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Barack Obama

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I’ve mentioned before that though Barack H. Obama’s most salient ethnic identity is that of a black American, in many ways he far more resembles his “Yankee” maternal family (who raised him). By Yankee, I mean that I presumed that they were from the Yankee component of the Kansas population, with names like Emerson in the family lineage. Later the family settled in parts of Greater New England, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. Religiously they seem to have veered into conventional New England liberal denominations such as Unitarianism. And interestingly as an adult Barack H. Obama chose a black nationalist church which had an explicit connection with a liberal Protestant denomination with dominant roots in New England, the United Church of Christ. All this is not to say that there is a “Yankee conspiracy” on Obama’s maternal side. Rather, people have “folkways,” and are often unconsciously attracted to cultural forms and locales which have an air of familiarity.

But interestingly a regularly correspondent has uncovered that Obama’s maternal lineage, or more specifically his maternal grandfather’s paternal lineage, is more Yankee in cultural identity than genetics:

I don’t want the basis of Obama’s Yankee heritage misconstrued here. I found no one who had dug out all of his “Cavalier” ancestors and compiled them in one place, so within reasonable effort, I did so. Here is a map of all that.

Stanley Ann Dunham’s genome is in fact only one percent New England Puritan. That cohort is due to a dozen or so American-born colonial immigrant kids from Puritan England and Holland. This one clade (Samuel Dunham b. 1742) is Stanley Ann’s direct patriline. Four or five from this group migrated to New Jersey fairly early, and intermarried apparently based on their Yankee-ness there. That Stanley Ann’s grandfather is Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham suggests that the Yankee regard is stronger than the genetic fraction. Choosing sides in the Civil War might be what bolstered that loyalty.

The Pennsylvania & Maryland immigrants are German, Swiss, French etc. Then the Virginia immigrants are from England and Wales, much as Fischer suggests. The north-south immigrants’ landfalls map well onto the patriline-matriline axis of the ancestral tree.

In terms of how to replicate:

The data are from here: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi

Anyone who uses this huge wiki-like resource knows that it’s unwieldy and not totally reliable. But making a map abstracts things to where isolated data errors or ambiguities aren’t going to change the big picture.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Barack Obama, Politics 
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Likely presidential candidate Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A & AM has been published. Here are the highlights:

…In his freshman and sophomore year, Perry struggled with core science classes, earning D’s in several organic chemistry classes and C’s in general chemistry and physics.

But after Perry switched his major at the beginning of his fall semester in 1970, his grades didn’t improve. Perry got a C in Reproduction in Farm Animals, a C in genetics, a D in Feeds & Feeding, a C in Sheep & Angora Goat Production and two C’s in animal breeding classes.

Many of Perry’s other classes involved military education. Perry has previously credited his time in the A&M Corps of Cadets with giving him the necessary discipline to complete school.

Perry got two C’s in Development of Air Power and took four levels of World Military Systems, earning two C’s, a B and an A. The A was one of only two Perry earned at college — the other was for a class called Improv. of Learning.

The future governor only took one political science class while he was in school — American National Government, for which he earned a B. Other classes outside of Perry’s major included Shakespeare and Writing for Professional Men, which earned him two D’s.

Perry took two summer sessions before his senior year but still needed two more after the rest of his class graduated to complete a degree. He graduated in August of 1972.


The article goes on to note that George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and Al Gore Jr. were all mediocre students. John McCain was famously a poor student at the Naval Academy (though the I.Q. scores of all four are in the 1.5 to 2 standard deviations above the mean, so a lot of this is laziness and complacency). But what about Perry’s rivals? I suspect Mitt Romney is not going to want his transcript released, but that’s because he’s smart enough that his stellar grades are going to accentuate his “pointy-headed” nerd reputation. Romney transferred from Stanford to be with his future wife at B.Y.U. and graduated as a valedictorian. He enrolled at a joint law & business program at Harvard, graduating cum laude in the former (top 1/3) and a Baker Scholar in the latter (top 5 percent). He later went on to become a management consultant, a profession which puts a premium on raw general intelligence (whether this sector as a whole adds that much value in the greater economy is a different issue, but it certainly adds value to the consultants, as they leverage their cleverness into big paychecks).

Finally there’s Barack H. Obama. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, but to my knowledge his standardized test scores and grades from Occidental and Columbia have never been released. Why? I can think of two possible reasons. He received some affirmative action considerations in his transfer to Columbia and acceptance into Harvard Law School, which he capitalized upon effectively (becoming editor of the law review and graduating magna cum laude). So he would want to emphasize the later upswing of his higher education career (recall that George W. Bush received class-based affirmative action to obtain a spot at Harvard Business School). Or, like Romney Obama does not want to release his transcripts because he already has a reputation of being a pointy-headed nerd, and doesn’t want to exacerbate that any further.

In general I’m for democracy. But I’m not a big fan of this fake populism whereby conventionality and mediocrity in academics is acceptable, even a badge of honor, in our candidates for head of state. In contrast our political executives are tall and slim, on the tails of the distribution in physical metrics! (shorter candidates like George W. Bush and John McCain are usually short only for politicians, not for the general male population) I don’t expect presidential candidates to have grasped the basics of topology or quantum chemistry. But do we really want the person who has their finger on the nuclear button to be that personable and likable guy whose primary aim was to not fail? I suspect we do if the range of candidates is a judge. My own personal sympathies in regards to Romney vs. Perry are probably obvious, but if I had to bet I would go with Perry. He has “people skills.” Romney is, as Mike Huckabee famously observed, the boss who is going to fire you. But sometimes people need to be fired, including the electorate. Though I guess that’s not a good attitude to take in a democracy.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com"