The very day I posted my DNA results from Ancestry.com back in September, I got this:
“We’re always working to improve our DNA science and with more than 150 new regions, we’ve brought even more detail to your results.”

“This update may connect you to additional new regions or migration stories. It’s also possible that some of your previous regions have disappeared, as our data has become more precise. Either way, it’s an update that gives you a clearer picture of your origins than ever before.” They say my DNA hasn’t changed, but their understanding does. Compare with the last one:

So I’m part southern Bantu, which didn’t show up at all the first go round. I’m more from Benin/Togo. I’m more from Great Britain/Ireland, and there’s a potential familial lead in Munster, Ireland.

But I’m less Scandinavian, and less Nigerian. My Native American went from less than 1% to 1%, not exactly a telling statistic.

Meanwhile, they’ve added some additional information to the familial field. There’s some woman they’ve identified as my potential 2nd or 3rd cousin. “Shared DNA: 302 cM across 14 segments”. What the heck is a cM?

In genetics, a centimorgan (abbreviated cM) or map unit (m.u.) is a unit for measuring genetic linkage. It is defined as the distance between chromosome positions (also termed loci or markers) for which the expected average number of intervening chromosomal crossovers in a single generation is 0.01. It is often used to infer distance along a chromosome. However, it is not a true physical distance.”

Got it. OK, don’t “got it.” What? BTW, the person I know IRL who is my second cousin- Shared DNA: 250 cM across 17 segments. Lillian Bell Archer, is our common ancestor, our great-grandmother. Lillian is my mother’s mother’s mother.

As my cousin once said, “This is addicting stuff.” Will I share my DNA with greatness?

George ForemanThere was a time in the United States when most people could name the current heavyweight boxing champion. My paternal grandfather McKinley Green probably could have named them all, from John L. Sullivan through Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, the undefeated Rocky Marciano to Floyd Patterson.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title that he’d won in 1964 (as Cassius Clay) by beating Sonny Liston. This was due to his refusal to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam War. “Smokin'” Joe Frazier eventually won the confusing alphabet soup of titles when he defeated Jimmy Ellis in 1970. Frazier then beat Ali, who was by then allowed to make his comeback, in the “Fight of the Century” in 1971.

On January 22, 1973, Frazier lost his title when he was defeated for the first time professionally by George Foreman. Foreman had won a gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He turned professional in 1969. After he beat Frazier, he had two successful title defenses.

Foreman’s lost the title in his first professional defeat, to Muhammad Ali, in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in October 1974 in Zaire. George retired from boxing after a loss to Jimmy Young in 1977 and had a religious conversion. He became an ordained minister and opened a youth center in Houston, TX.

In 1987, at the age of 38, George announced he was returning to boxing to raise money for his youth center. From the Wikipedia: “By 1989, Foreman had sold his name and face for the advertising of various products, selling everything from grills to mufflers on TV….his public persona was reinvented, and the formerly aloof, ominous Foreman had been replaced by a smiling, friendly George.” In fact, it was the George Foreman Grill that made him far more money than he made in his boxing career.

Still, in 1994, he fought a guy named Michael Moorer. “With this historic victory, Foreman broke three records: he became, at age 45, the oldest fighter ever to win the World Heavyweight Championship; 20 years after losing his title for the first time, he broke the record for the fighter with the longest interval between his first and second world championships; and the age spread of 19 years between the champion and challenger was the largest of any heavyweight boxing championship fight.” He eventually ceded the title.

He has a dozen kids. “On his website, Foreman explains, ‘I named all [five of] my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common. I say to them, ‘If one of us goes up, then we all go up together, and if one goes down, we all go down together!'”

Vice.movieIn many ways, it’s the early scenes in Vice, the movie about former US President – I mean Vice-President – Dick Cheney, that are the most interesting to me. It was how Cheney (played with eerie physical precision by Christian Bale) went from being a Yale dropout to one of the most significant political power players in recent history.

It is the equally brilliant transformation of Amy Adams, a performer who I’ve seen in a number of films, that really wowed me. She disappears into the role of Lynne Cheney, motivating Dick before they got married. Also strong were Steve Carell as Cheney’s early mentor Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, whose own youthful lack of self-control parallels that of Cheney.

One finds out only late in the proceedings why Kurt (Jesse Plemons) is our narrator, and that was a useful device. Even those characters with little to say – LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice, e.g. – had the right look.

For me, one of the best laughs came with the fake credits midway through the movie. Oh, if only THAT narrative had actually played out. Since my disdain for Cheney has been quite high for years, not much of the parts after that point were particularly surprising to me. To be honest, I was feeling a bit of confirmation bias. Cleverly, the last scene, which some theatergoers missed because they left too early, addresses that issue.

I enjoyed Adam McKay’s previous movie The Big Short quite a bit more. Maybe it was because I had a lesser understanding of the topic, the market manipulation that helped bring about the Great Recession of 2008. I definitely found the earlier film to be flat out funnier, even as it ticked me off. Dark humor is a tricky thing thing, which is why the critics are so divided over Vice.

Still, despite these qualifiers, I recommend the film for its amazing ability to transform these people, via acting and makeup, into their roles in our recent history which resonate even to this day. For example, just this month, Dick and Lynne’s daughter Liz Cheney rips progressives in preview of House GOP attack plan.

I’m glad my wife and I got to see Vice at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany a couple weeks ago.


Only somewhat off topic: I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America. A glimpse of the suburban grotesque, featuring Russian mobsters, Fox News rage addicts, a caged man in a sex dungeon, and Dick Cheney.

Map of USAIn case you missed it amidst your New Year’s revelry, Alaska was granted statehood on as the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959. Back in 2011, when my mom died, my daughter, one of her older cousins and the cousin’s boyfriend were asked what’s the largest state in size, and only my seven-year-old daughter knew it was Alaska.

Upon attaining statehood, Alaska increased the size of the United States by nearly one-fifth. I think Americans are confused by the vastness of the state because most maps of the United States look like the one above, with Alaska (and Hawaii) relegated to the lower left corner of the map, usually with no scale. Hawaii usually appears larger than it is in relationship to the contiguous states, but Alaska almost appears MUCH smaller.

“The Last Frontier” is “the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States and has the most easterly longitude” in the country because the Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern Hemisphere. Canada, specifically British Columbia and Yukon, border the state to the east. It has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. The state has a longer coastline than all the other U.S. states combined.
Alaska over the US

Yet Alaska is also the most sparsely populated U.S. state with a population of only 739,795 (2017). Denali National Park is home to Denali (formerly called Mount McKinley), North America’s highest peak. Alphabetically among the states, it’s second, after Alabama. In terms of postal codes, AK is first, before AL.

You may know why Russia gave up Alaska. The territory was difficult to defend and “Russia was short on cash due to the costs of the war in Crimea” in the 1850s.

But why the US want to buy it? “In Alaska, the Americans foresaw a potential for gold, fur, and fisheries, as well as more trade with China and Japan. The Americans worried that England might try to establish a presence in the territory, and the acquisition of Alaska – it was believed – would help the U.S. become a Pacific power. And overall the government was in an expansionist mode backed by the then-popular idea of ‘manifest destiny.’

So a deal with “incalculable geopolitical consequences was struck,” and the Americans seemed to get quite a bargain for their $7.2 million, approximately two cents per acre.

For ABC Wednesday

They shall not grow oldI can’t remember the last time I took off work to see a movie. But my parents-in-law, four of my wife’s cousins, and three of their significant others all traveled at least an hour to a Regal Theater in Albany to see They Shall Not Grow Old with my wife and me.

It was a curious release process, two showings, one in the evening of December 17, and the other the afternoon of December 27, in about 1,140 theaters. It was put out by Fathom Events, which specializes in one-day cinematic events such as opera performances.

Back in 2014, the centennial of the beginning of World War I, director Peter Jackson was commissioned to take 100 hours of footage and 600 hours of audio clips and make a movie out of it. As the director admitted in a clip before the actual film, he didn’t know WHAT to do initially.

Eventually, he came up with a narrative that involved the recruitment process in Britain, with many of the recruits underage; they should have been 18, and 19 to go overseas. And it’s when the story switches to France that the film changes from black and white to color.

They Shall Not Grow Old does not attempt to describe a specific battle, but rather the stress from training, boredom from waiting, to being in the trenches and experiencing German bombardments. It wasn’t until the 30-minute “making of” that I truly appreciated the astonishing work it took to make the film look as it did, from slowing down or speeding up the film to making film that appeared too dark or too light pleasing to the eye.

I was so taken by the film that I immediately had to find the two critics out of 68 who gave it a negative review. One said, “Like all of [Jackson’ s] work, it is first and foremost a special effects movie.” And it is, and an incredible one at that, but it’s an odd complaint.

The other groused that “the film is yet another erasure of soldiers of color who are nowhere to be found in what is otherwise a postmodern take on documentary filmmaking.” I don’t know was captured in those recordings so I can’t speak to this.

The truth is, and Jackson said so, that he could have made any number of films, including the role of women in the war effort, a generation before Rosie the Riveter. Or the war at sea. He was trying to create a coherent narrative. One does see, briefly, troops from other parts of the British Empire.

With the success of those two days, They Shall Not Grow Old will have another showing on January 21. An earlier report suggests it will receive a limited theatrical releases in NYC, L.A. and Washington DC starting on January 11, with plans to then expand into 25 more markets on February 1.

Here’s Chuck Miller’s take on the December 17 screening.

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