12 April 2017

Who I am: DNA testing and ethnicity (FamilyTreeDNA update)

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.

In a previous post, I reviewed how DNA testing revealed my ethnic background. Since then, FamilyTreeDNA has updated its MyOrigins analysis. It's not clear exactly what they did, but I assume it had something to do with updating its reference population. My numbers changed, a little bit. Here are the new (left) and old (right):

The website notes that "[a] trace percentage indicates a very small amount of shared DNA in common with the coresponding population. In some cases this minor percentage could be attributed to background noise." So it's not clear if if actually have any ancestry from the trace regions, but it is possible. Now, here are FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry side by side:

What is going on here? To be clear, this is the same DNA test, done at Ancestry and the results uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA. Again, these differences are almost certainly do to different reference populations. Still, it's a bit frustrating, don't you think? Aside from Iberia, which appears on both tests, the trace regions don't necessarily match up. Scandinavia went from 5-8% to disappearing. Still, these are very small numbers. That 32% from Western Europe on the Ancestry test just completely disappears at FamilyTreeDNA. Another mystery to figure out...

04 April 2017

Who I am: Filling out the family tree

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.

It's been a little while since I posted about my genealogical search, but not for want of activity. In fact, considering how slow my search had been over the years, we've been moving at warp speed the last month or so, even if it's still slower than I want.

First things first: with the help of an investigator (and especially with the help of many of you, who generously supported my effort financially), about a month ago, I was able to identify and locate my birth mother. Once I identified her, it was just a matter of time to start branching out my maternal ancestors. I'm sure I'll be able to fill you in on more details in the future, but it's been a pretty fascinating search thus far. In a couple of cases, I have ancestors that arrived in North America as early as the mid-1600s as part of the Great Migration. I also have direct ancestors that participated in the Revolutionary War (time to start working on the SAR application...), frontier pioneers, and abolitionists that supported the Underground Railroad. So far, I'm just scratching the surface. There is much more research to be done.

It's also worth nothing that the search for direct ancestors has also provided some very practical information: my grandfather, and his father, both died of heart attacks. So while the "trivia" of genealogy is very cool, the information is very useful from a health and genetics standpoint.

Second, with the help of my birth mother (who I have started to communicate with), she has helped me to identify my birth father. I'm just beginning to reach out to him, and my research efforts on my paternal side have just begun within the last few days. So I don't really know much beyond some specific details about my birth father (if you want to help with this research effort, especially if you have resources beyond the usual free sources, drop me a line). But hopefully he will respond to my search and we'll see how it goes from there.

So far, so good...

27 February 2017

Words mean things, Julius Caesar edition

From Mary Beard's SPQR:
Sometime around 10 January 49 BCE, Julius Caesar, with just one of his legions from Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, the river that marked the northern boundary of Italy. The exact date is not known, nor even the location of this most historically significant of rivers. It was more likely a small brook than the raging torrent of popular imagination, and – despite the efforts of ancient writers to embellish them with dramatic appearances of the gods, uncanny omens and prophetic dreams – the reality of the surroundings was probably mundane. For us, ‘to cross the Rubicon’ has come to mean ‘to pass the point of no return’. It did not mean that to Caesar.

According to one of his companions on the journey – Gaius Asinius Pollio, historian, senator and founder of Rome’s first public library – when he finally approached the Rubicon after some hesitation, Caesar quoted in Greek two words* from the Athenian comic playwright Menander: literally, in a phrase borrowed from gambling, ‘Let the dice be thrown.’ Despite the usual English translation – ‘The die is cast’, which again appears to hint at the irrevocable step being taken – Caesar’s Greek was much more an expression of uncertainty, a sense that everything now was in the lap of the gods. Let’s throw the dice in the air and see where they will fall! Who knows what will happen next?
 *Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος (anerriphtho kybos)

06 February 2017

Rethinking 84 Lumber's Super Bowl ad

If you've been alive over the last few days, you've undoubtedly heard about 84 Lumber's Super Bowl ad. The original ad was nixed by Fox for being too controversial. A lot of debate has surrounded around the politicization of Super Bowl ads; and this ad in particular has been discussed as anti-Trump. The conventional wisdom is that conservatives and Trump supporters would think poorly of this ad; and progressives and liberals would see the ad positively in opposition to the President's immigration policies (and specifically the wall).

 But let's dig a little deeper.

First, if you haven't seen the full ad, you owe it to yourself to watch it now:

The first part of ad, without the ending, seemed to glorify illegal immigration as a noble, if difficult journey. Absent from the ad are the reality of such journeys, including violence, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.

Yet as I watched the full ad, I have to admit: it was clever (undoubtedly, this was the ad-maker's intent in not explicitly showing what the workers were building). The workers were not building the wall, but a large door in the wall. And as 84 Lumber has said itself, the ad was about a symbolic journey. Interesting.

More (and this is where the ad really helps to come into focus): Maggie Hardy Magerko, 84 Lumber’s president and owner, voted for Trump; and the imagery of the door in the wall came explicitly from Trump himself:

In this light, it's difficult to see 84 Lumber's ad as anti-Trump. If anything, it's entirely consistent with Trump's campaign rhetoric, right down to a visual representation of the door in the wall as symbolic of legal, not illegal immigration. According to Steve Radick (a former colleague of mine at Booz Allen), vice president and director of public relations at Brunner, the agency that created the ad and provides support to 84 Lumber. “It was meant to be topical – it was not meant to take any political side.”

To be clear, what I am looking at here are the politics of the ad. Whether it is a good ad or not is an entirely different question. Sometimes ads are too clever for their own good. I think that is where this one may go.

Perhaps it's too late to prevent people from digging in to the convention wisdom about how one should see this ad. But if it's not, maybe this ad is instructive to us about meeting our rivals somewhere in the middle and having a real conversation, instead of sniping for political gain.

16 January 2017

27 December 2016

Rogue One nitpicks

In the beginning of Episode IV, Captain Antilles and Pricess Leia are obviously lying to Vader when they say the Tantive IV is on a diplomatic mission. But it's at least a plausible lie. Now, in the final scene of Rogue One, Vader actually sees the Tantive IV flying away with the Death Star plans aboard. Any plausibility for the diplomatic mission lie is completely obliterated.

The second nitpick is a bit of a continuity problem.: Vader interrogates Captain Antilles: "Where are those transmissions you intercepted?" Later to Leia: "Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by rebel spies." Of course, with the final scene of Rogue One, we learn that the Tantive IV didn't intercept any transmissions--they were physically carried aboard.