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.

04 December 2016

Who I am: DNA testing and paternity (part 3)

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


My previous Y-DNA test was a 37-marker test, and showed 179 possible matches. I recently paid for the upgrade to the 67-marker test, and just got the results back this morning. According to this test, I have 22 possible matches, but at a genetic distance of 4-7. What this means is that none of the people I match are particularly close. For example, at a genetic distance of 4, the probability that I share a common ancestor with a particular person only reaches beyond 50% at seven generations.

Some of the more common surnames that appeared on the 37-marker test have disappeared. Some are still there, but again, the larger genetic distances does not give me much confidence in the results. Also, there are fewer results because fewer people have done 67-marker (or 111-marker) tests.

Even before getting back these most recent results, I had considered it likely that I would eventually pay for the 111-marker test. But now you can perhaps see, as I do, why this would probably be a waste of time. The test would surely give me fewer results, but they would all be at considerable genetic distances (7+) and unlikely to give me any useful information. What these tests results have demonstrated is that no one who is genetically close to me has taken a DNA test with any of these companies, so no amount of further testing by me is going to uncover anything.

Back to square one...

29 November 2016

Who I am: New PA law allows adoptees access to birth records


My mom sent me a link to this article. It's a big deal:
A new state law removes a legal hurdle for adult adoptees trying to learn their true identity and family medical histories.
The law, approved in early November and fully taking effect in one year, enables individuals who are 18 and over and were adopted as children to apply for a copy of their original birth certificate from the state Health Department.
As the article indicates, it may be up to a year before the law is fully implemented, but at that point I will have access to my original birth certificate.

In the 20+ years (off and on) that I have been searching for my birth parents, this is potentially the biggest development of all. Wow.