Tuesday, February 21, 2017

DNA, like diarrhea, runs in your genes

My computer has been down for a few days.  WiFi wouldn't connect.  Took it into the shop and said the WiFi wouldn't connect, though the TP-Link adapter had worked for a month.  Went in today to check.  He said the computer Wi-Fi didn't work and he couldn't fix it. I had told him that when I went in. Oh, well.  In despair, I brought it home, fired it up and the TP-Link worked.  And is still working.

This was the blog post I was working on when the WiFi disconnected, so I will pick up where I left off.

Where people came from, how they got there and how they got to where they are now has always fascinated me. My theory was that everyone came out of the Asian Steppes because there was nothing to do but fight and flirt, and in the winter it was too clod to fight. Fortunately my brother Stan is very interested in where languages came from and how they got to today's polyglot.  Languages and people tend to move together so we both read many of the same books.

These are the books my brother recommends on the movement of peoples out of Africa (linked to Goodreads.  I have read four of them. He says there are no recent books that he could find which surprised him.  Given the advances in the past decade there should have been some.  Stay tuned.

The development of DNA analysis was a huge breakthrough in understanding the origins and movement of people.  Up to that point it was all based on archaeological evidence only.  Combining archaeological, genetic, and linguistic findings provides a more complete picture but refutes many commonly held assumptions.

1.      The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey  -  Spencer Wells (2002)
2.      Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins – Steve Olson (2002)
3.      Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors  – Nicholas Wade (2006
4.      The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry  – Bryan Sykes (2001) 
5.      Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland – Bryan Sykes (2006)
6.      Out of Eden, the peopling of the world – Stephen Oppenheimer (2004). 

DNA analysis is now cheap enough that people can use it to satisfy their own curiosity - where did their ancestors come from, who are they related to, etc. This link is a great primer for people who are just learning about genetics. From DNA to Genetic Genealogy - Genetics 101 for total beginners. This link has highly detailed information. Genetic genealogy

This article in my email jarred me into finally begun digging information on DNA for family treeMatch making: DNA testing, sometimes a gimmick, can also be a godsend for genealogists.
What I am most interested in is NOT finding more relatives but rather the countries where my ancestors may have originated many generations ago (not “Europe” but narrowed down much more than that) and  mtDNA and Y chromosome analysis can go a long way back.

The Irish Hingstons can (likely) trace their antecedents to the son of James Hingston, organist to Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.  He was apparently given land in County Cork in the mid-1650s as part of Cromwell's Irish settlement program.  There are serious genealogists working on this so I will not worry too much about it.  

However, my maternal grandmother's family, Bielby, originated in Yorkshire.  Their name comes from the name of a village which derived from Old English for White Farm.  The Russian word for white is belyy, as in Belarus (White Russia). Scandinavians also known as Varangians traded up and down the river systems from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Scandanavians also raided, traded and settles in Yorkshire.  Some could have been the same people.  So, could I perchance have Varangian blood lines in my background? That would interest me.

Finding relatives may be important to people whose knowledge of their ancestry is limited.  Millions of people were displaced during and after WWII, for example.  Birth and death records tended to be kept in churches in Europe, years ago and many of those records have been destroyed. 

I found three commercial laboratories doing DNA analysis for genealogical purposes though there are likely more out there. 
Extending Family Trees with DNA Testing This guy wants to sell you stuff, sort of a consultant but the website has useful information. He recommends these three DNA testing companies for Genealogical DNA tests; he says do all three as they each have different data pools.

One of these day, I might just do that. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grocery Shopping

We went for groceries yesterday.  We go about once a week so try to buy what we need to last us.  It had been a long while since I priced out our food and other in CAD/USD, today seemed like a good day to do it. We spent about $90 USD or $120 CAD (roughly 2x old age pension). The table below is incomplete but was all the items I could read or figure out.

The pork ribs were actually pork loin as we just had it as chops for dinner. The coffee beans were the most expensive in the store. Tanya says I am the only one who drinks it so I should get the good stuff.  Dobrodar cheese is a hard Polish cheese which is as close to cheddar as we can get.  We prefer Old but they did not have it this trip. There are three or four kinds of blue cheese available in bulk and a couple as prepackage. Regular bread is highly subsidized, as is flour.  Good flour is hard to come by, i.e. that will rise well.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Canadian Constitution and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

American obsession with, and constant litigation over, their constitution has always amused me. Canada has a constitution.  I know this.  When I was young it was called the British North American Act of 1867. I didn't know until I looked it up that it is now called the Constitution Act 1867 which along with the Constitution Act 1982 make up the Constitution of Canada.

Most Canadians are vaguely aware of the fact we have a constitution. I suspect only recent immigrants seeking, or having just received, Canadian citizenship could quote you any of it, other than it does say somewhere in it "Peace, order and good governance". You can't get much more Canadian than that.

The Constitution Act 1982 repatriated our constitution from Britain to Canada
This will make Americans smile but from 1867 to 1982 our Constitution was controlled by the British Parliament.  The Act created Canada from four British colonies, two of which were already united, Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec).  Canada could not change its constitution without going through Britain which of course never refused that I know of.  It did get to be embarrassing after a while. Canada certainly wanted it on home turf and Britain definitely wanted to be rid of it.

The Amending Formula was the sticker and took forever, I suspect, because Quebec wanted a veto on everything and was not about to get it. This formula finally agreed on by everyone (but Quebec?) required the approval of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces with at least 50% of the population of all provinces.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is embedded in the Constitution Act 1982, possibly unlike the American Constitution and Bill of Rights (confession: like Trump, I have not read them), actually does mention God. It has had general approval of Canadians though it has been criticized from the left, right and centre.  So it is close, which only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and it is functional. My guess is that if you were to ask 10000 Canadians what it says, only the politically active MIGHT be able to tell you anything.

The Charter, which will celebrate 35 years in April has resulted in at least six major social changes in Canadian life. "Particularly since the charter's equality rights section came into force, the courts have overturned many laws that they felt went against the charter. But it is also the case that governments have won more often than they have lost on charter challenges before the Supreme Court."

1. Limiting Police Powers in wiretapping, burden of proof and disclosure obligations, to name but three changes which strengthened the rights of the individual.
2. Women's Reproductive Rights - the Morgentaler case which effectively legalized abortion in 1988.
3. Recognition of LGBTQ Rights up to and including same sex marriage in 2005.
4. Linguistic Rights for Francophones Outside Quebec - access to French schools, school boards and even hospitals. 
5. Strengthened Aboriginal Rights, recognizing historic aboriginal rights and ensuring consultation in resource development or other changes which affect them unduly. 
6.Judicial Activism the charter "amounts to a significant transfer of policy making to the courts," especially in an area that could be described as "morality issues."

There have been and will be challenges going to the Supreme Court but not every 15 minutes and no one gets too excited about them. Here is a list of notable Supreme Court Cases from 2000 to present. The only one that struck me off the top was R vs Latimer, who went to school with my brother.  I might have heard of some of the others but would need reminding.

The Constitution Act 1982 has a very Canadian section called The Not Withstanding Clause. This was included to mollify the provinces which were terrified of losing some rights they previously had prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and was the only way that agreement was ever reached to repatriate the Constitution at all.

Essentially it allows any government Act to ignore rights guaranteed under the Charter for up to five years, after which time it lapses or the Act can be renewed. It has not been used that often. Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Yukon Territory have invoked The Not Withstanding Clause.  Quebec invoked it after the Supreme Court struck down their French only language law on outdoor signs but let it lapse after five years. Alberta invoked the clause in a private members bill to define marriage as heterosexual only; this was bounced by the Supreme Court which ruled that only Parliament could define marriage.

Nothing very exciting.  Our Constitution works, more or less; our governments work, more or less; our parliamentary system works very well; our voting system works, more or less but could use some improvement to be more inclusive.  Our governments spend more time governing than social engineering which helps immensely. We have our share of Republican Jesus Christians and White Supremacists but one hopes that they never get the upper hand.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

So the Liberals Scrap Vote Reform

The Liberals have gone back on their election promise to make 2015 election the last one based on First Past the Post (FPTP) and institute some form of Proportional Representation (PR).  People didn't think it was fair that a party garnering 40% of the national vote should get 54% of the seats in the House of Commons and form a majority government.  They have a point.  However, as I wrote in a blog post just after the election, PR comes with its own problems and is not necessarily an improvement or even more fair.

I am not disappointed that we will stay with FPTP, just as I (and any right thinking person), was not disappointed when Jean Chretien did not repeal the GST (VAT).  It was one of the things Mulroney got right, along with replacing the dollar bill with the Loonie. I can debate NAFTA.

The NDP (always the bridesmaid, never the bride) is furious, of course.  PR was their ticket to the alter. They see PR  as virtually guaranteing a minority government, with the NDP holding the balance of power. So instead of being governed by a majority with 40%, Canada ends up being governed by a minority with 20% of the popular vote, whether seats are distributed by provincial popular vote or national. Or back to the polls we go.

Data source
This assumes that voting patterns stay the same as in 2015, which of course, they will not.  People will feel confident that their vote "will count" and may well vote their true preferences, the argument for PR in the first place. That means there could be a major shift in party seats in the House. Without a cut off (3%, 5%?) some of the 18 oddball parties I never even heard of could get seats and might anyhow. We could easily see the rise of far-right (provincial-based?) parties and I can think of just the provinces in which that could be likely. Coalition governments, here we come.

I was informed that over 90 countries use some form of PR. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use proportional representation, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Check out the list linked to above and see how many of these countries you would be comfortable if Canada were governed as well as they are. 

PR Voting type by Country (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation#/media/File:PR_types.png)
To be fair, the Liberals did examine the issue.  How well, I cannot say, as it was not on the top of my priority list at the time.  They did set up a website with a questionnaire which I filled out.  The questionnaire was bitterly criticized by many who could not or would not understand it (Canadians at times are no brighter than the denizens of other lands).  In  a nutshell it asked for desired outcomes: how did you want the House of Commons to work.  Based on your answers it slotted you towards PR or FPTP. Simple really but I think people were expecting a rough poll of what kind of PR system they favoured. Needless to say, the questionnaire did not shed any light on anything.

I favour two possible solutions.  First is ranked ballots or transferable votes.  This would, it is claimed, see the Liberal Party governing forever.  Second would be Two-round voting (as is used in the French presidential election).  A run-off election is followed in two weeks by a final election between the top two candidates where no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the first round. Based on 2015 election results, a final vote would have been needed for 205 out of 338 constituencies. Not PR but it does guarantee MPs with over 50% of the popular vote and most likely majority government.