Friday, November 21, 2008

A Conservative Contradiction

According to Think Progress, Mike Huckabee and other conservatives has come up with an intriguing argument against gay marriage. It seems that Gays haven't suffered enough! Huckabee is quoted as claiming that he is all for gay rights but gay marriage would redefine an institution.

Here's the exchange between Huckabee and Joy Behar ABC's show "The View"

"People who are homosexuals should have every right in terms of their civil rights, to be employed, to do anything they want. But that’s not really the issue. I know you talked about it and I think you got into it a little bit early on. But when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different than individual civil rights.

BEHAR: Well, segregation was an institution, too, in a way. It was right there on the books.

HUCKABEE: But here is the difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge."

Watch it here:

Now the argument does make an odd sort of sense until you remember that these very conservatives are the ones who have exploited Southern White fears about race, support states rights as opposed to civil rights, and basically have dragged their feet on every major piece of civil rights legislation. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment?

Besides, some people deserve more civil rights because they have suffered more? That doesn't sound to me like a good conservative position. But, hey, what do I know? I'm a liberal.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Imagine those uppity gays...

Just who do they think they are...wanting the same rights as everyone else.

Wanda pretty much sums up my feelings.

I think what has people confused is that there is 'marriage' as contract and 'marriage' as a sacramental union. The two are not the same. So let the state deal with marriage as contract open to all and those who want the sacramental union (Holy Matrimony) look to their churches. Hmmm that's the way it is supposed to work now and as the courts are beginning to realize, it doesn't for part of our population.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Great Time for Genetics

This is a great time to be involved in genetics because there is so much change happening in all areas of genetics from real basic stuff such as the nature of the gene to how genes figure into evolution.

There is a great series of articles in the New York Times science section that you ought to look at to get some sense of the excitement today in genetics.

The first article by Carl Zimmer looks at the genome, all the DNA found in our chromosomes. The article focuses not so much on the classical protein coding genes that every one thinks about the rather the 99% of the DNA in our cells, that is not well understood. The article also delves in to what do we mean by a gene any way? The concept started with Mendel who not knowing about DNA called genes factors. During most of the 20th century we taught that genes code for proteins but now we understand that genes are a lot weirder than the cut and dry protein coding segments of DNA we thought they were.

The next article by Andrew Pollack looks at RNA and the many roles of this molecule in genetics. We used to think that there were three types of RNA, ribosomal, transcript and messenger but now we understand that there are other types of RNA that are involved in the regulation of genes and their expression. Some of these RNA’s may revolutionize the way we treat certain diseases.

The next article in the series by Benedict Carey looks at new hypothesis about mental illness which says that certain types of mental illness might result in the conflict of genes from a person’s parents.

The notion that genes may be in conflict with one another may seem odd, but here is an example. We know that there are genetic elements that make extra copies of themselves in the genome or bias the results of meiosis so that more of them get passed on to the offspring even at the expense of the fitness of the individual organism. It turns out that in response to these sorts of “selfish elements”, other genes suppress the activity of the “selfish genes” . Gene conflict also plays out in the male parent’s vs the female parent’s genes during development and the article discusses an interesting example of that.

The notion of gene conflict in an evolutionary sense is well established for certain type of genes but if this idea is true it would mean that certain types of mental illness are not so much due to what genes you have but which genes “win” the gene conflict and are expressed.

These articles may seem quite different but they all have a couple of common threads. First of all they illustrate the dynamic nature of science and how scientists rather than wanting to defend simplistic views of science are constantly challenging established science as new empirical evidence becomes available. Second these articles each in their own way get at the limitations of basic concepts and levels of analysis used in science. In the first article, the gene concept, which started out with a gene as an indivisible factor like a bead on a string, has morphed into a series of somewhat different concepts to the point where you can’t always tell where one gene begins and another end.

The second article lays waste to the idea that everything in the cell is controlled somehow by the DNA working with proteins. RNA’s also are involved in determining which genes are expressed and which are not. So here our original understanding of RNA again has been altered due to some very interesting discoveries, some of which were quite accidental.

The 3rd article takes the role of genes in mental illness and for that matter lots of other situations a step beyond what genes are present as being important, but to a view point that within an individual genes may be in “conflict”, so our notions of genotype (typically defined as the specific combination of genes an individual has) turn out to be way too simplified. Not only that the notion of gene conflict introduces a whole shadow world with in an individual organism so that the individual become like a house divided…divided by an evolutionary conflict between the organism’s own genes.

So check these articles out and let me know what you think.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Grokking the Election Results

I am somewhat of a political junkie and I stayed up way too late Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. What really kept me up was not the speeches, which were great but the New York Times online. The NYTimes has a great interative map feature where you can look not only state by state, but also county by county as to which candidate Obama or McCain won. You can also see whether or not the county became more or less Democratic or Republican and zoom out to get a sense of what happened nationwide.

The map is at

For instance, here is the Kansas results for 2008. Not very interesting since Kansas is typically a red state. The two main blue counties were Douglas home to the University of Kansas (and yours truly) and Wyanodotte County where Kansas City Kansas is. The third county that Obama carried-Crawford is very rural but home to Pittsburgh State University.

But you can get a sense of what happened this election compared to 2004 when you look at the change in voting pattern between 2004-2008.

The blue regions on this map are counties that have gone more Democratic in 2008 compared to 2004. So even in many heavily Repubican regions of the state Democrats improved their margins compared to 2004. This suggests either that Obama's strategy of running a nationwide campaign was over all what he needed to win or that the country's economic condition really turned people off to the Republicans. By the way the Republican margin statewide was 56% 41% for the Republicans this year compared to 62-46 in 2004.

Let's step back and look at the whole nation in terms of county results.

Here blue represents those counties that went Democratic, red those counties that went Republican. Clearly Obama and the Democrats did really well in the traditional urban areas. In fact Obama and the Democrats swept New England so completely that there are no Republicans in the House any where in the whole New England region. That is quite a change from the days when New England was a center for the moderate wing of the Republican party.

Looking at the change map, we see a very interesting pattern:

The deeper the blue the more Democratic the county became since 2004. Notice that country as a whole became more Democratic except for parts of the South East- loosely within what we might call Appalachia. These are probably the least racially diverse areas in the country. At least when I was in Georgia, some some of these counties had no or few non-white families.

But you can say the same for lots of other areas in the country as well...for instance Idaho and Utah, and yet those areas also tended to go more Democratic.

I know some commentators have argued that there are long term demographic trends coming into play; perhaps the populations in these areas are older- the young people that Obama tended to attract may have left these areas. But younger people have also left Western Kansas as well so I don't think that can be the whole explanation for what I call the Appalachian effect.

Now some commentators (often the same ones talking about demograpics) are talking about the coming dominance of the Democratic party. I say not so fast. First of all we have been through this before. For example, the 1964 election was the first election that I engaged in even though I was 13. Since my parents were Republican I supported Goldwater. And after he got trounced by Johnson, the press was full of articles writing the Republican Party off.

Also look at this county by county map from 2000:

It is really only different from the 2008 map in small details. The conclusion I draw is that our country is still deeply divided politically. That should give both parties pause.

Also if you look at the change map between 2008 the 1992 election when Bill Clinton won, the county map suggests that most counties have become more Republican than they were in in 1992! Granted this may be to an aging and less racially diverse population in these counties. The Democrats are really going to have to deliver in order to win over the country as a whole. Do they really want to leave 9/10ths of the land area in this country red?

The Republicans are going to have to figure out how to recast their message and maybe go through some realignment to gain back lost ground in the middle of the political spectrum. Does it make sense for them to play to their base and ignore the middle? Do they really want the country to be so divided geographically? Granted, rural states do have proportionally more clout than urban states and that allowed the election of President Bush, but unless they come to the middle they will be struck with an ever shrinking base as demographic trends toward racial and ethnic diversity become even more pronounced.

The Republicans will have do some soul searching and figure out how to get their message to the middle. Barry Goldwater said something to the effect that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and I think some conservatives today interpret liberty in a very odd sense way out of whack with what Goldwater really meant. Extremism after all does not win elections in this country whether from the left or the right.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Oh No! Karl Rove and I Agree????

Well at least on that Obama is heading for a landslide. We both came up with the prediction for the electoral college and which states each candidate is going to win.

338 Obama and 200 McCain.

See this report from CNN about Rove:

Of course we both used the same highly sophisticated stochastic jack knife enriched estimating procedures on huge arrays of linked Apple iPods to arrive at our projections.

Rove would probably also agree with me here when I say:

"Vote! Vote early and often..unless your voting for the other guy. Then only vote once.

Mendel's Garden Is Up Again!

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