Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review - Legacy A Genetic History Of The Jewish People

A Genetic History Of The Jewish People
by Harry Ostrer
Oxford University Press, 2012

This a remarkable book, both for the subject and the amount of controversy the publication of the original subject matter generated.
The author is a medical geneticist who spent a great deal of time researching  the medical susceptabilities and strengths of Jewish people as they spread across the globe, and the publication of his work into the Jewish Hapmap Genome generated controversy and concern even though it was primarily an attempt to explain and document in genetic terms the spread of Jewish people across the globe long after the original Diaspora. This book was written in to dispel some of the concerns raised, to outline the genetics of the Jewish people and to discuss whether Jews  "constituted a race, a people, or a genetic isolate." 

The book is divided into  six chapters, covering the topics of Looking Jewish, Founders, Genealogies, Tribes, Traits and Identity.

In  Chapter One, for example, he discusses what consitutes a stereotypical Jewish facial appearance and how accurate the perceptions are in reality, with special reference to  the work of Jewish scientists such as Maurice Fishberg, a keen physiognomist who himself had emigrated from Russia to America. The work of one or more Jewish scientists and thinkers is showcased in each chapter, and I was woefully unfamiliar with any of them before reading this book.

 I was particularly interested in the epidemiology of diseases which showed distinct variations between Jews and Christians across the world, raising questions as to how much the variations can be described as purely genetic or lifestyle or an admixture of both factors. The increased incidence of Tay-Sachs disease amongst Askkenazi Jews is generally well-known, but Dr Ostrer draws in many medical conditions such as Thalassaemia, Gaucher disease and Phenylketonuria to name but a very few, which the general reader may not initially think have any specific point of reference to Jews but which occur in greater numbers in Jews of particular geographic communities. The genetics of mental illness, discussed in detail in "Traits" made for truly heartbreaking reading, so "Caveat Lector".

 How genetics works - both in theory and in practice - and the scientific bases for a variety of medical conditions are very clearly and succinctly explained for the lay reader, and this book is highly accessible to the general reader as well as being detailed enough to hold the interest of readers who may have a more extensive background knowledge of genetics and medicine. That in itself is a considerable achievement !

This book is by no means simply about science and medicine, however; history, literature, linguistics, intermarriage, adherence to religious customs, historic living and working conditions and the role of  social cohesion are all discussed in depth with special reference to the Jewish people.

Interestingly, the US census return forms regard Jewish purely as a descriptor of religious adherence, not a racial identificator. It will be worth watching to see if this will change in due course, as the genetic research work of Dr Ostrer and others is adding increasing weight to the scientifc basis for Jews to be regarded as a biological race and not just a group who happen to profess the same religious faith.

 I found the book to be an absorbing and enjoyable read and it has certainly inspired me to continue to read about this topic.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Pondering Modesty

May is one of our family's birthday months. Now, we have DD1, Mrs DoomHamster, and DD3, who have celebrated their 26th and 14th birthdays respectively in the last week :-)

I took DD3 shopping to The Big City on Saturday, so she could choose some new clothes as part of her birthday gift. The Big City has a population of 330,000 and is very cosmopolitan indeed compared to our sleepy small seaside town, so it is always a big adventure when we visit maybe twice a year. Yes, I know, I need to get out more....but after Saturday, I have very little desire to.

Thinking of the rigours of repeatedly changing in order to try on clothes, DD3 was sensibly attired for the extremely hot weather, in blue jeans and a tshirt. She looked relaxed, modest, comfortable and very pretty indeed, and we had lots of fun travelling by bus and then by train.

Within 10 seconds of leaving the train station, our ears were blasted by a woman wearing very little, pushing a stroller, screaming across the concourse to an acquaintance that  "They just said they could see my ar*e in this!" in positively outraged tones. DD3 and I just looked at each other, and agreed that it was in fact a true statement and not an insult as it would be difficult to imagine her wearing any less clothing. This woman was in fact one of the most clothed people we saw that day:

  •  The girl wearing a tiny, totally transparent cream mico-mini skirt was notable for the fact she had elected to wear a black thong under it.
  • The woman in McDonald's wearing  shorts which exposed at least 90% of the cheeks of both buttocks, and which put us off our food so much that we individually and simultaneously elected to put our shopping bags on the table to block out the view.
  • The girls with backless, sleeveless and almost frontless tops.
  • The woman wearing a maxi-dress with capped sleeves but a wide cleavage split that went almost to her waist, and if she had coughed, would have had a fashion accident of an embarrassing kind.
  • The woman trying on  a leather lace-up corset in one shop, who came out of the changing cubicle to wait for her partner, who duly vocally admired her and their joint decision that that was what she was wearing to go out that night. Frankly, I would have been embarrassed to wear it as lingerie in my home for the sole benefit of my husband, let alone wear it out as her only item of clothing above her waist, as it was laced so tightly that acres of  sweaty flesh were bulging out everywhere.........

I want to add that we weren't staring at these people, mocking these people or judging these people in any way, but being the hillbilly hicks from the sticks, we were totally taken aback at what city folk seem to think is perfectly acceptable summer attire in 2012. I have seen prostitutes in London's less salubrious districts wearing more modest clothing than these apparently respectable people.

I came home feeling that I needed bleach for both my eyes and my brain, and after a carefully worded chat with my daughter, was rather relieved that she felt the same. I was beginning to feel very old indeed. No wonder so many cultures comment on the apparent western decadence; I felt a bit like that myself..........

PS For those of you who may share our enjoyment in such things, the trains we travelled on were named "The National Trust" and "Demelza" :-)
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recently Read

Or perhaps I should say, Recently Re-read !

Locked Rooms
 I think this may perhaps be my very favourite of Laurie King's wonderful Sherlock Holmes / Mary Russell series.  Since her childhood, Mary has carried the burden of believing that she was the direct cause of the terrible accident which caused the deaths of her parents and her brilliant younger brother. But was she really to blame ? Or was there a deeper, darker element to the accident, which becomes a more possible explanation as she investigates the strange happenings to those who knew her parents.....

The Language Of Bees
This was a gripping read, the first of a two-part novel. Dark, disturbing and unsettling, it deals with a fanatically deluded  charlatan who causes tragedy to strikes very close to home indeed for Sherlock and Mary. Not for the faint-hearted, but brilliantly crafted.

It's All Greek To Me!
This is a gentle, respectful and loving look at Greek culture and life as one man and his family attempt to come to terms with buying and renovating an old property in a small village.

Prayers For The Dead

Mrs Kellerman has produced another thought-provoking  book; this one explores how a religious family can be  profoundly and fatally divided.

I do love the classic Ellis Peters'  "Inspector Felse" detective novels. Rainbow's End  was a particularly good one in the series, which revealed hidden depths on re-reading.

As did Death And The Joyful Woman ! These books are as much about Dominic Felse as about his father George, and Dominic is a delightfully drawn teenager.

The Hermit of Eyton Forest  also deals with betrayal, division and loss.

It is interesting how sometimes one unconsciously chooses a succession of books which deal with a particular theme or set of circumstances. I am currently reading Laurie King's magnificent The God of The Hive, and am finding it to be just as difficult to put down as it was the very first time I read it !
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

23 Adult Truths

Borrowed from my very dear friend , Mary !

****** 23 ADULT TRUTHS ******

1 Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind-of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.

13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Light than Kay.

17. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

18. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

19. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?

20. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

21. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

22. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

23. The first testicular guard, the "Cup," was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flash Mob

Shamelessly stealing this from Silouan's Facebook page :-)

Watch and enjoy  - I certainly did !
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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Church of Our Lady and St Alphege, Bath

The wedding was held at the RC church of Our Lady and St Alphege, in Bath, due to the numbers attending ~300 guests, which would not have fitted into the Parish's own chapel ! This Church was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and is less than a hundred years old. Of Romanesque design, it is very beautiful.......the website has more photos. Information about St Alphege here.

I was delighted to see the Epiphany Chalk above the door: 20+ CMB+12

The internal pillars denote scenes form the Life of Our Lady on one side of the Church and the Life of St Alphege on the other

This was an hour before the wedding started and the Church was busy.

These arches are lovely.

Our Lady's Chapel

Looking from the Lady Chapel towards the Altar

The floor is not apparently mosaic, but linoleum :-)
And DD3 and I loved this lady's shoes ......

DD4 carrying the bride's train as they perform the Dance of Isaiah with the koumbaros and koumbara

The bride's father, my Godfather, leading them in the Dance. There were six vested clergy and many more in the congregation.

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Travelling To The Wedding!

I really love this bridge !
This is the second Severn Crossing Bridge


It is so clean and elegant in design; photos simply do not do it justice......

Traffic going in the other direction was at a complete standstill for several miles due to an accident on the
We saw many fields full of acid-yellow oilseed rape, which will be harvested and used to produce cooking oil. On a sunny day, the colour is so bright it really does hurt your eyes.....

Our  first view of the outskirts of Bath; DD4 was desperate for me to take this photo :-)

All the buildings were in the lovely local stone and many were in a regency design which Miss Austen would have recognised.......

This last photo was of a very decorous and discreet family business, with a brass plaque which announces soberly : Undertakers.

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