Celebrate the Facts!
Stock breeders have used inbreeding for all recorded time to improve herds, with genetic abnormalities quickly culled. Many human cultures have also practiced inbreeding for social purposes, including royal families, religious groups, and isolated groups where partners are rare. Unfortunately, such practices result in substantial social and economic costs due to genetic syndromes and susceptibility to diseases, and fortunately, such methods are beginning to disappear.
Consanguinity in human populations, colloquially known as inbreeding, is mating between second cousins or closer relatives. In consanguineous mating, the number of genetically contributing grandparents is lower than in unrelated unions, resulting in a higher likelihood of homozygous genes, where each is the same, resulting in good and bad physical traits. Human inbreeding is complex and nuanced and has been a cultural practice worldwide, including royal families. Instances of inbreeding tend to occur in geographically and socially isolated communities.
Any examination of human inbreeding steps close to the eugenics practice of totalitarian regimes such as Hitler’s Germany, so a mention of such is necessary for this investigation. However, hidden in this conversation is the earlier eugenics work conducted by United States governmental agencies until as late as the 1970s. For example, Germany used eugenics work in the United States as the bulwark of its ethnic cleansing mass murder during the Holocaust, where the Third Reich murdered about 12 million people of various despised groups, one-half of them identified as Jewish.
Much of the eugenics work in the United States was racism with a scientific beard, and one might best examine such movements and discussion with skepticism. Nevertheless, the Nazi adoption of ‘science’ from origins in the United States is irrefutable and a very dark part of the history of the United States.
Scientists have long studied human inbreeding and provided robust, controlled studies. Concisely, consanguinity raises the risk of hundreds of genetic disorders that impose genetic, social, and economic burdens on society:
Inbreeding does occur in isolated populations in the United States, particularly in Amish and Mennonite populations, where strict social prescriptions and proscriptions keep the group socially isolated. The Amish are an extremely conservative religious group who live in farm settlements, use horses for work and travel, exercise vigorously during farm work, and proscribe cigarette smoking and alcohol use. The Amish theocracy uses the German Bible for reference, and the people speak a South German dialect.
As a result, there is a high degree of inbreeding in Amish populations. The result is a high frequency of recessive disorders, many of which are almost unknown outside of this population. Extensive genealogical records are available, and the average family size is large, lending the group ideal for genetic studies. Epidemiological analyses use a genealogic registry of Amish people back to the 1700s.
Many of the genetic disorders prevalent in the Amish community require inheritance of a recessive gene from each parent:
Royalty, a social power construct, has certain customs that have increased inbreeding in prominent populations, and the consequences are breathtaking. Royals, of course, only marry the self-identified best, other royals, so over time, they became one of the most inbred populations in history. In addition, European societies used royal unions to solidify alliances between nations and defuse conflict. The poster children for inbreeding were the Habsburgs, a royal line dating from the thirteenth century, whose progeny ruled Austria, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire until the 1900s.
The family was mainly known for the Habsburg jaw, an immense jaw, and large tongue that made activities such as eating and speaking problematic. A recessive gene causes the Habsburg jaw, and the jaw and associated traits present when two copies of a gene are the same. The duplicate genes passed down through inbreeding in this group were likely the reason for its fall.
Geneticists concluded the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, was more inbred than if his parents had been brother and sister. He had such an oversized jaw that he could barely eat or speak and drooled a lot. Charles II could not walk until he was eight years old, and even then, he struggled. The king was physically disabled, disfigured, and developmentally disabled. Despite pressure to sire royal offspring, trying with two different wives, he died in 1700 at 39, leaving behind no heir to the throne and ending Habsburg rule in Spain.
Social practices of inbreeding for political alliances extend through recorded time. A DNA study conducted on King Tut’s remains confirmed that he was a product of a high level of incest. His mother was probably not Nefertiti, as commonly represented, but rather a sister of King Akhenaten. King Tut probably died from septicemia, likely assisted with the depressed immunological state typical of inbred people.
People who advocate close relative inbreeding point to stable marital relationships, reduced risks of family financial problems, ease of marriage arrangements, improved female autonomy, better compatibility with in-laws, less domestic violence, lower divorce rates, and reduced possibilities of hidden uncertainties. However, as men dominate these societies and are highly religious and tightly-knit socially, one might reasonably dispense with these justifications provided by the people in power.
Despite the long-known hazard of inbreeding, cousin marriage is legal in many states in the United States. Only 24 states prohibit marriages between first cousins, 19 states allow marriages between first cousins, and seven states allow limited marriages between first cousins. Moreover, there is some tradition of cousin marriage, as Edgar Allan Poe, Jesse James, and Albert Einstein, among many others, married their first cousin.
The frequency of inbreeding has decreased over time. The most substantial effect is associated with the Neolithic transition, where people developed agriculture about 10,000 years ago. Scientists linked evidence of ancient human interbreeding with small farming societies. Consanguineous traditions are today prevalent in various modern-day Eurasian cultures; genetic evidence suggests that such practices may have become widespread only within the last few millennia, further emphasizing this is a social norm developed since nominally civilized times.
Oddly there is very little raw data on book sales and reading in the United States. Books provide a massive bang for the buck for entertainment, educate, instruct, mentor, and provide means of escape from the drudge of working life. However, the sparsity of data and the self-reporting bias inherent in asking people if they engage in virtuous activities make the picture murky. Recent trends are unsurprising, but the data provokes intriguing questions.
Book sales and other raw data showed that both sales and reading climbed during 2020, not a surprise as homebound people were looking for new sources of entertainment. Combined print book and e-book sales hit 942 million units in 2020, a 9% increase over 2019 and the most unit sales recorded since data collecting commenced in 2004.
Snapshots of the most recent revenue (not unit sales) data, from August 2021, the most recent examined data, but not inflation-adjusted, in the year-over-year format:
Buying a book is not the equivalent of reading a book, and the data, while slender, supports the idea that most people do not finish the books they buy.
The United States Bureau for Labor statistics published 2020 data on reading:
Who doesn’t read? Roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they had not read a book in the past year, including print, electronic or audio form:
For those who do read, the numbers tell the tale:
Splitters, who like to make divisions, divide the fiction world into literary fiction and mass-market fiction. Literary fiction works focus on features of the human state, and award winners typify this category. Mass-market fiction includes romance, young adult, mystery, science fiction, horror, and children’s books. One group tends to hold the other group in utter disdain, also a function of the hierarchal nature of our primate species. Raw data on book sales by genre is difficult to find and may not exist. Published articles about this are noisy with not much signal, so this platform will not cite or republish tertiary data.
Add to this opaque picture the terms ‘bestseller’ and ‘bestselling.’ Bestsellers are books that have made a list on a central publishing platform. The sources of the data also complicate the interpretation of the rankings. The New York Times derives its lists from a secret group of retailers while Amazon, reporting its print sales, muddies data on sales of e-books. The lists that are the rational rely on BookScan’s sales data, which tracks about 85% of sales in the United States but excludes data on e-book sales. As a result, bestseller has become an almost defunct tool, at least from the data standpoint.
What role do public libraries play? There are about 9,000 public libraries with around 17,000 individual public library outlets (main libraries, branches, and bookmobiles) in the United States. By contrast, there were about 12,900 Starbucks stores in the United States in September 2020. Unfortunately, no authoritative raw data exist for how many Americans borrow books, how many, or the statistical distribution of such use. However, some surveys provide data about who uses these services, when, and why. For example, Hispanic adults, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000, and those who have a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school were the most likely to report in that survey that they had never visited a public library.
Drawing meaning from the data is complex and requires logical conjecture. Consumption likely follows the 80/20 principle, where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the resources. A low number of consumers likely purchases and reads most of the volume. Unfortunately, data on sales by genre is also blurry. A budding writer with an aim to make big money might be best off to write what stories they love rather than playing to a fictional market, no pun intended.
America’s economy is reverberating with the effects of the pandemic, and unemployment rates, inflation, unfilled jobs, and the gross domestic product (GDP) are all playing an ugly game of spin the bottle. How this shakes out is yet unknown, but what is known is that inflation is now a factor in everyone’s life, and it is time to consider that in evaluating one’s employment situation and terms. Thankfully the economy appears to be robust, except for inflation, and there are more jobs than there are people looking for them. So this is an excellent time to ask for a raise or look for a better job.
Total unfilled jobs in the United States rose to about 9.6 million from values of about 7.6 million and about 6.8 million in the previous quarters, respectively. Tightness in the labor market has increased wages as hourly earnings for production, and non-supervisory workers increased 5.5 percent over the year through September 2021.
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 531,000 in October, and the unemployment rate edged down by 0.2 percentage points to 4.6 percent in October 2021. Job growth was widespread, with notable job gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing. On the other hand, employment in public education declined.
Demographic facts about the October report:
The all-items index rose 6.2 percent for the 12 months ending October, the most significant 12-month increase since the period ending November 1990. The index for all items except for food and energy rose 4.6 percent over the last 12 months, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending August 1991. The energy index rose 30.0 percent in the previous 12 months, and the food index increased 5.3 percent. In other words, the cost increases are not simply due to cyclical energy cost increases, and as a result, the actual cost of living is increasing and take-home wages, absent upward adjustment, buy less. Forgoing a raise means reducing the standard of living, and essentially, working for less.
Real GDP rose 2.0 percent at an annual rate in the third quarter of 2021, following robust gains of 6.3 percent and 6.7 percent in the first and second quarters, respectively. The pace of GDP growth is better than the average 2.2 percent quarterly rate seen in the five quarters before the onset of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020. Projections put real GDP growth at the end of 2021 at 5.5 percent, and at the end of 2022, at 3.5 percent.
The number of quits, or when people choose to leave their jobs, increased in September 2021, the most recent date with available data, to a series high of 4.4 million (+164,000). Quits increased in several industries with the largest increases in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+56,000); other services (+47,000); and state and local government education (+30,000). The separations across the board indicate people are leaving to move to less-miserable assignments or simply for higher wages.
As expected, unemployment rates above age 25 in the most recent data correlate with education:
There are about 7.4 million unemployed people in the United States, and about 9.6 million job openings, indicating a competitive job market with rising wages.
Several conclusions become clear from this amalgamation of data:
Bolivia is in the crosshairs of Russia, the United States, and China, and its new president is playing all of them towards his middle. The industrial powers covet lithium, the world’s most recent strategic mineral, and Bolivia faces an extreme challenge of managing a traditionally villainous mining industry to its benefit. Can it withstand the tides of the superpowers and play them to its advantage?
Bolivia, named after freedom fighter Simon Bolivar, broke from Spanish colonial rule in 1825. Like many new countries, a series of coups and countercoups punctuated its governance until the people established a democracy in 1982. As a result, its leaders have faced deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and illegal drug production
Fast facts about Bolivia:
In December 2005, Bolivians elected socialist leader Evo Morales president by the widest margin of any leader since the first democratic elections in 1982. Morales was the country’s first indigenous president and ran on a platform to change Bolivia's traditional political class and empower the nation's poor, indigenous majority. In 2009 and 2014, Morales easily won reelection.
In 2016, Morales lost a referendum to approve a constitutional amendment that allowed him to compete in the 2019 presidential election. A 2017 Bolivian Supreme Court ruling stating that term limits violate human rights justified his party nominating Morales again in 2019. Morals claimed victory in the 2019 election, but allegations of electoral fraud, rising violence, and pressure from the military forced him to flee to Mexico. An interim government led by right-wing President Jeanine Anez Chavez prepared new elections for October 2020.
Luis Arce, former finance minister under Morales, won the election in a landslide. Arce returned the country to socialist governance. Arce had been the architect of the economic transformation during Morales’s presidency.
Lithium is the most critical resource found in electric vehicle batteries and clean energy storage batteries. Bolivia has more of it than any other country, but Bolivia has not yet produced lithium commercially. Arce wants to change that. In his campaign platform, Arce called for massively ramping up Bolivia’s lithium production capacity to supply 40 percent of the global market by 2030, turning the small South American nation into a major player on the world stage. In addition, Bolivia aims to build Latin America’s first electric vehicle battery production location, thereby providing jobs for the people of Bolivia. Arce estimated about 130,000 jobs in lithium-related industries by 2025.
Building extraction plants and the appurtenant coordination require about ten years before production, and lithium supplies have become a strategic concern for technology manufacturing hubs. China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and the United States collectively import 78 percent of the world’s total dollar value of lithium. That demand will continue to rise, so the significant powers will do whatever it takes to secure access to supplies.
Bolivia’s lithium production potential is massive. The country is home to the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, which contains an estimated 23 million tons of lithium in briny fluid deposits just beneath its surface. Coipasa and Pastos Grandes, two other Bolivian salt flats to the north and south of Uyuni, respectively, also contain massive amounts of lithium. Australia, currently the world’s largest producer, has just 6.9 million tons of lithium reserves.
The Bolivian government solicited companies with direct lithium-extraction technology (EDL) to conduct pilot tests at the Uyuni, Coipasa, and Pastos Grandes salt flats. As a result, Russia's Uranium 1G, China's Gangfeng Lithium, TBEA, and U.S.-based EnergyX recently participated in an online meeting YLB and the ministry held with potential investors.
Russia has been courting Bolivia, as its anti-United States posturing under President Evo Morales made it an attractive political partner. Russia, in return, provided its expertise in natural gas extraction and delivery, a much-needed boost to the development of Bolivia’s second-largest natural gas reserves in South America.
Bolivia and Russia have cooperated at the United Nations as Bolivia was one of 11 countries that voted against a March 2014 resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning Russian actions in Crimea. Also, in April 2018, Bolivia supported Russia in opposing a resolution criticizing Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, has been working on various oil- and gas-related projects in Bolivia in recent years. Also, Rosatom signed a contract to build a nuclear research reactor in the Bolivian city of El Alto in 2017.
As detailed in previous investigations, China has been paying much attention to Latin America and has thrown some seed money at Bolivia. Most of the projects underway with Chinese support are roads, including El Sillar (a stretch on the highway from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba), Rurrenabaque to Riberalta in the Amazon, and El Espino to Boyuibe in the Chaco, although there are also others such as the Mutún steel plant and the joint exploitation of lithium in the southern salt flats of the country. Older projects such as the Rositas hydroelectric dam have stalled, and the Santa Cruz airport extension is defunct.
History is full of small, resource-rich countries attempting to leverage natural resources to their advantage to no good end, with few countries succeeding in such admirable endeavors. Bolivia is trying to leapfrog the typical process by creating value-added manufacturing facilities, like oil-rich countries refining their crude. However, this approach complicates matters as every industry requires profound planning to support it. Water supply, wastewater management, electricity, natural gas, roads, bridges, ports, harbors, and the like need decades to plan and build. The likelihood of being to pull both off in the near term is faint.
Arce is doing his best with what he has at hand, hoping for a good outcome against some very sophisticated and brutal international players. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that Arce and the Bolivian people's hopes meet a terrible end than a good one.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.