The eyes have it

Via the BBC:

Scientists have made a breakthrough in their understanding of the genetics behind human eye colour.

They found that just a few “letters” out of the six billion that make up the genetic code are responsible for most of the variation in human eye colour.

The research, by a team of scientists from Queensland, Australia, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The findings are based on a genetic study of nearly 4,000 individuals.

Differences in eye colour are largely down to “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (SNPs – pronounced “snips”); variations in the sequence of letters that make up a single strand of human DNA.

SNPs represent a change of just one letter in the genetic sequence. These changes, or mutations, in our DNA can have important consequences for how the gene gets physically expressed.

All the SNPs are located near a gene called OCA2. This gene produces a protein that helps give hair, skin and eyes their colour. And mutations in OCA2 cause the most common type of albinism.

Brown and blue

The study, which focused on twins, their siblings and parents, shows – conclusively – that there is no “gene” for eye colour.

Does this mean ‘so long’ to the long-held belief that recessive genes were responsible for the color of your eyes?

Hat tip to Kim Priestap, who posted a picture of one of her eyes as the opener to her blog post about this. Here are some eye pix of my mom, sis, and me:

ST’s eldest sis

ST’s middle sis


ST’s mom (I had to blow the pic up a bit, but hopefully the hazel-green of her eyes shines through – it does to me :) )

And these scientists are saying that there is no gene for eye color? C’mon!

On criticism of the media and blogs

There’s a lot of talk on both sides of the aisle today about Wall Street Journal assistant editorial features editor Joseph Rago’s piece on the demise of the media and rise of the blogosphere and National Review editor Rich Lowry’s surprising piece in which he defends the MSM, saying that they’re not always wrong. The consensus seems to be (at least on the right hand side of the aisle) that Rago’s full of himself and Lowry’s lost it.

First up, we’ll look at what Rago (who is a conservative) had to say. In a piece titled “The Blog Mob”, he said:

Blogs are very important these days. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one. The invention of the Web log, we are told, is as transformative as Gutenberg’s press, and has shoved journalism into a reformation, perhaps a revolution.

The ascendancy of Internet technology did bring with it innovations. Information is more conveniently disseminated, and there’s more of it, because anybody can chip in. There’s more “choice”–and in a sense, more democracy. Folks on the WWW, conservatives especially, boast about how the alternative media corrodes the “MSM,” for mainstream media, a term redolent with unfairness and elitism.

The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.

More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren’t much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Every conceivable belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion . . .

Rago starts off his piece with a strawman, namely via the implication that political bloggers feel like they are replacements for the MSM and thus demand to be treated accordingly. Three years into my experience as a blogger, reading other blogs and talking to other bloggers, I feel confident in asserting that bloggers don’t feel they’re the new MSM. Bloggers both left and right view themselves, in part, as MSM factcheckers, not members of the MSM and what they detest and fight against is what they feel are incomplete, inaccurate, and/or sometimes outright made-up stories published in the mainstream press. Because they feel that way, bloggers use their research skills as citizen journalists’ to try and dig a little deeper into what’s been reported to see if there’s more – or less – to the story than people are being told. That’s true especially in the case of conservative bloggers, who are well aware even without the admissions of so many in the mainstream media that there is a clear liberal bias in the MSM.

As far as blog content is concerned, Stephen Spruiell at NRO’s Media Blog pretty much takes care of that argument here:

If Rago knows enough about blogs to condemn them as sweepingly as he has here, then it isn’t evident from reading his piece. No one who’s familiar with the commentary of Ed Morrissey, the reporting of Michael Yon or the humor of Scott Ott could write that bloggers “promote intellectual disingenuousness” and “produce minimal reportage,” “with irony present only in its conspicuous absence” without admitting a few exceptions for these guys and a few dozen other blogospheric talents. And once those exceptions are allowed, doesn’t the whole exercise of bashing blogs become kind of pointless? As Mark Coffey at Decision 08 points out, “Are most blogs awful? Indeed, they are. So is most of what passes for entertainment on, say, television. But the price is right, and there are some jewels among the dreck.”

Precisely. I think the same thing could be said for the mainstream media, too.

Rago continues:

Nobody wants to be an imbecile. Part of it, I think, is that everyone likes shows and entertainments. Mobs are exciting. People also like validation of what they already believe; the Internet, like all free markets, has a way of gratifying the mediocrity of the masses. And part of it, especially in politics, has to do with conservatives. In their frustration with the ancien régime, conservatives quite eagerly traded for an enlarged discourse. In the process they created a counterestablishment, one that has adopted the same reductive habits they used to complain about. The quarrel over one discrete set of standards did a lot to pull down the very idea of standards.

Certainly the MSM, such as it is, collapsed itself. It was once utterly dominant yet made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas. Still, as far from perfect as that system was, it was and is not wholly imperfect. The technology of ink on paper is highly advanced, and has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness.

What he’s essentially saying here is this: bloggers write red meat posts that are faulty and/or uninspiring and agenda-driven, don’t add much to the debate are are wholly imperfect. The media, on the other hand, has its own faults as well – chiefly, lack of accuracy and a noted push of internal agendas – but is not wholly imperfect. If hypocrisy were a dish, it would be best served cold to Rago.

In this piece, Rago also conveniently glosses over the fact that journalists, unlike most bloggers, went to college for and get paid to do what they are supposed to be doing, which is reporting the news free from bias while allowing the reader/viewer to form their own opinion on the subject matter. Most bloggers, on the other hand, blog in their spare time, are self-taught on issues related to media bias, and don’t get paid for what they do outside of ads that are run on (some of) their sites – they’re also opinion writers, as opinion writing is what blogs are. That’s not saying that because bloggers didn’t graduate with a degree in Blogology (grin) and don’t get paid for what they do that bloggers shouldn’t strive to be accurate, but instead it’s saying that when you’re trained and schooled to be a journalist, the incentive is (or should be) there for you to get the facts in your stories correct, because if you don’t, you’ll either be held accountable for it by the public, disciplined for it by your bosses, and/or in some cases, let go from your job. Bloggers, on the other hand, don’t have that symbolic noose hanging over their heads. They aren’t paid to get it right – in fact, as I noted earlier, they aren’t paid at all. They are around to give their opinions, which are sometimes correct, and sometimes not. Along those same lines, Rago insinuated in the last part of his piece that there is no checks and balance system for bloggers, which is not true. There is no “official” checks and balances system, but I have noticed a propensity in the blogosphere, at least on the right hand side of the aisle, to keep other conservative bloggers honest and on their toes. No, this doesn’t happen every time with every post, but on major issues where one blogger feels another one is flat out wrong, the blogger who feels strongly about the supposed wrongness of the other will say so. The disagreement over the use of Senator Barack Obama’s middle name exemplifies this. I should also mention that the intense analysis that bloggers subject the media to has, in some cases, gotten major media outlets like the NYT to step up their efforts in communicating to the public as to explaining why a story was written why it was, and in some cases, admitting that the way the story was reported was wrong. That is not a bad thing.

Rago’s arrogance shines through in this piece, and it’s a shame, because I think he cold have written this it without the invective that he accuses bloggers of using and in the process made his points a lot better. Some of the points I feel he was correct about: bloggers (some – he’d have you believe all of them were) do contribute to the coarsening of the political debate. Jane Hamsher’s Photoshop blackface of Senator Joe Lieberman is a primary example of that. It contributed nothing to the public debate outside of unnecessarily hardening the positions of the right against the far left and vice versa. He’s also right that the blogosphere can sometimes take on a mob (I call it a “mobospheric”) mentality on certain issues (the UAE port deal comes to mind) with people immediately reacting to an issue without thinking about it first, and joining in with what appears to be the prevailing sentiment instead of examining whatever the controversial issue is more closely before commenting. Unfortunately, points like this are lost in what Rago’s written because it’s buried in between his ad hominem-esque attacks on bloggers as a whole.

My suggestion, as a lowly blogger, would be for him to tone down his inflammatory rhetoric the next time he decides to write a piece on blogs. It’s much easier to have a discussion and debate on an issue when you feel like the criticism on the issue is constructive, and not destructive.

On to Rich Lowry’s piece in today’s NRO, titled “When the media’s right.” Rich wrote in response to the continued conservative criticism (this time from First Lady Laura Bush) that good news in Iraq isn’t covered:

The “good news” that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone’s heads in a full-scale civil war. An old conservative chestnut has it that only four of Iraq’s 18 provinces are beset by violence. True, but those provinces include 40 percent of the population, as well as the capital city, where the battle over the country’s future is being waged.

In their distrust of the mainstream media, their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, and their understandable urge to buck up the nation’s will, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq. They thought that they were contributing to our success, but they were only helping to forestall a cold look at conditions there and the change in strategy and tactics that would be dictated by it.

“Realism” has gotten a bad name lately from its association with James Baker’s daffy Iraq Study Group. But realism is essential in any war, and it is impossible without an ability to assimilate bad news, even bad news that comes from distasteful sources. Conservatives need to realize that something is not dubious just because it’s reported by the New York Times, and that the media ultimately will be wrong about Iraq only if — fully acknowledging how bad it is there — the Bush administration takes bold steps to reverse the tide.

I think Lowry makes a good point here that is being overlooked by many and that is that conservatives tend to view the media (with the exception of Fox News) as a monolith and automatically assume that everything coming out of the MSM is suspect of faulty reporting – this is not without reason, of course, but all the same, just because the media is reporting something that is negative against conservatives or the conservative agenda doesn’t mean it should automatically be dismissed. Captain Ed said it well here:

I suspect that Lowry has it more right than many of us in the blogosphere would like to admit. Certainly the media has its biases, but it simply cannot be as wrong as many of us would like to believe. Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets undermine their own credibility when they continue to insist that obvious examples of egregious malfeasance, such as Rathergate and the Eason Jordan scandals, never occurred.

Someone commented here a few days ago that we go to war with the media we have. In this case, we have done better than that — we have found sources on the front lines who report directly to us, so that we can hear good news when it occurs. However, the bad news is also occurring, and we cannot write all of it off to bias. Lowry talks about realism in the non-political sense, which is to base policy and decisions on fact and not wishful thinking. Again, though, the issue is still one of credibility: can we trust the media sources that have played fast and loose in the past?

The only solution is for news consumers to get their information through multiple sources, a lesson that bloggers learned long ago. Talk to the prime movers directly when possible, insist on metrics when they exist, and compare and contrast versions of events told from several perspectives. None of this is new advice, but it is good advice. We cannot become so paranoid that we fail to listen to anyone except ourselves, because as Lowry points out, that’s when bad decisions and disastrous policies occur.

Mainstream media outlets have their biases; they also have plenty of good reporting on which one can rely. It’s up to us as discriminating consumers to find the difference.

And the only thing I’d add to that is that it’s up to us as bloggers to point out those differences as well.

Also blogging about this: Dan Riehl (more here), Ed Driscoll, Blue Crab Boulevard, Jules Crittenden, McQ at QandO, Pete Abel at Moderate Voice, Bob Owens

Dolls representing homosexuals removed from nativity scene in Italy’s parliament

Via Reuters:

ROME (Reuters) – Two leftists in Italy’s ruling coalition on Wednesday outraged fellow lawmakers by placing four dolls representing homosexual couples near the baby Jesus in the official nativity scene in parliament.

The two parliamentarians from the small “Rose in the Fist” party said their gesture was to promote the legalization of gay marriage and granting legal recognition to unmarried couples.

Bruno Mellano and Donatella Poretti placed the Barbie and Ken-type dolls in the parliamentary nativity scene, each couple lying down embraced among the shepherds witnessing the birth of Jesus.

Each of the two doll couples, which parliamentary ushers removed after a few minutes, wore miniature placards with slogans in favor of gay rights.

Maybe this is where they got the idea …

Wednesday Open thread

There’s nothing like Christmas music from the Carpenters to help mellow you out after having a trying day (as I’ve had). The audio track on this is a little different than the one you usually hear on the radio – I found that version at YouTube, but the sound quality on it wasn’t very good. You can hear Karen’s voice and the music very clearly on this one. Enjoy.

Victor Davis Hanson on presidential candidates and ‘diplomacy’

I missed this one when it was first posted a couple of days ago, but VDH smacks down wannabe-foreign-policy-diplomat-types like Senator Kerry and NM Governor Richardson who have made it a point to meddle in US foreign policy by having talks with and/or visiting countries hostile to what the US, visits and talks that could undermine US policy towards those countries:

Does running for President allow a candidate to freelance at a time of war by talking to our enemies and triangulating against the president? Why is Gov. Richardson talking to North Koreans, or Sen. Kerry trying to talk to the Iranians, or Sen. Bayh to the Syrians? Wouldn’t that be like a Tom DeLay talking to Milosevic to undermine Clinton during the Kosovo bombing? Or Trent Lott dealing with the Taliban as Clinton sent cruise missiles against them?

Perhaps in the interest of fairness, readers can cite past examples where Republican Senators and Presidential candidates went abroad, undercut Democratic foreign policy at a time of war, and made statements that were welcomed by our enemies. I know Senators of both parties talked to Saddam in 1989-90 and often nearly empathized with him, but we were not yet at war with him.

Nota bene: Senator Nelson just returned from talking in Mr. Assad’s Syria—the serial murderer of Lebanese reformers, the clearinghouse for Hezbollah, the refuge for the killers of Americans in Iraq—with assurances that Syria wishes to be a stabilizing factor in the region.

Sen. Kerry in Cairo just praised Hosni Mubarak, lauding him by chastising President Bush’s failure to listen to this voice of reason and his criticisms of the United States. And why not listen to such advice, since this autocrat has been the recipient of billions in American aid, while squelching all reform for some thirty years in the bargain?

No doubt Kerry also lectured Mubarak about once hyping the WMD threat (“Mubarak lied, thousands died?”). Remember, the Egyptian strongman, as part of his reservations about Iraq, had warned our generals that American troops would be targeted with gasses of all sorts by Saddam.

Kerry also called for new talks with Iran—a rogue state presently in the middle of uranium enrichment, supplying IEDs to the militias in Iraq, promising to wipe out Israel, and hosting a Holocaust denial love fest in Teheran. Surely if the senator once denigrated our own soldiers as terrorizing Iraqis he can at least say that Iranians do the same?

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Karol at Alarming News

What it’s supposed to mean to be Miss USA

Via the Miss USA website (emphasis added):

Who would have thought that a local “bathing beauty” competition spearheaded by Catalina Swimwear in Long Beach, CA would metamorphose into a landmark annual tradition with countless young women around the country vying to become Miss USA? As hundreds of millions of fans have watched in 125 different countries, the homegrown contest has evolved into a powerful, year-round, international organization that advances and supports opportunities for these role models.

Becoming what is now considered American royalty is still an obtainable dream for young women 50 years later. Today, Miss USA has become a fixture of pop culture, ingrained in the landscape of our minds. As the first cover subject of MS magazine’s premier issue in 1969, Miss USA continues to stand proud, breaking boundaries and defining what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.

These women are savvy, goal-oriented and aware. The delegates who become part of the Miss Universe Organization display those characteristics in their everyday lives, both as individuals, who compete with hope of advancing their careers, personal and humanitarian goals, and as women who see to improve the lives of others. Currently, Miss USA is experiencing a rebirth, playing a critical role in making the next 100 years “The Century of Women.”

What it actually means to be Miss USA:

NEW YORK — Donald Trump made “you’re fired!” a TV catchphrase, and he was prepared to deliver it when he walked into a meeting with embattled Miss USA Tara Conner.

But Trump said Tuesday he came away convinced the 21-year-old beauty queen was a “good person” with a “good heart.”

In a moment of television drama filled with redemptive tears and longing looks, Trump announced with Conner by his side that he had decided to let her keep her title after she agreed to enter rehab and undergo drug testing.

“I’ve always been a believer in second chances,” said Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization and the Miss USA pageant with NBC. “Tara is going to be given a second chance.”

Conner, who comes from the small town of Russell Springs, Ky., won the title in April and moved to New York. She has since partied hard, admitting she frequented clubs and threw back drinks, despite being underage. She turned 21 on Monday.

You know what? I’m a believer in second chances too, and I’m fully aware that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but I’m not also a believer in rewarding bad behavior, which is what has happened here (surprisingly) with Trump deciding not to strip Conner of the Miss USA crown after it had surfaced that she was regularly engaging in underage drinking (and who knows what else – there have been unsubstantiated rumors of cocaine abuse as well). The official website, as I noted above, clearly states what kind of woman is supposed to wear the crown – and party animal Conner doesn’t fit the mold.

I’m not big on these type of contests, but the Miss USA pageant organizers promote and talk up the high standards they they hold for potential Miss USAs on their website and knowing that, Trump and co. should have done the right thing here and given the crown to Miss USA 2006 runner-up Miss California Tamiko Nash. By leaving it in Conner’s hands, they’ve effectively sent the wrong signal to young American girls across the country who may be dreaming or one day dream of becoming Miss USA: You can talk a good talk, and win the competition, and if it’s found out you aren’t living up to the standards you knew existed prior to entering it, it doesn’t matter – you’ll be given a second chance.

Miss Conner is not a Miss USA “role model”; rather, she should be an example of what happens when you violate the rules and don’t live up to the high standards associated with your position. Instead, she’s now an example of how to get away with violating those rules and standards because Donald Trump wussed out in the name of “second chances” – something he’s not known for doing.

After hearing about Conner’s behind-the-scenes behavior, I didn’t think that she was the kind of person who Trump and the other Miss USA competition organizers would want as the woman who is “defining what it means to be a woman in the 21st century” and figured he’d take the crown from her and give it to Ms. Nash, but I guess I was wrong about that. If she’s fulfilled any part of the Miss USA role, it’s the one about “breaking boundaries” – the boundries for high standards, anyway.

I guess this is what the Miss USA site means when it talks about present and future Miss USAs experiencing a “rebirth.”

Concrete proof that the media will make a ‘controversy’ out of anything

As you may have already heard by now, it was reported yesterday that the First Lady had a small skin cancer tumor removed from her right knee in early November. The MSM has managed to turn this news into a manufactured ‘controversy’ because it wasn’t revealed until yesterday.

Ian at Hot Air has the video of White House Press. Sec. Tony Snow trying to calm down a press corps that was foaming at the mouth with rage over why they weren’t told (transcript here).

The mediots are actually comparing this to the Cheney hunting accident from earlier this year and as we all remember, they totally flipped out because they didn’t know about the incident until a day after it happened. While they may have had a minor point on Quailgate, they have none here as it relates to the First Lady. They’re upset for two reasons, it seems: one, that they weren’t the first ones to know about her surgery and two that she’s not turned herself into an advocate for cures for skin cancer.

Contrast this treatment of the delay in the announcing of Mrs. Bush’s surgery to how the media treated former Senator and almost-VP of the country John Edwards’ wife Elizabeth, who held off announcing that she had breast cancer (she found out in October 2004) until after the 2004 elections. Mrs. Edwards wrote a memoir about her struggle with cancer and the loss of her son, and the in this Newsweek interview she’s asked why she decided to share something ‘so personal’ with others. Apparently, though, Laura Bush’s personal health matters are treated as though they should be a matter of public record. Double standards, anyone?


More: Jason at Texas Rainmaker makes an excellent point here:

I find it downright hilarious that the MSM is making such a big deal about Laura Bush’s choice not to make a grand public spectacle about her having a discolored mole removed from her leg.

Why, you ask?

Because this is the same MSM that tried to tell us for years that a President having an adulterous affair with a member of his staff in the White House is a private matter.

So many double standards, so little time to talk about ’em …

Read more via Malkin, Leaning Straight Up, Cao’s Blog, The Big Tent