Tuesday, January 29, 2013


As a biologist, I will affirm the message of the first graphic - that the variations we see among human populations are variations in the expression of the genes that we all share.  For example, we all have the same number of melanocytes, the pigment producing cells, and the variation we see in skin pigmentation is due to which type of melanin is being produced, how fast it is being produced and how quickly it is being broken down.  Many folks have direct experience with changes in melanin production - for example the induction of more melanin production by exposure to sunlight [tanning]; or skin darkening during pregnancy; or age spots :-)  Also, this post is not at all intended to be a detailed discussion of the topic - you can find many, many books on the origin of race - but rather this is intended as a simplified introduction to the topic [in response to a classroom discussion!!]

However, a natural question is how did humans get from this

to this?

One thing to consider is the map below, from Jared Diamond.  It shows human origins in Africa, and then the migration of humans throughout the world.  An important concept here is to think of these populations as simply divergent groups, isolated from one another, and therefore any genetic changes related to appearance could become distinctive for that group.
 The following graph of genetic analysis of different groups demonstrates both the divergence of different groups as well as the nearness of relationships [genetic distance] within groups. Notice the concordance of the genetic data and the migration graph [the migration graph is based partially on genetic data as well as on archaeological and anthropological data].  Sorry - you will have to turn your head sideways to read the names of the different human populations.
Perhaps a helpful analogy would be the derivation of different breeds of dogs - a common ancestor that through selective breeding [genetics] has given rise to dozens of different 'races' of dogs.  The are all the same species, with variations on a theme, and the variation can be due to the differential expression of a single gene as has been shown for the differences in dog sizes.  The take-home message for humans is that a complex of genes control the size and shape of facial features and other morphological [body] characteristics, and that heterogeneity among those genes give rise to folks who look different, and likewise homogeneity would produce similar traits.

When one considers how much variation can be generated in the dog species over a relatively short period of time, it is rather amazing that there has not been greater diversity among human populations given the long periods of time.  Given the 'shrinking' globe, it is not hard to conceive that the future will see a diminution of human variability, with physical differences becoming less and less prominent.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I have never been much of a horse enthusiast and also do not think that Michael Martin Murphey's Wildfire is a particularly great song - but - it has always been hauntingly sad.  So if you are in need of a dose of melancholy along with nice horse pictures, have at it.

She comes down from Yellow Mountain
On a dark, flat land she rides
On a pony she named, Wildfire
With a whirlwind by her side
On a cold Nebraska night

Oh, they say, she died one winter
When there came a killing frost
And the pony she named, Wildfire
Busted down it's stall
In a blizzard she was lost

She ran callin', Wildfire
She ran callin', Wildfire
She ran callin', Wildfire

By the dark of the moon, I planted
But there came an early snow
There's been a hoot-owl howling by my window now
For six nights in a row
She's coming for me, I know
And on Wildfire, we're both gonna go

We'll be riding, Wildfire
We'll be riding, Wildfire
We'll be riding, Wildfire

On Wildfire, we're gonna ride
We're gonna leave, sodbustin' behind
Get these hard times right on out of our minds
Riding Wildfire

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I have previously posted about David Gray, one of my all-time favorite musicians.  So here are three more songs for my, and possibly, your enjoyment!

"Be Mine"
From the very first moment I saw you
That's when I knew
All the dreams I held in my heart
Had suddenly come true
Knock me over stone cold sober
Not a think I could say or do
'cos baby when I'm walking with you now
My eyes are so wide
Like you reached right into my head
And turned on the light inside
Turning on the light
Inside my mind hey

Come on baby it's all right
Sunday monday day or night
Written blue on white it's plain to see
That rainy shiny night or day
What's the difference anyway
Baby till your heart belongs to me

If I had some influence girl
With the powers that be
I'd have them fire that arrow at you
Like they fired it right at me
And maybe when your heart and soul are burning
You might see
That everytime I'm talking with you
It's always over too soon
That everyday feels so incomplete
Till you walk into the room
Say the word now girl
I'll jump that moon hey

Come on baby it's ok
Rainy shiny night or day
There's nothing in the way now
Don't you see
Winter summer day or night
Centigrade of fahrenheit
Baby till your heart belongs to me
Thursday friday short or long
When you got a love so strong
How can it be wrong now mercy me
Jumpin' jesus holy cow!
What's the difference anyhow
Baby till your heart belongs to me

Be mine, be mine

  "Meet me on the other side"

Meet me on the other side
Meet me on the other side
I'll see you on the other side
See you on the other side

Honey now if I'm honest
I still don't know what love is
Another mirage folds into the haze of time recalled
And now the floodgates cannot hold
All my sorrow all my rage
A tear that falls on every page

Meet me on the other side
Meet me on the other side

Maybe I oughta mention
Was never my intention
To harm you or your kin
Are you so scared to look within
The ghosts are crawling on our skin
We may race and we may run
We'll not undo what has been done
Or change the moment when it's gone

Meet me on the other side
Meet me on the other side
I'll see you on the other side
I'll see you on the other side

I know it would be outrageous
To come on all courageous
And offer you my hand
To pull you up on to dry land
When all I got is sinking sand
The trick ain't worth the time it buys
I'm sick of hearing my own lies
And love's a raven when it flies

Meet me on the other side
Meet me on the other side
I'll see you on the other side

"Say Hello Wave Goodbye"

Standing at the door of the pink Flamingo crying in the rain,
It was a kind of so-so love and I'm gonna make sure it doesn't happen again,
You and I had to be the standing joke of the year,
You were a run around, a lost and found, and not for me I feel

Take your hands off me, hey,
I don't belong to you, you see,
And take a look in my face, for the last time,
I never knew you, you never knew me,
Say hello goodbye,
Say hello and wave goodbye,

We tried to make it work, you in a cocktail skirt and me in a suit but it just wasn't me,
You're used to wearing less, and now your life's a mess, so insecure you see,
I put up with all the scenes, this is one scene that's going to be played my way

Say hello and wave goodbye

Under the deep red light I can see the make-up sliding down,
Well hey little girl you will always make up so take off that unbecoming frown,
As for me, well I'll find someone who's not going cheap in the sales,
A nice little housewife who'll give me a steady life and not keep going
off the rails,

Say hello and wave goodbye

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013


Over at WEIT, Jerry Coyne has been posting some interesting pictures of foxes, and here is one I really like:


In Boulder, we have quite a variety of critters in our back yard, and the red fox is among them.  The fox keep the squirrels on their toes!!  Here is a picture that I took of a fox in the woods near Ushuaia:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


As most of you know, the voters in Colorado and Washington state recently approved the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. There has been much written about the whole issue, but I found Bruni's article interesting.

January 14, 2013
Frank Bruni - The New York Times - January 14, 2013

Colorado is going to pot. It’s just having a tough time figuring out how.

Although an Election Day referendum legalized marijuana for recreational use, it left questions unanswered. Like: how high can you be behind the wheel of a car? Lawmakers are debating a specific blood level, as with alcohol, above which a motorist is deemed an uneasy rider.

In a restaurant or private club, might the dessert choices someday include an upscale riff on the pot brownie and a double entendre of a pot de crème? One lawyer I spoke with lofted this possibility, but who knows. State officials still have many months to draft regulations for recreational pot’s retail sale, which should begin next January. The new law has already made recreational possession O.K.

Certainly, there will be a bigger workload for Denver’s Craig Claiborne of cannabis, who began reviewing Colorado’s medical marijuana dispensaries for the alternative newspaper Westword in 2009. Last month the critic, who writes under the pseudonym William Breathes, added a weekly advice column called “Ask a Stoner.”

For a while now, Colorado has been deeper in the weed than most other states. It permitted medical marijuana in 2000, and at dispensaries, of which there are now hundreds, a person with physician approval can choose among a dozen or more strains of pot, which vary in strength, hue, fragrance. A dispensary named Denver Relief stocks Durban Poison, which promises a fruity aroma “with undertones of milk chocolate,” and ChemDawgD, with its “strong smell of Pine-Sol and jet fuel.”

There are different delivery systems as well. If a patient doesn’t like to smoke, he or she can try marijuana cola, marijuana baklava, marijuana bath salts.

“The baklava is excellent,” said Breathes, who has a stomach condition for which he got a medical marijuana card. (The card has his real name; his nom de plume protects him from exposure when he presents it.)
But the referendum puts Colorado, along with the state of Washington, whose voters also opened the door to bong hits purely for pleasure, on new legal terrain.

“This will be a complicated process,” announced Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper shortly after the referendum passed. “Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

These were the words of a man who had inhaled in the past — he admits as much, though he says it was 15 years ago — and seems to know something about the munchies. And they pointed to another interesting wrinkle of the Colorado story: the marijuana muddle will be tackled by a politician who rose to local prominence in the intoxication business, as the owner of popular brewpubs.

When I caught up with him here recently, he volunteered that a paleontologist with whom he’s friendly believes that cannabis and hops, which are flowers used to make beer, have a shared horticultural ancestry.
“If you take hops, and you grind them up in your fingers, they smell just like what I’m told marijuana smells like,” said Hickenlooper, who is 60.

“That was a joke,” he added, meaning the “I’m told” part.

He actually opposed Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational pot, and didn’t greet its passage with reefer gladness. Although it applies only to adults, he worries that kids will feel emboldened and that frequent marijuana use could hurt them.

I shadowed him for a few days, including to Colorado Springs, where he disappeared into a meeting with a local newspaper’s editorial board. More of the questions he was asked touched on marijuana than on gun control, an aide said.

The next morning I arrived midway through a Q. and A. that he did with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, and what do you suppose he was discussing? Pot.

The alarm is confusing. For many years in many places, pot has been prevalent and its casual use often overlooked. Enforcement of laws against possession has been uneven, to a point where New York leaders want to move away from small-scale pot arrests.

Presidential candidates have felt free to allude or own up to past marijuana use. So why all the hand wringing over pot’s legalization, when its illegality isn’t always taken seriously? If we have a problem with pot, we sure haven’t behaved that way.

Colorado and Washington aren’t being experimental so much as honest. They’re acknowledging reality, and giving people the same chance with pot as with alcohol: to use it responsibly — or not. They’ll also pick up some tax revenue in the process.

And perhaps Breathes will need a co-critic. Patricia Calhoun, the editor of Westword, told me she gets applications. But, she added, they’re responses to the initial announcement she posted more than three years ago.

“A lot of potheads don’t move very fast,” she said.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


The NASA Johnson Style is a parody of Gangnam Style by Psy.  An recent article in the Boulder Daily Camera described how several CU student interns at NASA appear in the video as part of the background dancing troupe.   As of today the NASA video has 4,099,174 views while Psy's has supposedly topped a billion.

Saturday, January 05, 2013


"Big Boy"
Our West Boulder Neighborhood Elk
Known To Bed Down In Our Backyard


One of Boulder's Finest, Protecting Us From The Savage Elk
Shot with a shotgun, carted off for butchering, no report, initial denials
The cops broke several laws, at least one of which is a felony
Officials are "investigating" and officers are on paid leave

The story and several photos can be found here.  And the local memorial for the elk can be found here.  Hanging the officers might be a bit harsh, but there are well-known methods for reducing their testosterone levels.