what I should have been doing anyway, my drug response results are another story. Most of my 23andme results involve typical response, but several stand out:
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Posted by Sappho on November 26th, 2013 filed in News and Commentary
A while back, the FDA notified 23andme that they needed FDA approval for the part of their service that involves reporting on genes that predispose you to health risks, medication response, etc. 23andme then submitted an application for FDA approval. It seems that application has now hit a snag.
Some news organizations, in the process of reporting on this dispute, referenced a report last year by United Healthcare, one of the country’s largest health insurance companies. Here is that report. It says nothing about 23andme directly, but does survey patients and doctors about genetic testing in general, and expresses United Healthcare’s concerns about such tests (including UHC’s suggestions for how such tests should be regulated).
Lots of commentary, of which I don’t have time right now to do a round up; I just wanted to save links to these particular sources, so I don’t lose track of them in the sea of commentary.
Round up on Conscription, Rape, Zeroth Order Assumptions, End of Life, Suicide, etc., and the “hammer-strokes of daily life”
Posted by Sappho on November 21st, 2013 filed in Blogwatch
I’m raising, from the comments, a link Andrew Shields just gave me, to a post which asks about a claim that Urdu doesn’t have a word for rape (it does), leading to an interesting discussion in the comments about words for rape in many languages (and whether the words imply anything about cultural attitudes).
Robin on Cups of Tea and Hammer-strokes
…We were welded man and wife
By hammer-strokes of daily life.
[Bold emphasis mine]
I think these two images, the kind gestures of the cups of tea we bring each other, and the hammer-strokes of daily life, are both key to marriage and to meeting-life.
It takes time and active participation to be part of a meeting, just as marriage takes work and attention. It’s the same drudgery of washing dishes or making a budget work. The important conversations (and cups of tea) at the kitchen table late at night or in clearness committees for marriage or membership. The misunderstandings, getting hot under the collar, practicing forgiveness and receiving forgiveness, year after year. This is what makes a meeting or a marriage.
Posted by Sappho on November 20th, 2013 filed in News and Commentary, Race
Way back when George Zimmerman was arrested, after considerable public outcry, for the killing of Trayvon Martin, I thought that I would be satisfied whatever the outcome of the trial might be. Because, after all, we’re not still the country where Emmett Till’s killer went free, right? We have a black President, right? So I figured, either Zimmerman would be convicted, or, if he was acquitted, it would be for all the usual reasons that people are sometimes acquitted. Reasonable doubt. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
I wasn’t prepared, by the time of the acquittal, to see polls saying the majority of white people were relieved at the verdict. I wasn’t prepared for an acquittal accompanied by so many people apparently convinced that Zimmerman was actually right, for earnest explanations that people who saw him as guilty were ignoring the “facts.” (I had followed the trial, and the “facts” in this case always involved cherry picking any bit of testimony that might support Zimmerman’s account, leaving out any fact that might call it in question, and arguing, not doubt or uncertainty, but a firm assurance that Zimmerman was the victim, here.) I wasn’t prepared for people insistent that Trayvon Martin was a thug who, with a clear avenue of escape, had turned around, come back, and attacked Zimmerman with the sidewalk, out of sheer cussedness. I wasn’t prepared for so many people arguing that only blind political correctness could make me see the case otherwise (I couldn’t possibly be scared for the safety of my own nephews), and, “hey, look, Matt Yglesias admitted that the guys who mugged him were black!” I wasn’t prepared for people taking up a collection to get Zimmerman a gun again.
So, now a few months have passed. During those few months, Zimmerman was brought in, but not charged, for domestic violence, in a case involving his wife. And now he’s back in court, this time charged, with domestic violence against his new girl friend. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about Zimmerman’s version of events, in which he is, again, the victim, and his now estranged girl friend the violent one.
It may well be true that, against all his strivings, trouble stalks George Zimmerman. It may be true that George Zimmerman never pointed a shotgun at his girlfriend’s face. That Ms. Scheibe smashed a table, took his stuff, started throwing it and then called 911 on herself. That she was simply being poetic when she said “you pointed your gun in my freaking face and told me get the fuck out” and then added “he knows how to do this. He knows how to play this game.”
And it may be true that in September when Zimmerman’s estranged wife, Shelly Zimmerman, claimed that he had punched her father and threatened them with a gun she was embellishing*. That when she called 911 and said “I’m really afraid. I don’t know what he’s capable of. I’m really scared,” she was suffering some form of hallucination. That Zimmerman had not smashed his wife’s iPad. That it was his wife that assaulted him with it. That Shelly’s father had challenged Zimmerman to a fight.
And it may well be true that Trayvon Martin was empowered by a heretofore unknown strain of marijuana which confers super strength. That in a fit of Negroid rage, a boy with no criminal history decided to ambush a hapless neighborhood watchman. That the boy told Zimmerman, “You gonna die tonight, motherfucker,” punched him, banged his head against the concrete repeatedly and then reached for his gun. That in killing the boy, Zimmerman rid the world of a gun-runner and drug dealer….
Only God knows what George Zimmerman did on that rainy night in Sanford. God is not in the habit of talking—because we are not in the habit of listening.
Posted by Sappho on November 19th, 2013 filed in Feminism
261. (a) Rape is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator, under any of the following circumstances:
(4) Where a person is at the time unconscious of the nature of the act, and this is known to the accused. As used in this paragraph,
“unconscious of the nature of the act” means incapable of resisting because the victim meets any one of the following conditions:
(A) Was unconscious or asleep.
264. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (c), rape, as defined in Section 261 or 262, is punishable by imprisonment in the state
prison for three, six, or eight years.
California Penal Code
Andrew Sullivan recently had an interesting thread on rape and double standards. It began with a post about someone who was disturbed by a profile of Chris Brown that ‘notes in passing that the performer “lost his virginity” at age 8 to a teenaged girl.’
The bottom line here is that Chris Brown was sexually assaulted as a child – legally and practically speaking. We wish that wasn’t the case. If Chris Brown had been a girl, it’s unlikely that the Guardian or we would publish this information without more comment about the admission.
It’s a fair point, and I’m happy to agree that boys and men should be protected from sexual assault by women, just as girls and women should be protected from sexual assault by men. But some of the follow up posts in which men describe their experiences lead me to insist on a clarification. If there’s to be a single standard, for men and women, as to what constitutes sexual assault, that standard needs to be:
- A standard set by what would be perceived as a violation or assault by the smaller, weaker sex, that can more easily be pinned down and forced, not one set by the bigger, larger sex.
- A standard set by the sex that is penetrated, not by the sex that is enveloped.
- For defining actual rape, that is against the law, and where being guilty can put you in prison for years, the definition should be confined to things that anyone, even someone who is young or stupid or socially clumsy, is capable of perceiving.
- Anything that involves getting someone else to have sex with you when you know you’re disregarding what the other person actually wants should be considered creepy as all get out, and this should include things that wouldn’t and shouldn’t legally be considered rape (because you know you’re disregarding what the other person wants, but what you’re doing is not so obvious that someone sufficiently young, stupid, or socially clumsy might not do it by accident, or that someone could prove to a jury of twelve of your peers what you must have known what you in fact did know).
Posted by Sappho on November 17th, 2013 filed in Moral Philosophy, Race, Theology
A while back, I was blogging about forgiveness, and I decided I wanted to blog about something I remembered Malcolm X saying, that to me represented a kind of cautious and hard-headed forgiveness. What I remembered reading was something like, “You have to give a man an out. He may be a snake and not take it, but you have to give him an out.” And so I went to the library to look at The Autobiography of Malcolm X (if we have it here, it’s still packed in the garage from the great “Lynn has cancer” house cleaning last year). I couldn’t find that quote. Maybe I misremembered it, or maybe I just didn’t look in the right place. I did, though, find some others. I discovered my notes again, today, when cleaning my purse. One of the things I’d written down was the title of this post. Another was:
“I have adjusted my thinking to the point where I believe that whites are human beings” – a significant pause – “as long as this is borne out by their humane attitude toward Negroes.”
And these two quotes, after all, make more or less the same point as the one I didn’t find: I’m willing to give you an out, but, recognizing that you may, like Pharaoh, harden your heart, I’ll still keep an eye on you to see whether your actions merit giving you further trust.
Posted by Sappho on November 12th, 2013 filed in News and Commentary
I don’t normally blog much about climate change (though I do often share links with my friends on Facebook). I have my reasons.
First, I work for a company that does catastrophe modeling, and supplies those models to insurance companies, so the effect of climate change on natural disasters is relevant to my company’s work. The people in our modeling group who work on these models probably know a lot more about the effect of climate change on hurricanes and typhoons (what it’s likely to be, how much we actually know about what it’s likely to be) than you do, unless you’re expert. They certainly know a lot more than I do.
Second, my job at that company has nothing to do with producing the models. I’m in software test. So I probably don’t know a lot more than you do about climate change, even if you’re not particularly expert. I may have access to a few sources you don’t, if you don’t follow the topic especially closely, since I hear about what insurance industry sources are saying about climate change (and insurance companies do care about it, these days). But I’m no expert.
Third, since I blog in my own name, if I blog on a topic that have something to do with my company’s work, there’s the risk that things will get confused. I don’t speak for my company. I’m not entitled to speak for my company. I don’t have the expertise, on this topic, that my company has, collectively. And I do have political views that are my own personal views, and that my company doesn’t share. It’s my company’s job to let insurance companies know what the probability is of natural disasters and how those natural disasters will affect their bottom line, not to make policy recommendations on carbon taxes, or cap and trade, or nuclear power, or any of the other issues on which your understanding of climate change may drive your policy views.
Climate change is both, in some respects, a matter of settled science (basically about 98% of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing and that human activity, carbon emissions in particular, drives a significant portion of that change), and, in some respects, a matter for legitimate political debate (there are a lot of different ways you can respond to the news that carbon emissions are changing our climate, some of which may be dumb, but others of which may be reasonably different views on the best policy).
All that said, here’s why I’m posting now. In my link round up yesterday, I included a link to a speech by Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, at the UN climate talks. As fate would have it, this current round of climate talks happens just as Typhoon Haiyan/Typhoon hit the Philippines, and Yeb Sano responds forcefully.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on November 11th, 2013 filed in News and Commentary
EQECAT CatWatch report: Extremely Dangerous Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) to Strike the Philippines Friday Morning as a Category 5. (Full disclosure: I work for EQECAT in software quality assurance. This is my personal blog. On this blog, I don’t speak for EQECAT in any way.)
On the NASA JPL web site: NASA Peers Into One of Earth’s Strongest Storms Ever. You can also see photos on the NASA Earth Observatory Facebook stream.
Bipartisan call for national calamity declaration aired in the Philippines.
From Doctors Without Borders: Typhoon Haiyan: MSF Emergency Teams Arrive in Cebu; Cargo Flights of Supplies Begin Tomorrow
Philippines climate negotiator Yeb Sano, at the UN Climate summit, is fasting during the conference until meaningful progress is made on climate change. Here is his emotional plea to the conference.
Posted by Sappho on November 8th, 2013 filed in News and Commentary
Emily Bazelton, in Slate, September 25, 2013, on Why Do We Tolerate Revenge Porn?
… In her forthcoming book Hate 3.0, University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron tells the story of a Florida graduate student who found herself the subject of revenge porn—nude photos and a sexual video. A profile including the images, as well as her name and email address, appeared on a website for soliciting sex from strangers, and then someone emailed the photos to her boss and her co-workers. Search for her name on Google, and the first 10 pages to come up were entry after entry of the images and humiliating captions. The woman ended up changing her name to Holly Jacobs: She felt she had no choice because she “wanted a professional future,” she told Citron. And then the local government posted her request for the name change online, ruining her chance to start over.
Jacobs founded the website End Revenge Porn, and she also tried to fight back by going to the local police the FBI, and by contacting the sites that hosted the nude photos and the video. None of it worked. There was nothing law enforcement could do, she was told. And because the site operators had no legal responsibility to take the revenge porn down, trying to get the images deleted turned into “a nightmare game of whack-a-mole, which she kept losing,” Citron writes….
Cathy Reisenwitz, at Talking Points Café, on Revenge Porn Is Awful, But The Law Against It Is Worse
As the ACLU has discussed, such laws can be used to censor photos with political importance. As Jess Rem pointed out for Reason magazine, people such as Jeff Hermes, Director of the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard, share this concern about the law. Hermes has stated that revenge porn laws could have kept former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) nude selfies legally suppressed.
Hermes said to take, for example:
“Circumstances where photographs exist of a political candidate who has run their campaign on their squeaky-clean image,” but there are photographs of that candidate in a compromising position. “The distribution of these photos could indicate (to voters) that candidate might be lying about their past.”
The difficulty in differentiating newsworthy stories and smut is the reason it’s important to keep even uncomfortable speech free. Another important kind of speech the law might forbid is a photo or video which contains evidence of a crime.
Danielle Citron replies, on Slate, with How to Make Revenge Porn a Crime without Trampling Free Speech.
In 2013, the Florida state attorney’s office charged Jacobs’ ex-boyfriend with a misdemeanor count of cyberstalking. The case was progressing. Investigators traced one of the porn posts to her ex’s IP address. Investigators told Jacobs that they needed a warrant to search his computer for further evidence because her ex claimed that he had been hacked. He denies releasing Jacobs’ pictures. And last month, the charges against him were dismissed when prosecutors decided they could not justify seeking a warrant for a misdemeanor case. Their hands were tied, they said.
“I’ve been hacked” is a standard defense in cyberstalking cases. The main way to disprove it is for the police to get a warrant to search a defendant’s computer or home. States can make sure this happens by treating the posting of revenge porn as a felony. That would have made a difference in the way that Florida prosecutors handled Jacobs’ case….
Free speech advocates worry that revenge porn laws are too broad and vague, and thus risk chilling protected speech. Is there a collision here with the First Amendment? These concerns are real, but not insurmountable. Careful and precise drafting is the key. Revenge porn laws can and should make clear that it is a crime to distribute someone’s sexually explicit images without consent if those images do not concern matters of public importance. Worded that way, a law wouldn’t apply, for example, to the woman who published Anthony Weiner’s crotch shots. Revenge porn laws should also make clear that to win a conviction, prosecutors must show that the poster of the revenge porn intended to do harm. They should only punish the person who distributes sexually explicit photos knowing that the subject expected them to be kept confidential. We don’t want revenge porn statutes to make criminals of teenagers who sext with friends, who then foolishly share them with other friends, without knowing they are breaching someone’s confidence and trust. And statutes may need to require proof that the victim suffered harm, emotional, economic, or otherwise, to ensure that they are not too broad….
Citron links Eugene Volokh, lawyer and free speech advocate, who agrees that a suitably narrow law could outlaw revenge porn without running afoul of the First Amendment (though he seems to have slightly different ideas from Citron as to the best way to make said law suitably narrow).
Readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of laws imposing liability for disclosure of private facts about a person and laws that criminalize saying offensive things about a person. In particular, I think (for reasons discussed in this article) that speech restrictions that exempt speech with a “legitimate purpose” are likely unconstitutionally vague.
But I do think that a suitably clear and narrow statute banning nonconsensual posting of nude pictures of another, in a context where there’s good reason to think that the subject did not consent to publication of such pictures, would likely be upheld by the courts. While I don’t think judges and juries should be able to decide, on a case-by-case basis, which statements about a person aren’t of “legitimate public concern” and can therefore be banned, I think courts can rightly conclude that as a categorical matter such nude pictures indeed lack First Amendment value.
Of course, I can imagine a few situations in which such depictions might contribute to public debates. But those situations are likely to be so rare that the law’s coverage of them wouldn’t make it “substantially” overbroad (even if the “no legitimate purpose” proviso is seen as too vague to exclude those valuable nonconsensual depictions of nudity). Any challenges to the law based on such unusual cases would therefore have to be to the law as applied in a particular case. A facial challenge asking that the law be invalidated in its entirety, based on just these few unconstitutional applications, would not succeed.
I’ve linked and quoted all of these because I want to make it clear that I see two kinds of debate about “revenge porn” laws. One is the kind of discussion that’s going on among Bazelton, Reisenwitz, Citron, and Volokh. It’s a discussion about how to balance legitimate concerns. Sharing nude photos or videos with your long distance steady boy friend, with the understanding that the photos are private, should not give said boy friend, once he becomes your ex, the right to post said photos or videos to public amateur porn sites, without your permission and with your full name and email address, in an effort to get random strangers to contact you for sex, ruin your professional reputation, and generally wreck your life. And, at the same time, it’s easy, when drafting laws to outlaw a particular kind of speech that looks genuinely awful, to make the law overly broad, and it’s important to keep in mind the concerns of people like Reisenwitz, so that you do make the law suitably narrow. Nonconsensual publishing of nude photos doesn’t seem, in general, to be a kind of speech that deserves a lot of protection, and it’s probably possible to draft a law that preserves that freedom in the few cases where that kind of speech does need protection (such as, politician is tweeting crotch shots to his younger and prettier female followers). Not being a lawyer, I’ll defer to people like Volokh as to how such a law can be made suitably narrow.
At the same time, there’s also an argument that goes on about “revenge porn” laws that’s really creepy. I saw the link to Citron’s article on my Facebook feed. About half the comments on the post expressed vehement disagreement with Citron. But not, “revenge porn is awful, but broad prohibitions could criminalize free speech that’s important” objections, like Reisenwitz’s. Instead, the objections were more along the lines of:
- I don’t have any sympathy with people stupid enough to do that.
- Or you could just not record porn of yourself. Problem solved.
- Don’t give your nude photo to a dickhead boyfriend.
Etc. These aren’t direct quotes (because a glitch is preventing me from loading that FB feed right now), but they’re a pretty good summary of the kinds of objections people were making. And that creeps me out.
Let’s start with the “who would be stupid enough to share a nude photo” objection, shall we? I was single back in the Dark Ages when everyone didn’t carry a pocket sized camera around everywhere. My college camera got stolen (along with my jewelry box and all my jewelry) early in my college career, before I had an actual college sex life. And my college exes, for one reason or another, were similarly camera-less when I was seeing them. So none of us had occasion to get nude photos of each other. But I have to wonder. Let’s say that you slept with me in college. Let’s say that my camera didn’t get stolen. Let’s say that one day, after we’ve been sleeping together for a while, there we are, naked together, and I pull out my camera, and ask you if I can take a shot of you in all your glory. Are you really telling me that all the guys I slept with would have said no to that request, that only a stupid person would have such a photo taken? Because I find that hard to believe. I’m guessing that at least one of these clever Stanford guys would have thought that was a great idea. I’m guessing that it’s actually pretty natural for people who trust each other with their naked bodies to actually, you know, trust each other.
And so I move on to the next objection, the “don’t give your nude photo to a dickhead” objection. This objection is the one where the person making it agrees that, yes, some people sleeping together will share sexy images, but argues that normal people don’t then broadcast those images after a breakup, your ex did, and that was your fault for picking such a dickhead ex.
OK, raise your hands, everyone who at one time or another went out with someone who proved to be a dickhead. That’s a lot of hands, right? Seriously, do you think only an exceptionally stupid person ever, even once, makes a mistake in romantic judgment, and find out later that he or she has been sleeping with a jerk? Because that doesn’t strike me as the world that I live in.
It’s true that there are many dickhead moves that none of my personal exes have done. And I like to think that at least part of that is that I managed to select carefully to avoid at least those particular dickhead moves. But I’m not so firm a believer in my lifelong ability not to pick dickheads as to judge someone an incredible fool, who ever trusts a dickhead even once. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, no, you don’t gain the right to post my intended to be private nude photo, with my full name and contact information, to a site for photos of people soliciting sex from strangers, just because I was once foolish enough not to see what a dickhead you really were.
You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of
it: I loved you not.
I was the more deceived.
Can we agree that there are some things Hamlet doesn’t get to do to Ophelia, without her consent, simply because she “was the more deceived,” and confine our arguments to how to craft laws such that the areas covered by the law are suitably narrow? Or must people insist that the fact that Ophelia “was the more deceived,” all by itself, makes her unworthy of any sympathy if someone she once loved betrays her.
Posted by Sappho on November 7th, 2013 filed in Blogwatch
One of the difficulties of genetic genealogy is distinguishing between which shared segments actually indicate shared descent in a genealogical timeframe (called “Identical By Descent”), and which are from longer ago, perhaps only pointing toward being part of a shared population (called “Identical By State” or sometimes “false positives”). Different DNA testing companies use different algorithms for trying to supply good matches without too many bad ones. Dienekes Pontikos has a post on a recent article on Dealing with false positive IBD segments. (or “Reducing pervasive false positive identical-by-descent segments detected by large-scale pedigree analysis”).
X DNA has a complicated pattern of inheritance, since men only get it from their mothers, while women get it from both parents. Here are some links on X DNA inheritance:
I meant to link a post explaining why so many of your cousins may turn out to be at the distant end of the ranges your DNA testing company gives for how related they should be, but I can’t find where I saved the link. The gist of it, though, was this point: We have many, many, many more distant cousins than close ones. So, if you share, say, 11 cM with a cousin, that’s enough that you can hope to find a traceable connection, but, of all the people who preserved that 11 cM segment, if your ancestors were reasonably prolific, your more distant cousins will still wind up outnumbering your closer ones.
Posted by Sappho on November 5th, 2013 filed in Feminism
Echidne of the Snakes has a thoughtful take on the latest blogosphere discussion about how best to approach rape prevention. It’s all worth reading (the blog post I’d have liked to write, but couldn’t find the right words for), but I was particularly struck by her conclusion.
Finally, and from my personal life: This is the time of the year (near the day when the dead are on our minds) when I send love and good thoughts to the memory of a man I only met once, a long time ago, when I was in my teens and he was about eighty.
He was out walking his dachshund, clad in a dapper suit, about seven pm on an October night. I happened to be walking on the same street, going to a study meeting at my friend’s house (exams!).
Suddenly, a man in his forties, smelling of alcohol (SEE!), grabbed me from behind, tore my long coat and pulled out large chunks of my hair by the roots. I screamed for help. A couple on the other side of the street made some comment about a marital quarrel (honestly). I managed to pull myself free and ran up the street (a steep hill at that point), all the time calling for help and for someone to call the police (before cell phones, my sweetings), while my attacker was stumbling after me.
The only person who crossed the street was the old man with the dachshund. He came to me, asking if I was all right, if I would like me to walk him to wherever I was going. His hands were shaking, but he was there.
I have never forgotten that, and in recent years I light a candle to his memory. A good person.
Posted by Sappho on November 4th, 2013 filed in Classes, Lectures, and Conferences
I went to the Southland Technology Conference on Friday and Saturday. This conference is held in Long Beach every year, and is sponsored by several Southern California professional groups for project managers, quality assurance people, and business analysts. It has four tracks: a project management and business analyst track, a quality assurance track, a personal development track, and a track on social media, mobile computing, and cloud (these tracks have changed over the years, but this is what they are now). I took notes, and will be blogging notes on some of the sessions, but right now, in the small amount of time I have before I get ready for work, I’ll just give you an overview of what I attended.
The opening key note was by Andrea Hoy, Chief Information Security Officer for Schools First, and was on Cyber Security. I’ve attended a session by her at a previous SoTec, but things are always changing in the world of cyber security, so some parts of her address this year were new, including some discussion of Big Data Analytics (NoSQL, Hadoop, the NSA data collection effort).
I next went to a panel discussion of Quality Assurance and Industry Trends (a lot of this involved redefining the QA role in the context of offshoring).
Then I went to a session on Change Management. This talk compared different organizational processes for handling change management and talked about how to reduce the proportion of changes that fail and the proportion that have to be made as emergency changes.
The second key note was by Mario Leone, the COO at DocVerify and an adjunct professor at Chapman University, on Managing New Technology Products and Services in a Corporate Setting. “We have gone back to the cloud” from starting on mainframes. “You hold in your hand the new dumb terminal.”
I then went to a session by Bob Yates of Microsoft on Cloud Economics and How to Get There. He talked about different cloud models that are available and what’s involved in transitioning some of your enterprise to the cloud.
Finally, the session I found most interesting that day, one by Hasan Hboubati on “Big Data is here to stay, now what?” Big Data has always been there, but collection , storage, and analysis is easier than ever. One day’s worth of Big Data today could fill 144 MetLife Stadiums. He talked about “Dataification” (“Facebook has dataified our friend network”), marketing use of our “Data Exhaust,” “Big Brother and Big Data,” and “the people’s data movement” (check out Data.Gov). Hasan Hboubati has a blog at BigDataIsHere.blogspot.com.
The first key note was by Daryl Pelc of Boeing, about Boeing’s use of rapid prototyping, for products like Phantom Eye (border monitoring, port security), Phantom Phoenix (a small satellite), Phantom Fusion (software), Phantom Swift (a DARPA X-Plane), etc.
I then went to a talk by Sarita Magbin on How to Get More Done with Less Stress (which had some reference to the work of Martin Seligman).
Following that I went to a talk by Platinum Edge on Agile Estimation, and why it’s really more accurate than waterfall estimation. “Many people have clung to this 1940s WWII model because they believe it gives them less risk and more control” but the opposite is true. “Raise your hand if you knew at the beginning of a project how many defects you would have.” In Agile, you can extrapolate from Sprint 1.
I next went to a talk by Magdy Hanna on Agile and Testing. (“Write down your objectives. Once you have your objectives written down, you’d better have a list of actions to do, or else you’re bluffing.” “There’s no requirements that are good enough, including the ones I write,” so you have to test beyond the requirements, and include “negative scenarios.”)
After lunch on Saturday, we had a Birds of a Feather networking session where we went to different tables to discuss common interests. I went to a table where we talked about getting women and black and Latino people of both sexes involved in STEM. The woman leading that discussion works with a program called STEM Advantage that is working to arrange mentors and internships for students at Cal State Dominguez.
The final key note of the conference was by Kim Terry on The Virtual Enterprise at Guthy-Renker, LLC. Guthy Renker, LLC produces infomercials and media spots and fulfills orders from these spots; the talk was about determining what parts of that work would be done by Guthy-Renker, what would be outsourced, and how the cloud would be used to connect the Guthy-Renker parts and the outsourced parts.
I plan to gradually blog my notes from this talk (but will probably be interspersing those posts with other posts, since I also want to blog an unrelated book that I’m reading, Genes, Peoples, and Languages, by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza).
Posted by Sappho on October 30th, 2013 filed in Blogwatch
I meant to blog these last week, when I expected to be away from the blog for a few days taking care of other business (such as our DBSA chapter’s first actual official board meeting – we’ve decided it’s time to move from informal board communications to actual meetings). I see I left the post as a draft and didn’t hit publish, so I’ll blog the links now, along with a few more.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, ‘In a Starving, Bleeding, Captive Land’
The United States of Attitude matches your mood to your optimal state. Supposedly, I belong in North Carolina, apparently not relaxed enough for California (where I actually live), not temperamental enough for New York (where I grew up), and too creative and unconventional for the rest of the South. Or something.
Dienekes Pontikos on A Persian in China (Y chromosome of Sayyid Ajjal).
One from my husband: Did Snakes Help Build the Primate Brain?
Another from Dienekes, about a paper on admixture of populations in Afghanistan.
We’ve had the story of the blonde girl taken from a Roma camp in Greece, who turned out to be ethnic Roma after all (though from a different Roma mother who gave her up for adoption, rather than the Roma parents with whom she was found). And there was a blonde and blue eyed Roma girl removed from her parents in Ireland, who turned out, based on genetic tests, to be the child of the parents from whom she had been removed. And Cyprus police are doing DNA tests on a young Roma man with light brown hair, following claims that he may be the kidnapped toddler Ben Needham, all grown up. In The Roma have multitudes, Razib Khan explains why “in an admixed population like the Roma it shouldn’t be that unusual to have offspring who deviate a great deal from the parental phenotype.” Or, to put it another way, yes, you can be the blonde and blue-eyed child of darker parents, as long as your parents come from a population that mingled with blonde and blue-eyed people, as is true of Roma (and some other mostly not so blonde groups).
Posted by Sappho on October 28th, 2013 filed in Family
Today is Ohi Day, the anniversary of 28 October 1940, the day Metaxas said no to Mussolini’s demand that Greece allow Axis forces into the country. Dienekes Pontikos posts an old documentary clip in honor of the occasion.
And, as fate would have it, today, also, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post, from several days ago, When Plunder Becomes a System of Governance, in which he reflects on Tony Judt’s account of what it was like to live under Nazi occupation, as my father and his family did. There’s a second part to his post, in which he draws a parallel to the experience of blacks in this country.
Theft is the essence of atrocity—if only the theft of dignity and life. Indeed, where I forced to to offer one word to sum up black people’s historical relationship to the American state, “theft” is the first that would come to mind. Theft of labor and theft of family in slavery. Theft of life through lynching and pogrom. Theft of franchise in half the country.
And in that second half, I know, I have ancestors among the plunderers, just as, in WWII, I have family among the plundered. But as today is Ohi Day, today it’s that first half on which I want to comment. TNC writes,
In Postwar, Tony Judt evokes the chaos of living under the thumb of Nazi Germany:
It is misleading to think of the German occupation of continental Europe as a time of pacification and order under the eye of an omniscient and ubiquitous power. Even in Poland, the most comprehensively policed and repressed of all the occupied territories, society continued to function in defiance of the new rulers: the Poles constituted for themselves a parallel underground world of newspapers, schools, cultural activities, welfare services, economic exchange and even an army—all of them forbidden by the Germans and carried on outside the law and at great personal risk.
But that was precisely the point. To live normally in occupied Europe meant breaking the law: in the first place the laws of the occupiers (curfews, travel regulations, race laws, etc) but also conventional laws and norms as well. Most common people who did not have access to farm produce were obliged, for example, to resort to the black market or illegal barter just to feed their families. Theft—whether from the state, from a fellow citizen or from a looted Jewish store—was so widespread that in the eyes of many people it ceased to be a crime. Indeed, with gendarmes, policemen and local mayors representing and serving the occupier, and with the occupying forces themselves practicing organized criminality at the expense of selected civilian populations, common felonies were transmuted into acts of resistance (albeit often in post-liberation retrospect).
And this, yes, is how I remember my father’s stories of war. After my grandfather had died fighting off Mussolini’s forces, and after German troops swept into the Balkans and occupied Greece, this is what the family’s life was like. Uncle George, the eldest, left home at the age of 16 to join a band of guerrillas. Dad, the next in line, put together a radio to listen to Allied stations, the news that Greeks were forbidden to hear. At first, he said, he even lied to his mother, claiming he was going to listen to the radio at a friend’s house, but in time she guessed to whom the radio belonged. When Italy surrendered, and Italian troops left in a hurry, Dad and one of his younger brothers both took what guns they could (and the local guerrillas, in their turn, took the guns from Dad and his brother, and I presume from any other younger boys into whose hands guns may have fallen). And those are only the things forbidden by Germans that I know of. I know that the Germans took what they pleased, and those who were occupied went hungry. When visiting a cousin in Greece, I saw a photo of one of my uncles from that time, looking half starved. Someone, perhaps one of the younger generation commenting on my uncle’s appearance, had written on that photo the name of a concentration camp.
To get by in occupied Europe, one broke the law. So, in the words of the Greek resistance song from which I draw the title of this post, “I’ll swipe them, I’ll swipe them, I’ll swipe the gas-cans off their trucks.”