Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Race To Genomic Identity

Eric Raymond has an incite-full (I pun) post up at his blog Armed and Dangerous titled A Specter Is Haunting Genetics. His principle point (I pun again) being that, as we come to more fully classify a statistically meaningful representative sample of the human population, we will almost certainly discover ... well, let him say it for himself:
(1) we will shortly have genomic-sequence information on hundreds of thousands of human beings from all over the planet, enough to build a detailed map of human genetic variation and a science of behavioral genetics. (2) We will confirm that variant alleles correlate strongly with significant measures of human ability and character, beginning with IQ and quite possibly continuing to distribution of time preference, sociability, docility, and other important traits. (3) We will discover that these same alleles correlate significantly with traditional indicia of race.

As I take his meaning to be, we will be able to identify the individual genetic variations that are presently classified by external physical appearance - in a word: race. The squabbles begin and degenerate rapidly thereafter.

In the early-to-mid 1980's I worked for the US Navy at a research facility. Along with one other man named Peter, we were the only two people within the building during the night shift we worked. The building was fairly well RF shielded so, to the limited extent talk radio existed back then, it wasn't really an option anyway. :) The job largely consisted of setting up multi-hour long sequences and the occasional crack of dawn customer requirement. IOW we talked. A lot - and about much we wouldn't ordinarily have inspiration or inclination to consider in other circumstance.

As it happens, this same general topic (the socio-political impact of genetic identifiers) was one we repeatedly considered.

Now remember, this was the '80's; Reagan was walkin' the walk, the economy was roaring back, Crick and Watson and DNA were a recurring theme in news stories of the day (much of them crime related) and the "nurture/nature" argument was much in vogue due to the prominence of the McMartin Pre-School (and other sex abuse) trials over those years. Peter's family was politically active (and significant in state politics) and he had a trained artist's sense of story, while I was a longtime reader of speculative fiction with an eclectic employment and education history; we were well equipped to apply "what if ..." to a wide range of topics. No real way for us to tell how well grounded, or even if, those thoughts were, but there you have it ... stopped clocks and all that comes quickly to mind.

We eventually settled on the creation of a personal "label" as the most direct means to overcome the history and industry that has accrued to race and eugenics-related perceptions. The idea being that, since individuals are apparently the result of some mixture of genetic inheritance and social environmental inputs, an individual identification code based on their individual genetics would be a method for refuting the opposition that seemed even then an almost certain response to such detailed knowledge of humanity. This would only work if there was a large enough sample base to make such classification statistically meaningful and there was created a social-input chart of some nature (that quantified the general characteristics of a given growth experience or influence - much in the manner that present-day dating sites do, as it turns out). This last was always the critical stumbling block since we couldn't envision a means for doing such a thing (neither of us being surnamed Berners-Lee you understand :)).

I'm hopeful that with his professional background and personal depth of interest, Eric will have a better sense of the practicality of Peter's and my early stumbling about in the night hours. If one day I become Will Brown XY-7543GT-&%76-%#$@&54A instead of XXX-YY-ZZZZ, then it becomes possible to argue that my (everyone's) genetic code isn't "racist" at all, but is an accurate measure of both my potential medical state as well as my capability generally, absent some form of intervention. Instead of sticking me in a niche, it becomes possible to quantify the trans-human fantasy onto a scale of feasibility as well as work to remove group classification from societal consideration. To the extent that humans are social animals, possession of a means to characterise each other in advance of detailed individual knowledge will remain necessary to continuation of the human condition. Having a mechanism to make such pre-judgement as individually accurate as clinically possible seems a useful alternative to the historical standard.

Or, so said all both of us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Krav, Y'all

Some days ago (OK, 10 days ago :)) Helen Smith wrote a post asking how people cope with the stress induced by the news reports and commentary we all are inundated with. I found her principal response particularly interesting:
My positive activity has been to re-read a book entitled Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault and to think about returning to the Kra Maga lessons I was taking ...

This book by Imi Sde-Or (aka: Imrich Lichtenfeld, founder of the Krav Maga system) has much to recommend it, especially as a means of insight into thinking that lead to Krav Maga, but it isn't all that clearly written without an additional source of explanation/instruction. With that in mind, I would like to recommend to the good Doctor she also read these two books as well:

KRAV MAGA The Contact Combat System Of The Israeli Defense Forces by David Kahn.

KRAV MAGA For Beginners by Darren Levine, John Whitman & Ryan Hoover.

Imi's book presents Krav Maga as the complete system he taught in an apparently holistic manner. The other two books present the material in a format based upon the latter-day belt ranking system Imi grafted onto Krav Maga to better correlate his school with other established martial systems. I find the subject matter to be more clearly presented in the hierarchical structure although it is helpful to be able to orient a given instruction in Imi's format upon occasion.

Full disclosure; I train here. East Texas Krav Maga is part of Darren Levine's Krav Maga Worldwide self-defense and fitness organisation and I'm pretty sure I trained with Darren Levine himself on at least a few occasions (as part of a large class in 1990/91 when I still lived in the Los Angeles area).

I'm hopeful that Dr. Helen will be willing to engage in a somewhat wide-ranging discussion of issues and questions that relate to Krav Maga directly as well as to its place in society at large, perhaps as a series of post-and-response on our respective blogs. With that in mind, one of the issues I think I see occurring is formation of a type of schism within the ranks of Krav Maga practitioners. My impression (largely from David Kahn's books as well as Krav Maga websites like this one) is that there is some dispute regarding the type as well as methodology of the instruction being variously offered at Krav Maga International (centered in Israel) schools and Krav Maga Worldwide or Alliance schools (centered in the US). I'm quite sure that at least some of this is an unintended consequence of marketing efforts within the various school organisations. I'm also certain that some of it is a fundamental dispute.

This KMW school is in Knoxville, but it is unclear to me which tradition Dr. Helen trained in; International, Worldwide or Alliance. What I'm especially hopeful she can offer informed insight into is the human psychology of combat training, both the effects upon the individual as well as upon the system itself (how much does the psychological trauma associated with combat and its after effects influence the form and content of the course of instruction for civilians/military and the in-between circumstance of police as example). Since Dr. Helen is also a shooter, I look forward to her observations and insights into that aspect of the Krav Maga experience as well. While I don't share her particular health concerns, I have my own and hope to share thoughts on the fitness benefits of Krav Maga as opposed (or perhaps better, as well as) to other techniques.

What I'm not interested in is some sort of comparative analysis or politicization of the various viewpoints within KM. It is useful to understand what those are and the history behind them (if only to better understand the issues that lead up to their development), but my interest is in better understanding the capabilities of KM and gaining a more complete understanding of the system.

I will be writing more on this topic in future, but for the moment await the doctor's response.