Thursday, May 21, 2015

19 Indictments and Counting

One aphorism I firmly believe is "scratch a moralist, reveal a pervert". Well, once again, this adage is proved true- one of the Duggar children is a child molestor. As if that weren't horrific enough, via Tengrain, we learn that Bad Touch Duggar had a job that he was particularly unsuited for:

You cannot make this shit up: Josh Duggar is now resigned from anti-gay Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council, where he was a lobbyist working on keeping predator gays away from kids

Leave it to a bunch of fundies to hire an actual monster to perpetrate character assassination on "undesirables". I can't even muster any schadenfreude here because of the hideous nature of Duggar's crimes. I sincerely hope that his sisters find the courage to leave the fundamentalist fold. In the meantime, all of those "family values" candidates who have been photographed with the guy are going to have a hell of a time shoving all of their adulation for the Duggars down the memory hole.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Reconstructing Human History, Understanding Health Variants

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring computational geneticist Dr Joe Pickrell of the New York Genome Center and Genomes Unzipped. Dr Pickrell's subject for his lecture was the use of genome sequencing for reconstructing human history and for understanding health variants.

As of 2015, approximately 1% of the population of the United States has undergone genome sequencing. It is technologically feasible to sequence the genomes of hundreds of millions of persons.

Dr Pickrell gave us a quick overview of human genetics- a typical human's DNA is contained in 46 chromosomes, 23 of which are inherited from each parent. There are four distinct bases in a DNA molecule: Guanine, Adenine, Cytosine, and Thymine. The human genome is composed of 3.3 billion bases, and different people vary at millions of these sites. Most of these genetic differences do nothing, therefore most genome variants are not informative about an individual's ancestry, but some differences are indicative. In one case, African ancestry can be inferred when an individual has an A-allele while individuals of East Asian descent tend to have a corresponding G-allele. It is useful to focus on a single "piece" of DNA- each piece has a different geneology. One question which can be asked is, "In each part of my genome, who are my closest ancestors?" The DNA record is valuable because it goes back further than the historical record, and can reveal much about what happened during human prehistory.

One promising area for the use of genome sequencing is elucidating the spread of agriculture from the Near East to the rest of Eurasia- agriculture reached as far as Scandinavia by approximately 4,000 BCE. Archaeological evidence, in the form of pottery styles, was used to make inferences about prehistoric cultural groups, with the dramatic spread of the Corded Ware Culture from 2,900-2,400 BCE being seen as evidence of a possible conquest. How does one interpret the spread of technology and languages? Was agriculture spread by conquerors who had the advantage of farming know-how, or was it simply a great idea that spread from group to neighboring group? Archaeologist M. Dores Cruz observed, "Pots are pots, not people." With genome sequencing, DNA can be connected to pottery types.

In order to determine the affinities of Neolithic populations, DNA samples were taken from different timepoints from a variety of archaeological sites. An ancestry analysis of modern Europeans indicates that they are the result of the mixture of several populations over the last ten thousand years- hunter-gatherers, Neolithic farmers, and Yamna invaders (known for their Kurgan... insert Clancy Brown reference... burials). These invaders came from the Eurasian steppes during the early Iron Age. Further back in prehistory, genetic analysis indicated that the genomes of Europeans has an admixture of Neanderthal DNA. The focus on Europe is because there has been a lot of collaboration between archaeologists and geneticists.

Evidence for migrations in Africa is largely linguistic, with the Niger-Congo language family being spread widely throughout Western and Southern Africa, with the Bantu languages being particularly widespread. In contrast, the Malagasy language has its roots in Borneo (which prompted a snarky bastard in the audience to joke to his drinking buddy about Lemuria).

The Neanderthal genome has now been sequenced, and it was discovered that non-African peoples have approximately 2% Neanderthal DNA, and it is possible that certain African populatiojns have .02% Neanderthal DNA. Dr Pickrell showed a hilariously "spicy" promo from a Sex in the Stone Age documentary to highlight the Neanderthal admixture. At any rate, everyone's ancestry involves population movements and mixtures.

Dr Pickrell then shifted to the topic of understanding variations in health- for instance, genetic predispositions to conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. There are genetic variants which are associated with disease. Among populations of African descent the Duffy null allele (which is absent from European and Asian populations) plays a role in resistance to malaria.

In the case of earwax, individuals of Eastern Asian tend to have dry earwax while populations of European and African descent tend to have wet earwax. Variation in the ABCC11 gene determines whether the earwax is wet or dry. Another genetic variation prevalent (a change in the EDAR gene) in populations of East Asian descent is associated with thick growth of scalp hair.

Genetic variants influence all traits- hundreds of genetic variations influence height, thousands of variants influence a predisposition to schizophrenia. From a therapeutic standpoint, the task is to find the important genetic variants and figure out how they work.

One important recent study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente, which sequenced the DNA of 100,000 of its members. In the case of Alzheimer's, allele frequency was graphed with age to predict the onset of death or incapacitation. Knowledge of the effect of different alleles could potentially lead to the ability to "edit" DNA in order to deliver a genetic variant more conducive to good health. The genome isn't the only factor, of course, epigenetic factors such as environmental conditions, smoking, and exercise also play a role.

After the lecture, there was an extended Q&A session. One audience member asked about the oldest usable DNA that has been found, which belonged to a 700,000 year old horse (alas, no pet dinosaurs... yet). Another audience member asked about the genetics of autism. Dr Pickrell indicated that the most severe forms of autism are due to de novo mutations, but that other forms of autism result from a combination of different alleles. My friend Neil, who has his ear to the ground regarding all sorts of events, asked about genetic differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, given the relatively small population size among their 2,000 year old ancestors (I'd chalk most population differences to epigenetic factors, such as the role of couscous vs latkes in the diet). Another audience member asked about the possible use of retroviruses to insert "corrections" into the DNA of individuals with genetic diseases. Riffing on this, some bastard in the audience asked about the timeline of the action of endogenous retroviruses- did they tend to accumulate early on in primate evolution? Did any significant retrovirus accretion take place after the big "out of Africa" movement of Homo sapiens? Dr Pickrell indicated that most of the endogenous retrovirus accretion took place long before H. sapiens made its debut, with a burst of activity occurring early on in primate evolution. Yet another audience member asked about the possibility of "genetic memory". Dr Pickrell noted that it is hotly debated, and that there is evidence that the Dutch famine of 1944 did play an epigenetic role that may have altered the genomes of its survivors' children.

Once again, the Secret Science Club served up a fantastic lecture, followed by a particularly spirited Q&A session. Dr Pickrell and his wife hung out at the bar for a good long time after the lecture, continuing the discussion. Kudos to the good doctor, the staff of the beautiful Bell House, and Margaret and Dorian!

Here's an hourlong lecture by Dr Pickrell for your education and enjoyment:

Crack open a beer or six and attempt to capture that Secret Science vibe...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Texas Prognostication

Reading about the Waco, Texas biker shootout that just took place, I have to predict that conspiracy loon Alex Jones is going to claim that the shootout was a pre-Jade Helm 15 false-flag operation that serves an amorphous, poorly defined purpose.

I have to confess that I listened to a show about the "Jade Helm" conspiracy on late-night Sasquatch radio last week (hey, I work overnight shifts, DON'T JUDGE ME!!!)- plus, I was really curious to hear what a lunatic evangelist millennarian who believes in the existence of giants had to say about a not-unprecedented training exercise that has taken on the stature of an "end of freedom" Ammopocalypse. It was a farrago of Russian troops, Chinese operatives disguised as Mexicans (ermagherd, MARXICANS!!!), drug cartels, and sinister UN forces. Seriously, Texholes, nobody's going to grab your guns. Of course, when all of this asshole's predictions come to naught, he won't even acknowledge that he was, at best, wrong (Eh, why mince words? he's a dangerous liar).

I don't seek out content by Alex Jones, but I will monitor Right Wing Watch to see if Jonesy has proven me right. As far as Jade Helm goes, a jade helm would probably protect one better than a tinfoil hat, but it's got to be a hell of a lot more expensive.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jerkass Dad is the Jew of Injured Toddler Fascism!

Via Roy, we have a horrifying anecdote recounted by Melissa Langsam Braunstein of "The Federalist" about the dumbest pundit in history in his role as (horror of horrors) a father:

Jonah Goldberg sounded endearingly clueless– since we gather his daughter’s alright now – as he described a fall she took during toddlerhood that resulted in a sizable forehead gash. Apparently, Goldberg was still new enough to parenting that he didn’t realize his daughter’s bloody face needed to be stitched up professionally. Luckily, his sister-in-law was able to advise via telephone and pass along the good advice to wait for a plastic surgeon at the hospital.

If his daughter hadn't have been alright, would Melissa Langsam Braunstein have found his cluelessness endearing? Better yet, if she were describing an African-American father treating his daughter with such callousness, would she have given him a "pass", or would she have spun out a screed about "pathologies" in the African-American community? Also, for all the whining righties do about the Dumb Dad stereotype, is this anecdote not a perfect example of paternal idiocy of the worst sort?

In the comment thread, I spun a yarn about Doughbob being too engrossed in a computer game to take his bloody-headed daughter to an ER that he was afraid would be overrun by "thugs". Now, I am picturing the dumbass trying to close the gash on his daughter's forehead with paste, but ending up eating all of the paste while his daughter screams on the floor beside him. "Hush, child, daddy's eating paste!"

It's amazing to think that this oafish fool has a well-paid job as the editor of a publication, even one as mendacious as National Review Online, and that such a tale of inepitude can be jokingly related by a fellow-traveler. Party of Personal Responsibility, my ass!

Post title taken from Jonah's magnum dopus.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bye Bye, B.B.

One of my co-workers is a huge blues fan. When I got to work tonight, we discussed the long life and storied career of the late, great B.B. King. King's DNA is interspersed throughout today's popular music- with a career spanning the 1940's to the 2010's, he was a bridge between the era of pre-WW2 blues greats like Robert Johnson and the Rock and/or Roll era.

In the early days of his career, B.B. King almost died in a building fire- the anecdote sounds like something out of a movie:

Coincidentally, the year that King made his first recording was also the same year that he named his beloved guitar. King attended a dance in Twist, Arkansas, that had a barrel lit with kerosene in the middle of the dance floor, used to keep the crowd warm late at night. While there, a fight broke out and the barrel was knocked over, causing a fire to spread throughout the venue. Everyone evacuated, including King, but he rushed back inside to retrieve his prized guitar.

Luckily, he managed to escape with his guitar as the building collapsed around him. King later learned that the fight erupted because of a woman who worked at the venue named Lucille. From then on, King named his guitar "Lucille" to remind himself never to do anything so foolish again.

In our conversation, my friend and I discussed the predicament that would send a man into a burning building to grab his guitar... he knew that the guitar was his meal ticket, indeed his ticket to greatness. I can't even think of an equivalent possession in my life- an inanimate item that I would even think of risking my life to "rescue". Anyway, it's a great story, and spawned a signature tune:

It's tales like this that mark a true legend, events like the Twist, Arkansas fire that lend a raw authenticity to music. There won't be another quite like B.B. King- in this age of entertainment-like substance extruded by corporations, a man like King just wouldn't be polished enough for the A&R suits.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tree Sperm on My Car!

Gino Vannelli observed that black cars look better in the shade, advice that I take seriously because (you got it) I drive a black car. This Spring, though, my car is absolutely covered in tree sperm:

If you look closely, there are two sets of tree genitals on the hood of my car. My poor car has gotten a treebagging!

Fucking trees!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Assholely Owned Subsidiary

It's nice when a bit of truth penetrates the media bubble, so I am really pleased that a college student told Jeb Bush to his face that his brother George created ISIS. I'm in total agreement, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bush Maladministration- an assholely-owned subsidiary.

Who could have predicted that creating a bunch of heavily-armed, unemployed men who were now subject to a hated Shiite majority could have gone wrong? Who but every single individual outside of the maladministration's bubble and their media enablers?

It'll be interesting to see how Jeb Bush's campaign team will attempt to counter this sort of criticism. Even Chris Christie has hammered Bush 2.Big Zero on the Iraq War. It's going to be an ugly primary, and that a beautiful thing.