Irish Americans and me.

I emigrated to Boston from ireland in September 1977, and almost immediately developed a profound dislike for Irish Americans. People would ask me where I was from; I'd tell them Ireland, and they'd then say Oh, I'm Irish too, which usually meant their great-grandfather had gotten off the boat in New York 100 years ago. The disppointment was definitely mutual. I found them loud and usually bigoted; I deplored their taste in beer; their political views; and their ignorance about the rest of the world in general, and modern Ireland in particular. They didn't like my accent: they perceived upper-middle-class Dublin as 'English'; they didn't like my liberalism, or my irreligiosity, or my liking for soccer. I don't remember which annoyed me more; being told by Americans that they were Irish, or by being asked by Americans if I was English. It all culminated on St Patrick's Day in 1978, when I and a couple of compatriots headed to Fields Corner in Sout…

The Fortenberry slaves: a prelude

Toiling in the mid-morning sun, in a hot, muddy cotton field in Copiah County, in the south of Mississippi, three young African American men, brothers, aged 18, 20 and 22, hoed the rows. It was late June, 1860, and so the men were slaves. The ground was wet from yesterday’s rain, the air heavy, and the men were anxious to finish their work before the clouds gathering on the western horizon flooded the fields with another summer cloudburst. Inside the plantation house, unbeknownst to them, they were being enumerated. James R Fortenberry, the slave-holder, a man of 32, was listing their important personal details to Elijah Peyton, Assistant Marshall. These details were three; age, gender, and race. The race was officially ‘mulatto’; at that time, and in that place, mulattos were usually the sons or daughters of a black woman raped by a white slave-holder. They had no names, as far as the United States Government was concerned. Instead they would be listed, in Peyton’s elegant, almost…

Bot extermination

The Lincoln Journal Star comments page is infested with trolls, many of which are bots. The LJS requires you comment from a Facebook account; a pretty good sign you're dealing twith a bot, and not a real person, is if the Facebook page is blank. So a couple of days ago, I was congratulating the writer of a pretty decent letter to the LJS. And a bot presumed to try correct my punctuation, hilariously mis-spelling comma. So I had a little fun. The Helen Faust bot thought she could make me look stupid by editing her original comment. And another bot, a fake account, and a Nazi wench from Mitchell Nebraska tried to pile on. This gave me the opportunity I've waited for my whole life. Hello, Dirty Harry. As you can see, the Faustbot fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Now for the coup de grace. None of the four have since reappeared. Good clean fun.

Big boys don't recombine.

This is one of the most unnoticed and yet most interesting papers I've read in the last 10 years. Using a large amount of human genetic data, the authors calculated the recombination frequency as a function of position on all 22 somatic human chromosomes. Brief 'splainer: most of us have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes. One member of each pair comes from our father, one from our mother. However, in the process of making sperm and eggs, our father and mother took each pair of chromosomes they had, and did something called recombination; they spliced the chromosomes together, in one or two places on each chromosome, typically, to produce two new chromosomes, each partly granddad, partly grandma. Then during meiosis they put one of the chromosomes in a single developing sperm or egg. So if grandad's orginal chromosome was blue, and grandma's was red, you inherit one of these two chromosomes from dad (and similarly from mom). X-chromosomes also recombine, but only in wome…

Creationism and the Nebraska Supreme Court

News item: Governor Pete Ricketts has just appointed Omaha attorney Jonathan Papik to the State Supreme Court. Backstory: Jon Papik (there may be another Jon Papik in Omaha, but I can't find him) apparently presides at various events at Harvest Community Church (PCA) in Omaha. PCA is a conservative denomination, and most of its pastors espouse young-earth creationism. They hold something called the Omaha Worship Conference; the last two years, their lead speaker was Allen P. Ross, a young-earth creationist theologian from Godawful, Alabama. In the absence of other evidence, and based on his religious participation, it is reasonable therefore to conclude that Mr. Papik believes the world was created in 7 days about 4000 years ago. If so, he is the second creationist the Ricketts/Sasse tag-team have elevated to the judiciary (the first was Steve Grasz). Can anyone reasonably expect Mr. Papik will be able to evaluate scientific evidence if he believes the central paradigm of biolo…

Liars, damn liars, and gun nuts.

...or how figures lie, but liars sometimes don't figure too well. Someone yesterday tried to prove to me that gun bans don't reduce murder rates. They sent this link... ...and something didn't look right. I've been looking at noisy data for nigh on 40 years, trying to see signal in the murk, and that spike in 2002 seemed really odd. Now I have family in the UK; I had more in 2002. I subscribe to the London Times. I go back and forward, though not as often as I'd like. And I was aware of nothing that might have caused a large number of homicides in 2002. So I did a little digging. And, remarkably, the spike in 2002 is the work of one man, a man you've probably never heard of, named Dr. Harold Shipman. Shipman was a general practitioner in the UK. He became a GP near Manchester (where I was born and lived the first eight years of my life). And then he started murdering people. He killed mostly older women, in order to steal their jewelry, or after having the…

Mach Zero

Coby Mach, Lincoln's Sean Hannity wannabe, apparently found about UNL Nazi Dan Kleve the same way most of you did, by reading the Journal Star. And he has a sanctimonious little Facebook post up about it. Except, except...Mach has actively supported the campaign by Erdman, Halloran and Brewer against the UNL English department in general, and Gailey and Lawton in particular. That campaign, and particularly Erdman, has been a vehicle for threats of violence against Gailey and Lawton. In particular, Erdman's Facebook page has for months carried a comment suggesting... Someone visit these two on a dark night... It was still there this morning, more than 4 months after it was posted. Erdman has been told about it. He hasn't removed it, even though any Facebook account owner can remove any comment from their page. I posted a comment on Mach's Facebook page last night, pointing this out, in the context that even the establishment GOP has become quite tolerant of viol…