Thursday, October 25, 2007

375A + 2A

The full-pages of reports on 375A+2A in the newspapers yesterday were a breath of fresh air. It was not just because of the subject matter in question (which I don't have an official position on), but the impression that I got that some 'real debate' actually happened in Parliament. PM Lee summed up the proceedings...
[PM Lee] said: 'Singapore is basically a conservative society.' The social norm: 'heterosexual, stable family'. 'It's what we teach in schools, it's what parents want to see, want their children to set their expectations and encourage them to develop in this direction... And I think the vast majority of Singaporeans want to keep it this way...and so does the Government.' But Mr Lee took pains to reassure the gays that they are part of, and contributing members, of society here. 'They are our kith and kin,' he added, while citing 'growing scientific evidence' that sexual orientation is largely inborn. 'We shouldn't make it harder than it already is for them to grow up and live in a society where they are different from most Singaporeans.' Placing the status of the the gay community in context, Mr Lee noted Singapore's gradual progress towards a balance of the various interests. Today, gays work in all sectors. Gay films, clubs, websites are available. Section 375A+2A is not proactively enforced. 'I don't think we will ever get the perfect balance, but I think that we have a better arrangement now than was the case 10 or 20 years ago.' Repealing 375A+2A, he said, would not give gay activists what they want - full acceptance and more space. So 'it's better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity... I should therefore say that as a matter of reality, the more gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push-back from conservative forces in our society. So it's better to let the situation evolve gradually...'
While the outcome will disappoint some, the seemingly fascinating 'between the lines' judgment may give them the impression of 'a legal defeat but a moral victory', which is in itself quite ironic because it seems to blur the perceptions of the players in question: who seems to be the more moral/ethical party now?! What's interesting is the need to balance who is right (the person's personal opinion), to what others want to see as right (from a societal point of view). I cannot imagine so much due consideration given to more 'established' crimes . We do live in interesting times... :) More at the SG Daily.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My DNA Results Are Out! / Genographic Project

One and a half years ago, I wrote about the Genographic project, a DNA test that would tell me where my ancestors came from. We're not just talking about my great-great-great-grandfather, but my actual ancestors who lived 30,000-80,000 years ago! I finally got around to ordering the kit in August, and two months later, the results arrived. Here is what the kit includes. (Click for bigger pictures.)

The results are found online through a password protected site. Here are some additional information.

Update(!): Dr Hsien-Hsien Lei mentions my results in her blog entry, Genetic Genealogy and the Chinese.

Your Y-chromosome results identify you as a member of haplogroup O2. The genetic markers that define your ancestral history reach back roughly 60,000 years to the first common marker of all non-African men, M168, and follow your lineage to present day, ending with P31, the defining marker of haplogroup O2.

If you look at the map highlighting your ancestors' route, you will see that members of haplogroup O2 carry the following Y-chromosome markers:

M168 > M89 > M9 > M175 > P31

Your Ancestral Journey: What We Know Now

M168: Your Earliest Ancestor
Time of Emergence: Roughly 50,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Africa
Climate: Temporary retreat of Ice Age; Africa moves from drought to warmer temperatures and moister conditions
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 10,000
Tools and Skills: Stone tools; earliest evidence of art and advanced conceptual skills

Skeletal and archaeological evidence suggest that anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and began moving out of Africa to colonize the rest of the world around 60,000 years ago.

The man who gave rise to the first genetic marker in your lineage probably lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia , Kenya, or Tanzania, some 31,000 to 79,000 years ago. Scientists put the most likely date for when he lived at around 50,000 years ago. His descendants became the only lineage to survive outside of Africa, making him the common ancestor of every non-African man living today.

But why would man have first ventured out of the familiar African hunting grounds and into unexplored lands? It is likely that a fluctuation in climate may have provided the impetus for your ancestors' exodus out of Africa.

The African ice age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. It was around 50,000 years ago that the ice sheets of northern Europe began to melt, introducing a period of warmer temperatures and moister climate in Africa. Parts of the inhospitable Sahara briefly became habitable. As the drought-ridden desert changed to a savanna, the animals hunted by your ancestors expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging green corridor of grasslands. Your nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and the animals they hunted, although the exact route they followed remains to be determined.

In addition to a favorable change in climate, around this same time there was a great leap forward in modern humans' intellectual capacity. Many scientists believe that the emergence of language gave us a huge advantage over other early human species. Improved tools and weapons, the ability to plan ahead and cooperate with one another, and an increased capacity to exploit resources in ways we hadn't been able to earlier, all allowed modern humans to rapidly migrate to new territories, exploit new resources, and replace other hominids.

M89: Moving Through the Middle East
Time of Emergence: 45,000 years ago
Place: Northern Africa or the Middle East
Climate: Middle East: Semiarid grass plains
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands
Tools and Skills: Stone, ivory, wood tools

The next male ancestor in your ancestral lineage is the man who gave rise to M89, a marker found in 90 to 95 percent of all non-Africans. This man was born around 45,000 years ago in northern Africa or the Middle East.

The first people to leave Africa likely followed a coastal route that eventually ended in Australia. Your ancestors followed the expanding grasslands and plentiful game to the Middle East and beyond, and were part of the second great wave of migration out of Africa.

Beginning about 40,000 years ago, the climate shifted once again and became colder and more arid. Drought hit Africa and the grasslands reverted to desert, and for the next 20,000 years, the Saharan Gateway was effectively closed. With the desert impassable, your ancestors had two options: remain in the Middle East, or move on. Retreat back to the home continent was not an option.

While many of the descendants of M89 remained in the Middle East, others continued to follow the great herds of buffalo, antelope, woolly mammoths, and other game through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast steppes of Central Asia.

These semiarid grass-covered plains formed an ancient "superhighway" stretching from eastern France to Korea. Your ancestors, having migrated north out of Africa into the Middle East, then traveled both east and west along this Central Asian superhighway. A smaller group continued moving north from the Middle East to Anatolia and the Balkans, trading familiar grasslands for forests and high country.

M9: The Eurasian Clan Spreads Wide and Far
Time of Emergence: 40,000 years ago
Place: Iran or southern Central Asia
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Tens of thousands
Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic

Your next ancestor, a man born around 40,000 years ago in Iran or southern Central Asia, gave rise to a genetic marker known as M9, which marked a new lineage diverging from the M89 Middle Eastern Clan. His descendants, of which you are one, spent the next 30,000 years populating much of the planet.

This large lineage, known as the Eurasian Clan, dispersed gradually over thousands of years. Seasoned hunters followed the herds ever eastward, along the vast super highway of Eurasian steppe. Eventually their path was blocked by the massive mountain ranges of south Central Asia—the Hindu Kush, the Tian Shan, and the Himalayas.

The three mountain ranges meet in a region known as the "Pamir Knot," located in present-day Tajikistan. Here the tribes of hunters split into two groups. Some moved north into Central Asia, others moved south into what is now Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.

These different migration routes through the Pamir Knot region gave rise to separate lineages.

Most people native to the Northern Hemisphere trace their roots to the Eurasian Clan. Nearly all North Americans and East Asians are descended from the man described above, as are most Europeans and many Indians.

M175: The East Asian Clan
Time of Emergence: 35,000 years ago
Place of Origin: Central or East Asia
Climate: Ice Age
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 100,000

Tools and Skills: Upper Paleolithic

Your genetic trail continues with an ancestor who carried marker M175 and was born around 35,000 years ago in Central or East Asia. This ancestor was part of the M9 Eurasian clan that, encountering impassable mountain ranges, migrated to the north and east.

These early Siberian hunters continued to travel east along the great steppes, gradually crossing southern Siberia. Some of them, perhaps taking advantage of the Dzhungarian Gap used thousands of years later by Genghis Khan to invade Central Asia, made it into present-day China.

East Asia had been home to Homo erectus for nearly a million years, but traces of occupation disappear from the archaeological record around 100,000 years ago. The earlier hominids may have abandoned the region or died off due to a steadily deteriorating climate.

By the time your ancestors arrived in China and East Asia, the Ice Age was once again advancing toward glacial maximum. Encroaching ice sheets and Central Asia's enormous mountain ranges effectively corralled them in East Asia. There they evolved in isolation over the millennia.

Today, some 80 to 90 percent of all people living east of Central Asia's great mountain ranges are members of haplogroup O, the East Asian Clan. The marker M175 is nearly nonexistent in western Asia and Europe.

There were actually two waves of migration into this region. While your ancestors populated the region from the north, another group approached from the south. Descendants of the Coastal Clan—people who left Africa perhaps 60,000 years ago and headed along the coastline toward Australia—may have reached East Asia by 50,000 years ago.

The Coastal lineage is found at a frequency of 50 percent in Mongolia, and is common throughout northeast Asia.

The present composition of East Asia still shows evidence of this ancient north-south divide, showing a clear distinction in genetic heritage between northern and southern Chinese.

Time of Emergence: Roughly 30,000 years ago
Place of Origin: East Asia
Climate: Ice Age
Estimated Number of Homo sapiens: Approximately 100,000
Tools and Skills: Middle Upper Paleolithic

Roughly 30,000 years ago, one of your ancestors first displayed the genetic marker P31, which now defines your haplogroup O2. This man lived in eastern Asia, perhaps in southern China, and his descendents spread south into Southeast Asia, east to Korea, and north to Japan.

This distinctly Asian haplogroup he sired is most common today in Southeast Asian nations like Malaysia and Thailand.

This is where your genetic trail, as we know it today, ends. However, be sure to revisit these pages. As additional data are collected and analyzed, more will be learned about your place in the history of the men and women who first populated the Earth. We will be updating these stories throughout the life of the project.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Credit Card Annual Fees / UOB Visa Infinity

I like to apply for credit cards whenever I can. The idea is to apply as many as possible, and then only use one card the whole time to accumulate the loyalty points. Some friends tell me, however, that that is a bad idea because they will then spend a lot of money if they have many credit cards. I don't have this problem because I don't see how having many credit cards is related to the amount of money I spend shopping. Anyway, from what I've seen so far, DBS's Esso card is good for petrol discounts, Citibank's is good for dining discounts, HSBS' is useful for reducing the price of a movie ticket by $1, Standard Chartered's is nice for taking off 15% off the Singapore Marathon fees, and UOB's is good for a 13% discount on vPost shipping charges. There is just no excuse whatsoever not to apply as many cards as possible to take advantage of all possible discounts. (Actually the way I see it, these are not really 'discounts'; it's just that those who don't take advantage of such things are 'paying extra'.) Now, the above will only make sense if you don't pay the annual fees. The banks usually waive the annual fee charges for one or two years. In the third year, people either ask for a waiver by calling customer service, or they cancel the card. There is just no reason to pay any annual fees unless one really likes the credit card in question and refuses to part with it. So this past week, I received yet another nice invitation to apply for this UOB Infinite card. The application package is very pretty, and I feel the card seems suitable for me as I, too, 'appreciate the finer things in life', particularly if they're not too expensive. (Click below for bigger pictures.) Here are the usual 'privileges'. The one about 'on the house dining at Hyatt' looks interesting... (Could I just waltz in and get free food?!) So I took out my pen to fill in the application form, and my eyes nearly popped out! The income requirement is SGD$350,000 per annum. I don't even earn 10% of that. But that's OK. There are many people who earn that amount, and they should go ahead and apply. But look at the next line. The annual fee is S1500! Which astute rich person in his or her right mind would be willing to pay anything, let alone $1500, just for the annual fee?! Then again, it's understood that a phone call can quickly write off that fee, so everything will be fine eventually. If you appreciate the finer things in life and want to apply, just reply below, and I will send the form to you. ;p