Mainly Local

One of the more unusual aspects of our world is the way that there is such a great focus on that which is local. Once upon a time, a great deal of gardening and growing crops was local because the choices were less than pleasant about long-term trade of most products. Aside from prestige products that were worth a lot of money, most products were too expensive to ship very far and so local food supplies had to suffice for everything aside from either emergency staples or spices and luxury goods. Of course, at the present time the cheap cost of transportation and the ease of preservation makes it easy and cost-effective to ship all kinds of goods all over the world. This is, indeed, one of the hallmarks of our civilization, the intensification of global trade even beyond the levels that had been managed in free-trade-friendly regimes of historical past (be they 19th century British Empires, 13th century Mongol empires, and the like).

One of the more notable aspects of human civilization is the tendency for people to want to do things differently than the way they are usually done. Where people get tanned in the sun as a result of peasant labor in the fields, it is especially prized for people to have light skin that shows a life of ease. Where people are skinny as a result of grinding labor, those who have bulk are prized as having the obvious signs of affluence. Where food supplies are plentiful and the ordinary size increases, it becomes treasured to be slender, and thus different than the norm, as is the case with the value of tans when most people work inside under the florescent lights of office work. It is not the intrinsic value of a quality that matters so much, but rather the fact that it is different and that it distinguishes a smaller elite class from the common herd that matters, and so it is in an age of global trade that some people appreciate local and homegrown food and gardening that would not have been paid attention to in previous ages where that was the normal practice to appreciate.

We can thus see that the current love of local and native things by hipsters is based on their being unusual and that the various justifications for it otherwise are simply self-serving justifications to deny the focus on being different. Thus if local plants and locovore dining practices became more commonly appreciated by the general public they would be less appreciated by hipsters, who would move on to appreciate something else, perhaps food that had been grown in space or moons or other planets. At least something like that would be the case until that became too common of an interest to be elite any longer. Since it is worthless to try to chase hipster trends which are only valued because of exclusivity and viewed as too common once they become more common, any genuine and long-lasting appreciation of native plants and local habits must rest on a more secure basis than their current favor among cultural elites. Those who wish to endure in such habits must appreciate the intrinsic value of local habits and an intimate knowledge and appreciation of the diversity of different regions.

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Book Review: Native Alternatives To Invasive Plants

Native Alternatives To Invasive Plants, by C. Colston Burrell

It is easy to credit this book with good intentions. The author has an obvious desire to encourage the greater use of plants that have been neglected among America’s native plants in exchange for exotic and invasive plants that are popular but that can crowd out native plants that the author thinks are worthy of more attention. That is certainly a noble aim and one that is easy to celebrate, but this book has a few things against it that keep it from being as helpful in its goals as it could have been. For one, this book has a massive scope and thus a rather superficial approach. The author tries to write about native and invasive plants all over the entire United States, and this is far too wide of a scope for the rather basic approach that the author takes. The other issue is that the author writes about plants with a rather fussy and even snobby, not stopping to think about why it is that certain plants are grown outside of their native regions as opposed to others, even if the author can make a strong case for why some other plants should be cultivated more than they are.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it is dominated, as one would expect, by the book’s titular materials. The book begins with a discussion of how to prevent plant invasions, a look at the role of roadside managers, as well as some questions and answers about invasive plants and native plants, including the plant provinces of North America. After that point, the vast majority of the book consists of a rather superficial and basic (although very beautifully photographed) discussion of invasive trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous plants, and grasses and some native alternatives. It should be noted that as the scope of this book is the plants of North America that native plants are defined rather broadly across broad regions of the United States. Some invasive plants, for example, are expanding in a range from Canada to Hawaii to Florida, which is just an immense amount of space to cover and to suggest alternatives for. After that the author discusses places where one can get more information, as well as some information about the book’s contributors, a list of invasive garden plants, as well as an index of invasive and native plants for the reader to consider.

One of the more interesting aspects of this book is the question of who the book’s audience is. While this book is very interesting in its visual aspects–the strongest aspect of this book is the richly colorful photography about the trees and other plants that the author discusses–the book is not really aimed at the ordinary reader. Rather, this book is aimed at people who make choices about what plants to cultivate in public spaces like roads and parks and other public spaces. This is not a book about gardening with native plants–which is certainly an interesting and worthy subject–buy rather about the public policy question about which plants get chosen to be planted in public places, and what that means when it comes to celebrating plants that the author views as being threatened by invasive species including the edible fig plant as well as European aspen, to give but a couple of examples among many. This book would be easier to enjoy if it had a less irritating tone, and while it may seem a bit harsh to judge a book because of questions of tone, that is a matter that I find rather seriously important when it comes to books I read for pleasure and information, and it is an area that could have easily been fixed if the author had stepped down from his Olympian heights to ponder why it is that some plants are chosen over others as a general rule.

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Book Review: Gardening With Native Plants Of The Pacific Northwest

Gardening With Native Plants Of The Pacific Northwest, by Arthur R. Kruckseberg

What is the motive for writing a book like this one? To be sure, I am no great shakes as a gardener, but for a variety of reasons I am fascinated by the proper placement of plants in the right place for the right purposes, and a book like this is clearly written with a variety of purposes that are not always obvious and upfront. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is quite possible that a book like this one would get a lot less attention of the author was open and honest about his various and complex goals in seeking to encourage the cultivation of native plants of the Pacific Northwest as opposed to non-native and sometimes highly invasive plants. The author, it must be admitted, has several purposes in play in this book, and they are complex purposes that are sometimes at cross-purposes with each other. On the one hand, the author is seeking to encourage readers–and this is a diverse group of readers, some of whom are gardeners with a small home plot and some of whom are people responsible for large and substantial public spaces–to utilize native plants for purposes of beauty as well as land reclamation, but on the other hand the author frequently is seeking to prevent the destruction of sensitive native plants like orchids, a nuanced approach to be sure.

This book is a relatively average-sized book at around 250 pages or so of 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages written and frequently illustrated (in black and white) about the native plants of the Pacific Northwest and their uses in gardening. The book begins with two prefaces as well as acknowledgements and then an introduction (1) that includes the natural environments of the Pacific Northwest, some garden and landscape uses of native plants, and the propagation of native plants. This is followed by a discussion of native trees (2), including conifers, evergreens, and deciduous trees. After this comes a chapter on some native ornamental shrubs (3), including evergreens and ground covers as well as deciduous shrubs. A longer chapter then covers some native ornamental herbaceous perennials (4), including ferns, ground orchids, lilies and irises, and herbs organized by size. After this comes a chapter on grasses and grasslike plants (5), including woodland and wetland settings, meadow grasses, seashore grasses, alpine and rock garden grasses, and grasses for the drylands east of the Cascades. This is followed by a closing chapter that includes supplemental annuals, herbaceous perennials, trees, and shrubs that were neglected in the first edition (6), as well as appendices that discuss collecting in the wild (i), lists of native plants for particular settings (ii), sources of information on native plants (iii), and native grasses and their kin (iv), as well as a glossary of terms, derivations and meanings of genus and species names, a selected bibliography, and an index.

In reading this book, one has to wonder about the layers of what the author is trying to say. For one, as is often the case in writing about native plants, there is a rather broad definition of what it means for a plant to be native. The plants considered to be native here include the entire range of the Pacific Northwest, focused on Oregon and Washington to be sure, but moving well into Canada and even in to Northern California, as those areas are also a part of the larger Pacific Northwest and share similarities with the core areas of the region. Of particular interest as well is the fact that this book was written as a second edition and the author realized that there were areas of the plants of the region that were somewhat neglected in the first edition, and so instead of adding the additions in the chapters where they would most fit, the author simply tacked them on at the end, which somewhat disrupts the flow of the book as a whole. This somewhat hurts the organization of the book, but it certainly made it easier to write, I imagine.

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Lord Acton’s Revenge

Lord Acton, a British politician of the middle of the 19th century, is best known for his aphorism on the corruptive influence of power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Rarely has a lesson been so appropriate for our age where our age is so ill-equipped to handle its truth. In our age, one of the many lies about power and its corrupting influence has been that it is identity that is corrupt and not power. There are all kinds of discussions about supposed systemic privilege and power as an evil thing, and these discussions almost always content themselves to discuss the identity of the people involved, as if white men could be corrupt, but that other people were somehow immune from the corrupting influence of power because they checked off enough boxes of being disadvantaged minorities. Indeed, we know from such lies and hypocrisy, such a lack of reciprocity in our dealings with others, that we have been corrupted by power before even possessing it in many cases.

What is it that makes power so corrupting? A great deal of what makes power corrupting is the illusion of control that power brings. All too often in this world we seek power over others and power over creation as a means of overcoming the difficulty of changing ourselves and changing our lives. We think that if we can control what other people say and think and do that our lives will be better. We think that if we acquire power that people will honor us and respect us the way that we want. No matter how noble our desire to coerce other people into gratifying some sort of wish or longing of ourselves, that coercion is a corruption of power, and if we are blind to the possibility that we too can abuse power just as others have abused power in the past, then we will likely hold to certain double standards that blind us to the reality of our own corruption even as we rail against the corruption of others.

The corruption of power is more widespread than we tend to think. Before we are corrupted into doing evil and taking advantage of others and exploiting others, our understanding of ourselves is corrupted to the extent that we do not see that we are in fact corrupt. Long after we have become corrupted by the possession of and the quest for power, our ability to recognize the sense data that would clue us into that corruption has been hindered by the presence of that unrecognized corruption that we confuse with justice. If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged, and if we would remember that we will be judged by the same standard we judge others, we would be more generous to others and more harsh to ourselves. And yet we are not, and those who fancy themselves to be the most just are often poisoned the most by the corruptive influence of power and seduced by the longing to coerce others into gratifying their own millennial longings.

It is telling that Lord Acton lived at the same time as early socialist and Communist and Utilitarian leaders who pushed for corruption in two different directions simultaneously, on the idealist side to the point where basic aspects of reality were viewed as being inessential and unimportant because of the ideological commitments that people had that imagined that some sort of different viewpoint of reality was valid, thus leading to widespread ignorance of and denial of reality that persists to the present-day. On the other hand, idealistic refusal to engage in certain means was undercut by appeals to the pragmatic use of power. So it is that our world is full of people who fancy themselves to be idealists when it comes to ignoring the less pleasant parts of reality, while simultaneously being pragmatists in their search for and use of power in order to pursue what they consider to be noble ends by inglorious and ignoble means, all of which is corrupting their sense of goodness and justice without their awareness.

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If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

One of the more humorous aspects of life in the contemporary world is the mania that people have for change for the sake of change. There is a widespread belief, and it has been the case for some time, that change for the sake of change is going to be appreciated by others, when this has often been proven not to be the case. To be sure, there are some people who have a chronological bias in favor of new things, but it has frequently been my experience that a great many people (myself included) have quite the opposite bias. It is particularly amusing to see this bias take place in the world of games, a world I have a great deal of interest in even if it is not one that tends to be taken seriously as a harbinger of attitudes.

So it was that last night while I was doing work I found myself also listening to a livestream that was taking place for someone who found an interesting exploit in the latest release for Europa Universalis 4, the Leviathan DLC that had made some major changes to Southeast Asia and other peoples in order to try to make some areas of the world more playable and attractive. This person found an exploit where by starting in Samoa, and choosing to be stateless as well as having the Poynesian Kingdom form of government, he could have negative government capacity, thus creating a situation where division over zero gave him massive bonuses to other aspects of his nation. It is quite possible that this exploit will be patched–or else playing Samoa is going to be the new meta for world conquest because of the massive benefits to be gained when one has negative governing capacity, and thus paradoxically infinite governing capacity–but it is emblematic of larger issues.

Despite the new mechanics, including strong galleys and the ability to amass ridiculous amounts of development in one’s capital by virtue of new mechanics that allow one to siphon off development from one’s vassals as well as enemies in peace deals to one’s capital, thus leading to high amounts of income as a result, the new Leviathan DLC has not received high scores immediately after release online. There are definitely some bugs that have led to intense problems that some people have had playing the game. Even one of the people at Paradox responsible for developing the game is upset that so much time and support has been spent on features that gamers appear not to use, such as random map modes. It is hard to know what people want and hard to motivate them to spend money and be happy about them, even if EU4 as a game is one that has a high degree of enjoyment relative to its cost for those who like historical simulation sandbox games, and I must admit that I do.

It is very hard for people to distinguish between two types of change. On the one hand, there are undoubtedly aspects of all of our lives and all of our personalities and character that require change so that we may improve. To the extent that one has a goal of self-improvement of any kind, change is required. We may change our diet, change our habits, learn new languages, and the like. All of this is change that we may freely adopt for ourselves, recognizing that it requires effort and is unfamiliar but is worthwhile for one reason or another. Most change, though, is not of this kind. When a tech company changes the way its programs work, whether by adding features or removing them or changing the user interface, this change is not done for the sake of improvement generally, but frequently merely for the sake of novelty. And novelty is the sort of change that offers no permanent change, but merely something different than before that is no better and frequently worse for being different, worse because it is unproven and untested and has to have its bugs worked out and corrected, thus requirement more useless effort and more pointless change, often of a sort that people do not desire. How did we end up this way?

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Is Fame Abuse?

One of the more underlying but consistent themes that I write about concerning celebrity culture is the rather demented nature of it. One does not have to look very hard to see that fame is hard on people. Celebrities lose a great deal of their privacy because we crave so much information about their private lives. While such stars may see fame as providing a way for them to argue for various favored causes, the very disordered nature of their lives and the fact that many of them respond to the pressures of fame in such maladaptive and self-destructive ways tends to undercut whatever credibility they would have as role models worth following. It is easy to recognize that the viewpoints of most stars on most subjects is rubbish. Yet this ought not to blind us to the fact that stars are as much victimized by the corrupt culture of our age as purveyors of that vile corruption. The fact that we view celebrities, self-professed artists and what-not, as being responsible for the spread of darkness should not disguise the fact that such people are often the victims of that darkness as well, making them disease carriers more than evil masterminds intent on destroying what is good and noble in contemporary culture, even if it does not change the result of their behavior.

One of the unfortunate aspects of fame is the way that it leads ordinary people to think that they know stars. This is not accidental. The very popularity of celebrities often results from the fact that their music and their persona, the mask they wear in public, is relatable to a large group of people. We imagine that a star, for all of their wealth and prestige, live lives not so different from our own, have feelings and thoughts and opinions not so different from our own, and have the same sorts of dreams and longings that we do, and we view them as objects of reverence and devotion. Such idolatry cannot help but cause problems as they are unfit to serve as religious figures or cultural figures of any degree of importance in our lives. Yet there is a mutual longing on the part of both stars and the general public that leads to this idolatry. People want non-demanding objects of worship that provide meaning and insight to life, and stars appreciate adulation and desire respect and have career ambitions, all of which require fans willing to put down money on their art.

A savvy reader will notice that in all this discussion there are people that we are not talking about so far, having focused mainly on stars and the general public. But they are not the only people involved in celebrity culture by a long shot. There are some people whose job it is to convey information about celebrities to the wider general culture, be they photographers or journalists or some other sort of figure that would be considered part of the press. This includes people in the news, or infotainment, or even people like myself who happen to write about others in a public fashion. The parasitic relationship of the celebrity press to celebrity culture, and the frequently ambivalent to antagonistic relationship between such people and celebrities is easy enough to recognize. It must also be admitted that such people who take photographs of or write pieces about stars expect and often realize some sort of gain for having written about people, and for being vultures who gather around the carcass.

And there are still others who profit as a result of celebrity culture as well, namely those in charge of the companies that produce and distribute the creative products of artists in a wide variety of ways. Such people often hold considerably more power than the other figures we have been talking about. They decide which artists and which creations to promote, offer contracts to fame-hungry people and groups that benefit the company and various producers first of all, and often the creative people involved little if at all. And let us not imagine that the exploitation of creative people by said companies is only financial, as many other sorts of exploitation are often involved as well, in the pressure that is put on people to act certain ways or make certain artistic choices, or to make themselves open to the gratification of the longings and desires of those in charge, especially where vulnerable people are involved in making what is produced by said companies and said people.

The end result is, as one might expect in a fallen world full of darkness, that no one comes out looking particularly well. All of us bear some responsibility for the torment that is suffered by people who are caught in the harsh glare of contemporary celebrity culture. Fame hungry people are themselves responsible for their foolishness in thinking that fame can pay off by providing a platform for people to promote that which is near and dear to their hearts, and profit in providing honor and respect and the opportunity for fortune and advancement. Ordinary fans are responsible for loading celebrities with weight that such fragile and fallible beings cannot bear, the weight of helping to make sense of our world and serving as role models to follow the example of in terms of behavior and worldview. And there are a whole host of parasitic hangers on to celebrity culture whose reportage, whose pressure, and whose exploitation of creative people exacerbates the torment and suffering of those whose desire for fame in the first place suggests that something went awry a long time ago, as indeed it did.

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On The Gravity Of Interactions

From time to time I wonder about the gravity that people exert in their personal lives. Yesterday, for example, while I was at services, one of my friends looked at my face and wondered if I wanted to talk, and so we spent a few minutes chatting about her guitar playing and how it works for the hymns and how much it is a struggle to learn how to play songs for her on the guitar relative to other instruments that our ensemble could have. What struck me about it was that she was able to guess that I had something to chat about from looking at my face. Apparently I have a “we need to talk” face that I am unaware of. From time to time there are people who surprise me by being able to read my expressions well and to respond accordingly. I suppose being an expressive person, even if I am fairly restrained in communicating what I feel, tends to mean that other people have clues as to what is going on inside my head if anyone is interested in spending the time to pay attention and figure things out.

One of the more poignant aspects of the Hunger Games series for me was the way that I was able to identify with the uber-Appalachian Katniss Everdeen, which is perhaps not the best thing. One of the ways that I was able to identify with her, and it is relevant to this discussion, is that in the book, she claims not to have secrets because other people know her secrets before she does. I have personally, much to my embarrassment, found that to be the case with me as well. Other people are aware of my secrets before I am, and as a result it has always been particularly worthless for me to be particularly sneaky in my own personal dealings because other people are aware of what I would want to hide before it comes to my attention. Indeed, at times the way I react to things has let others know things that I was not aware of personally. I am not sure if this is a common problem or if the labyrinthine ways of my own personality present difficulties that are somehow outside of the ordinary.

Many of the complaints in this world about issues of power and privilege deal with the asymmetry of gravity in interactions. Those who lack power in a given relationship have a high motivation of learning about others so as to better please them or stay out of their way while those who have high power tend not to be particularly interested in knowing very much about those they boss around. Not knowing how someone responds to our interactions, and not caring, because we are powerful enough that we do not need to care, is one of the factors that encourages us to gain power. Not only that, but if we gain enough power, we can force people to care about our feelings even as we tend not to care about theirs, all of which tends to create resentment. These are not new problems, and have remained problems as long as human beings have been organized together. And they remain problems regardless of the identity of those who gain power, contrary to the expectations of many contemporaries.

Yet these issues remain difficult. How do we prevent ourselves from deceiving ourselves that we generally care about and respect others rather than wishing so? How do we know both others and ourselves, with the tangle of motivations that typically undergirds our behavior? This is hard in the best of circumstances. It is harder when human beings are engaged in simultaneous self-deception and the hypocritical denunciation of others for that which we are guilty of. In such a climate recognizing the truth and admitting it is highly unlikely, to say nothing of admitting that it is a problem that is not limited by race or gender or any other factor. And determining the nature of the gravity of interactions, and how it is that others feel and what motivates those feelings and their behavior, is by no means an easy task, even when we want to know and others are willing to say.

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The Mysterious Case Of The Missing Welsh DNA

I had always been told by my family that there was some Welsh DNA in my family background, and this would make sense for obvious genealogical reasons. After all, my official great-grandfather on one of my paternal lines is one William Albert Filer. And his father, one Thomas Filer, had been born in 1857 in Wales. There are some obvious genetic consequences of this, namely that one would expect that the grandfather of my paternal grandmother would provide roughly 6% of the DNA for the three members of my generation of my father’s family that have taken Ancestry.com DNA tests. It is true that there could be some variation in this, but one would expect that three people taking independent tests would at least show some Welsh DNA with such a proportion of having one great-great-grandfather who was fully Welsh, and even if he had only been half Welsh, one would expect 3% or so Welsh to DNA to show up, and yet in looking at the ethnic blends of myself, my brother, and our lone paternal first-cousin, we find that none of us have any Welsh DNA recognized whatsoever. This is a mystery, and would lead to some obvious questions.

The first mystery is who was William Albert Filer, the putative father of my late paternal grandmother? Information about William is not difficult to obtain, but it only deepens the mystery. After all, William Albert Filer was born in 1893 in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a small town that is full of coal mining, the perfect place for a Welsh immigrant like William’s father to go in search of honest and steady work. I have looked at a scan of William’s draft card to World War I and he shows up as a bachelor who still lived in his hometown, and I have also seen that he departed for World War I in France in June of 1918 as a private on the troop ship Susquehanna as part of Company B in the 148th National Guard regiment, having given his father as a contact, indicating that he joined the military on good terms with his family. Sadly, at this time his younger sister had recently died at the age of 19. We next see the paper trail of William Filer, at least as I have seen so far, when the Sunday, November 27, 1921 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provided a short blurb about his upcoming nuptuals to one Edna Miller, my great-grandmother.

It is here where the mystery deepens considerably. At least according to what I can see, William A. Filer was buried in his hometown in the Oddfellows Cemetery in October of 1923, when my grandmother was but a few months old. Moreover, the find-a-grave lists his place of death as his hometown of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. In addition to this, although very close relatives are not very common from this line of the family, there are certainly quite a few Filer relatives who could be expected to be DNA matches, but none of them are. Indeed, I do not know if a single DNA match from this particular line of the family. Given that my paternal grandmother was an only child and that none of her children are alive at present (nor, to my knowledge, ever took a genetic genealogy test), uncovering this mystery is a bit of a challenge, not least because I have yet to find a single Filer among the large amount of family members who have a background in Pennsylvania with whom I share DNA. This has the makings of a classic game of Hoosier daddy.

How would one go about solving a mystery like this? The most straightforward way would be to engage in a triangulation using the DNA of the three people who share the background in question and to test genetic overlap of the three of us that does not also include the more common lines that the three of us have with both the maternal line of my paternal grandfather, those endogamous Lindermans, as well as the numerous connections we have with the Shearer line of my paternal grandmother’s mother. We would then have to distinguish between that line and the similarly obscure Albright line, but at least it would give possibilities that could be investigated in coordination with looking at the family trees of others. Sadly, it looks like someone played a game of Hoosier Daddy, and the result is a genuine but also intriguing family mystery to uncover.

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Your Sins Will Find You Out In Genetic Genealogy

I must admit personally to being very fond of genetic genealogy. That is not to say that there are not risks that genetic information could be misused by someone, but only that the ease of finding DNA for someone if others want to find it means that one might as well gain the use of it for good because if people are willing to gather your DNA from the traces you leave, they are going to find it anyway in some fashion. To be sure, it does take a certain amount of boldness in deliberately placing your DNA in places where it can be recognized easily. My own DNA, for example, has been submitted to Y-search from FTDNA, through Ancestry.com, and in GedMatch, so if someone wanted to match my DNA it would be a trivial task to do so. Nonetheless, there are legitimate reasons why someone might be concerned about the popularity of genetic genealogy, because it allows for one’s sins to be found out in rather striking fashion. How is this the case? Let us count the ways.

One of the more obvious ways that one’s sins can be found out using genetic genealogy is through the problem of not parent expected events. When your DNA is examined, if you match with people you match for a reason, namely shared ancestors, especially if the DNA shared is over a somewhat long distance. While very small amounts of DNA can be shared by very distant relative, once you have a sufficiently long segment to draw serious attention, that is going to come from sufficiently recent common ancestors to make it well worth one’s while to investigate. If you have certain DNA and it is found that your supposed paternal relatives do not, they are not your paternal relatives. If you find yourself with DNA matches you have never heard of that are half-siblings, then your mother likely was playing a game of Hoosier daddy and some further awkward family conversations are in your future. The same thing can happen in previous generations, and the reasons are roughly the same. Where you find adoption or affairs leading to pregnancies, these are precisely the sorts of sins that one would expect to find one out.

It is easy to see why people would be less than enthusiastic about this sort of thing. If someone has reason to suspect that they may have a secret family of some kind, then the last thing they want is for their children to be discovering their half-siblings. Half-siblings share 25%, give or take a few percentage points, of the same DNA, so that would be an obvious and very high match. To speak from my own experience, my own high-rated DNA matches are all close relatives who can be easily placed in my family tree, including my brother, my only paternal first cousin, a great-aunt, and a couple of first-cousins once removed, many of which I know personally. And if a family that is fairly active like mine in genetic genealogy can only have a few really close relatives, those who have something to hide are not going to want to encourage large amounts of potential genetic matches waiting to send each other uncomfortable messages and planning emotional reunions with unknown families.

Yet there are even more profound and painful ways that genetic genealogy catches people out in their sins. Let us look at the example of the Golden State Killer. For decades a variety of women were raped and murdered in different parts of California and the police were completely unable to figure out what was going on, to the point where random sleuths wrote books talking about the patterns and expressing hope that these cases would be solved. Yet the solving of the case ended up involving genetic genealogy when a close relative of the perpetrator’s DNA was found on commercially available genetic genealogy mentions, thus dramatically narrowing the pool of people who charge with the crimes. When one combines the ease of gathering DNA from people with the massive amount of people who could be uncovered through genetic genealogy, a lot of cold cases have the potential to be solved as long as the physical evidence has been properly stored.

All of this ought to lead us to ponder how it is that contemporary genetics and the immense popularity of genetic genealogy should make us pause when it comes to our behavior. If someone did not want their own DNA to be accessible to find and to be matched with, would it be reasonable to assume that people would be able to discourage the practice among those sharing the same great-grandparent? It is a somewhat trivial task to match people who share DNA on the level of second cousin or closer, and when one has a large enough family, triangulating segment matches on that level is not going to be hard for any forensic geneticist worth his or her salary. The rising popularity of genetic genealogy makes it increasingly likely that many people will be close matches regardless of how much they want their own genealogy to be hidden. In a world like our own, as long as you leave DNA traces of your sins, they will find you out. Just live accordingly.

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Exploring The Reasons Why, Or Some Thoughts On The Political Theory Of The Bible: Part Four

Already, so far in this brief series of posts, we have looked at some of the combination between equality and oneness in history, in the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, and in human institutions. While there is a great deal that can be said about the combination of oneness and hierarchy, and how they appear simultaneously together, let us content ourselves for the moment with discussing some of the reasons why these two qualities belong together and what that means for us. Why is it important that the bible simultaneously calls for oneness and order and respect and honor for authority on the one hand and for equality on the other hand? We do not typically tend to think of order and equality as being a harmonious pair, and in our world and especially in the politics of the Enlightenment period and afterward, such forces have often been pitted against each other to the present-day. And it is no exaggeration to think that a great deal of the problems of our place and time exist because of a failure to harmonize order and equality and instead to pit these two worthy qualities against each other to the harm and misery of all.

We may better understand the worth of the combination of order and equality when we consider the problems of either present without the other. When we have order and authority and hierarchy without a recognition of the equality of ruler and ruled as human beings created in the image of God and subject to His ultimate authority, the problems are obvious and lamentable. Where there is authority unaccompanied by an attitude of service, we find the abuse of authority and the exploitation of others and the tyrannical exercise of that authority contrary to the well-being of others. This is precisely the sort of behavior that provokes others to rebellion. And that rebellion and anarchy is what happens when a desire for equality is unaccompanied by respect for authority and order. In a way, both tyranny and anarchy justify the opposite, in that a large amount of hostility against order provides an obvious justification for harsh actions taken against rebels, and harsh and unloving authority provides the justification for rebellion and anarchy. We may thus figure that both tyranny and anarchy alike are the enemies of a just and orderly society, and that the use of tyranny to preserve order and the use of anarchy to seek justice are alike not only misguided but actively inimical to the proclaimed goals.

How then do we go about seeking the combination of order and equality? Paul, perhaps not surprisingly, gives considerable thought to this issue in Philippians 2:1-11, where again these two qualities are joined together: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The practical political theory of the Bible is modeled quite well by these verses, and it is advice that Paul wished for his audience to take to heart. We would also do well to keep this advice close to heart. How is it that Paul urges us to attain both order as well as equality in our society? We are to cultivate being like-minded and united with those around us. We are to reject selfish ambition or conceit, to demonstrate humility by looking out not only for our own interests but also the interests of others. We are called to follow in the example of Jesus Christ, who was Himself equal to God the Father in being divine but who humbled Himself even to the point of a horrible death, but who is then rewarded by God with glory, and given a name that every knee will, by choice or not, bow before in submission. This is by no means easy to do, or else more people would do it, and it cuts against the spirit of our times, which makes it all the more important that we seek to cultivate this sort of spirit. Ultimately, the reason why we are ourselves to both recognize our equality with other beings under God and to cultivate an attitude of honor and respect and love for others is that by doing so we become more like Jesus Christ. And what could be better than that?

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