Animals and Women : Feminist Theoretical Explorations

An interesting book was published a few years back, and reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. The book is “Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations”, edited by Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan. The authors say, in their introduction:

“We believe that feminism is transformative philosophy that embraces the amelioration of life on earth for all life-forms, for all natural entities. We believe that all oppressions are interconnected: no one creature will be free until all are free – from abuse, degradation, exploitation, pollution, and commercialization. Women and animals have shared these oppressions historically, and until the mentality of domination is ended in all its forms, these afflictions will continue.”

The best chapter is surely the one by Karen Davies: “Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the Feminine Connection”.

I quote:

“Often after one of her ordeals, in which her legs would get caught in her wings, causing her terrible confusion and distress, I would sit talking to her, stroking her beautiful back and her feet that were so soft between the toes and on the bottoms, and she would carry on the dialogue with me, her tail feathers twitching in a kind of unison with each of her utterances.”

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I have this friend

who only has a BA in history. When I asked him to accompany me to a lecture about degenerate white dwarfs, he eagerly accepted. But he was embarrassed: it wasn’t what he had hoped for.

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SLC24A5, yet again

It’s under selection all over the place: Europe, Ethiopia, and now among the Bushmen. The advantage can’t be more vitamin D, nor is it associated with agriculture. It does have other effects. Next, the haplotype is very long, yet has been around a long time. Shouldn’t be like that. I was talking with Razib Khan about this a while back: could be that there is more than one active site on the haplotype? Epistatic? That you need at least two changes to get the positive effect, whatever it is? So recombined haplotypes that don’t hold both sites are not favored?

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Old Asians

There is reason to believe that Australo-Melanesians used to occupy a much larger area than they do today. Let’s define them by their genetic affinity to that odd genetic trace in Amazonian Amerindians: those related include Papuans, Aboriginal Australians, Andaman Islanders ( closest), and Negrito groups in Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

Skeletal evidence says that they used to occupy all of Southeast Asia (probably at least as far north as southern China, fairly recently), and have been largely replaced by people from further north over the past few thousand years. Same is the case for the Philippines & most of Indonesia.

In fact, even further north than that: a skeleton from Tianyuan cave, not far from Beijing, shows the same genetic trace. From about 40,000 years ago. So it’s more plausible that there was a potential source population in a more geographically felicitous area ( for settling the New World) at the proper time ( ~20k BC).

Looking at recombination (roloff) should tell us approximately how long ago the admixture occurred. I would hope to see rare mtDNA haplotypes in those Amazonian Indians – Y chromosomes, considerably less likely. I would expect to see a few alleles from the Australo-Melanesians favored by selection in South America. By analogy with what we’ve seen with archaic admixture, stuff like HLA would seem likely.

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Low g

It’s clear that zero gravity is bad for you. What about low (nonzero) gravity: say 0.376 or 0.166 of Earth gravity? The only way I can see to find out would be raising mice, long-term, in a centrifuge on the ISS. Has this been done?

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Relaxed selection

In the days of old many kids didn’t make it to adulthood: say 40% among hunter-gatherers. To a a degree, this was caused by genetic load. High mortality purged some of that genetic load, especially to the extent that selection took the form of truncation selection. This process kept mutational load in equilibrium.

In the past century or two, this mortality has become much lower – so this form of selection has become weaker. Mutational load must be increasing. How fast? We will probably know quite soon, from sequencing recent and contemporary individuals. We’ll probably have a handle on the phenotypic impact as well.

In the meantime, we can get a rough idea of the impact of relaxed selection by looking at pioneers, populations that have expanded rapidly in the past few centuries. Some of those populations had a much higher fraction of kids survive than the typical long-term human average: in New England, after he first few years, something like 75% of kids made it to adulthood. This went on for a long time, something like a couple of hundred years – which is why 20,000 Puritan settlers have around twenty million descendants today. Similar things happened with the Quebecois. We know that this relaxed selection among pioneer types left a higher burden of Mendelian disease – not incredibly high, but higher than in similar groups that didn’t undergo a rapid expansion.

How much did this drop IQ? Can’t have been much.

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The best things in life are cheap – today.

The most effective health interventions are mostly cheap and generally available. Vaccinations, clean water, antibiotics – none are very expensive. The trend is for expensive treatments (usually aimed at illness fairly late in life) to also be relatively ineffective, in terms of benefits. There are some exceptions: drugs against HIV work but are fairly expensive (around $20-25 k a year), while there are a few cases where an expensive treatment actually cures a disease, like hepatitis C ($100 k). Those are the on-patent costs, not the marginal costs.

Mostly, death is ultimately caused by aging, and we can’t do much about it – an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary theory of senescence.

Money is not a panacea: The average lifespan of a billionaire is only about three years longer than average, and I’d bet that most of that is due to innate qualities of billionaires rather than special secret clinics and goat glands.

Then again, the evolutionary theory of senescence is not fundamental in the same sense that thermodynamics is. In principle you could stop aging, or reverse it – you can decrease entropy (locally) with enthalpy. Bowhead whales.

What if you could buy an extra year of youth for a million bucks (real cost). Clearly this country ( or any country) can’t afford that for everyone. Some people could: and I think it would stick in many people’s craw. Even worse if they do it by harvesting the pineal glands of children and using them to manufacture a waxy nodule that forfends age.

This is something like the days of old, pre-industrial times. Back then, the expensive, effective life-extender was food in a famine year.

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