Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Democrats and Non-white Voters

January 27, 2023

I wanted to scream, hearing a recent radio panel discussion about voting rights legislation. The talk was all about “politicians” not caring enough to pass it.

I’m so fed up hearing such stuff. It’s not generic “politicians” blocking that legislation. Or gun regulation. Or immigration reform. It’s Republicans.

In fact, for Democrats, voting rights legislation is life-or-death. While for Republicans, blocking it is life-or-death. Both sides understand that every vote counts, in this closely divided nation. The more Black, Hispanic, and poor people vote, the more Democrats will win. That’s why Republicans have striven to make voting harder for those demographics. That’s why Blacks often must wait hours on line; rarely do whites.

Those minorities do favor Democrats. But not as strongly as they once did. In 2022, the Black vote for Democrats was down to 86%. One in five Black males backed Trump in 2020. His Latino support was 38%. Given, again, the closeness of the overall national partisan split, that erosion of Democrats’ key voting base is ominous. If Republicans add enough non-whites to their white nationalist base, they can win.

And why do any non-whites vote for what is in essence the party of white nationalism? It seems perverse.

Part of the explanation is cultural. Of course, while the GOP used to be the fat-cat party, and Dems the party of the downtrodden, that has largely reversed. At least Republicans have conned “forgotten Americans” by talking a good game, though without doing much for them. Trump even claimed to love the uneducated.

While Democrats have become the party of the educated. I hesitate to say the party of the intelligent; though they are more planted on Planet Earth, whereas Republicans are in comprehensive denial toward reality. But anyhow, even while non-whites continue being crucial in the Democratic party’s base, its educated segment — heavily white — looms ever larger, and increasingly to the left of where non-whites are.

Non-whites actually tend to be more conservative, when it comes to politics and economics, but also, especially, culturally. More religious than the average Democrat. Maybe not exactly hostile to all things LGBTQ, but uncomfortable with it, and thinking it’s too much in their faces. They’re also receptive to Republican immigrant-bashing, feeling their own status precarious, and thus sensing some economic threat from newcomers. Hispanic voters cannot be assumed to feel solidarity with Hispanic migrants.

You might suppose on one key issue, policing, non-whites would be all-in with Democrats. But that’s not so simple either. Blacks do want less ill-treatment by police — but not less policing. Republicans’ harping on crime resonates with them, since Blacks in fact are crime’s biggest victims.

Education is another major issue, and here Democrats (captive of teacher unions) seem deaf to Black interests. Opposition to school choice, with the standard line about “draining” resources from public education must strike many Blacks as a cruel joke, because their public schools often stink. That’s a key reason why racial economic and quality-of-life gaps persist. Poor schools aggravate non-whites’ societal disadvantage. While many “woke” Democrats are bedazzled by the fraught nonstarter idea of paying reparations for slavery, the nation cries out for more practical reparation in the form of decent schooling for Black kids.

The party’s left keeps insisting it can win by unabashedly offering red-meat left-wing nostrums. But that, as all the foregoing suggests, is more the problem than the solution. This is basically a center-right country, repelled by wokism’s extremes. It’s not the left-wing firebrands who do best electorally, but Democrats in the sensible center. The left isn’t helping.

I keep wishing America will come to its senses and reject the extremes on both sides. (But especially the crazed, dishonest, racist, downright un-American Republicans.) What we really need is a strong responsible centrist party. Fat chance. Meantime, for me, the Democratic party will have to do. At least they’re sane.

China’s Covid Catastrophe

January 19, 2023

When Covid began three years ago in Wuhan, China’s regime acted ruthlessly to contain it, with draconian lockdown, testing, and quarantining rules. This did succeed — in China — but didn’t stop Covid from infecting the rest of the globe.

Most other countries initially tried to emulate China’s zero-Covid approach, but with less severity, so their disease rates were rather higher (especially in America, whose president repeatedly sabotaged anti-Covid efforts). China’s unelected regime preened that this proved its authoritarian model’s superiority, and indeed its civilizational superiority, over the supposedly dysfunctional, decadent, democratic West.

Which, eventually — armed with good vaccines, and medicines for treating the virus — evolved its approach to one of living with it, as a manageable chronic public health matter. While in contrast China’s approach crescendoed with its monster 2022 lockdowns in Shanghai and many other places.

But this sparked widespread protests, some even demanding President Xi Jinping’s ouster. He had postured as leading a “people’s war” against Covid. However, the great wall of lockdowns was crumbling in the face of Omicron’s much higher contagiousness, the virus breaking out all over. While the restrictions were crushing China’s economy. So in late 2022, the regime capitulated and abruptly ended virtually all anti-Covid controls.

Unfortunately, given Xi’s prior inflexible zero-Covid policy, China failed to prepare for transition to a different one. Failed to phase it in, to “flatten the curve” to avoid overwhelming medical infrastructure, which remains insufficient. Failed to stockpile medicines like Paxlovid, which were quickly running short even as the floodgates for the virus were suddenly opened.

And, mainly, failed to vaccinate enough people, especially the most vulnerable elderly; it was seen as unnecessary given the zero-Covid policy. Moreover, nationalistic pride limited the regime to using only Chinese-made vaccines, barring far more effective Western ones. So even those few Chinese who’ve been fully jabbed are not well protected.

Furthermore, the lockdowns meant most people never developed antibodies through exposure to the virus. Recalling the American aborigines wiped out by European diseases for which they lacked natural immunity.

So Covid is now horrifically raging through China. Initially the regime was reporting almost no deaths, but after criticism has fessed up to 60,000 in a month. Likely still a gross undercount. Independent estimates put the infection rate at 37 million daily, and a model constructed by The Economist projects up to 1-1/2 million deaths in the coming months. And note that this surge gives the virus more opportunity to mutate new, potentially more dangerous variations, threatening other countries.

The regime had previously justified the draconian lockdowns and prison-like quarantining by scaring people about Covid’s dangers. Now they’re pooh-poohing it as no worse than flu. Gone too is the “people’s war” rhetoric. Now it’s more like “You’re on your own.”

Prior to the reversal, China had ruthlessly censored any questioning of the government’s line. Now, in an Orwellian turnabout, anyone still mouthing the regime’s own prior talking points is branded a criminal traitor; while the previously banned viewpoint has become the approved one. The Chinese must feel whiplash.

So much for the superiority of their authoritarian system. The regime was happy to posture as devoted to its citizens’ health and safety — so long as that fit with contrasting itself against Western democracies. But when that ceased to be convenient they quickly jettisoned all concern about how many Chinese would sicken and die, while masking with lies their actual callous inhuman incompetence.

The only way to get a government that truly cares about people’s welfare is to have one accountable to them at the ballot box.

Biden at the Border: Democrats and Immigration

January 9, 2023

President Biden has now made a show of visiting the southern border. The one promise he made to me personally in 2020 was to end Trump’s cruel war on refugees and immigrants. “Immediately, immediately,” he told me.

He did swiftly reverse some of the worst of it, notably the child kidnapping. But we are far from restoring the status quo ante, leaving us actually still closer to the Trump regime than to what obtained before. Our refugee admissions remain way below pre-Trump levels. In fact, we continue to flout international and U.S. law concerning those who have a right to come here seeking asylum. The standard criteria — legitimate fears of home country maltreatment — are simply disregarded. People deported without even an opportunity to be heard.

The Biden administration also continued to enforce Trump’s notorious “Title 42,” a pandemic-inspired measure to turn back migrants on a public health pretext, long after that pretext had become plainly hollow. When the administration finally relented, (Republican) judges ruled it must continue applying Title 42. But surely it could choose to do so less zealously.

We’re now seeing a wave of refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — all viciously repressive human rights violators. Exactly what international principles for accepting refugees were conceived for. Yet Biden has now announced that migrants from these countries will instead be summarily ejected.

He did say we’d admit 30,000 of them monthly — provided they have a U.S. sponsor; pass background checks; go through bureaucratic hoops; and arrive by plane. Are you frickin’ kidding me? Arrive by plane? Yeah right; plenty will qualify.

Also terrible is our treatment of Afghan refugees, brought here in the wake of our shambolic surrender of the country. With many left behind. But many we took are now in bureaucratic limbo, in real danger of deportation.

For two decades we’ve been told what we really need is Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform. We can’t even get legislation to regularize the status of “dreamers” brought here as children. But I’m fed up with hearing “politicians” and “dysfunctional Congress” faulted. No, it’s not generic “politicians.” As with so many other seemingly insoluble problems (notably guns), IT’S REPUBLICANS. They are the ones blocking action, with their absolutist hostility toward migrants (and worship of guns).

Democrats are called pussies for not standing up enough for the policies they believe in. President Biden does seem spooked by the “toxic” politics of immigration, toward which many Americans have fear and loathing. And yet those are actually a minority — indeed, a fairly small minority. For all the Republican shrillness on this issue (“open borders!”), a strong majority of voters embrace instead the ideals inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

They understand that we should take in refugees and immigrants not only because it is the right thing to do, noble and humane, but also because it benefits America. Rejuvenating our culture, making it richer and more vibrant. Migrants also make our economy richer — contributing more than they consume in resources.

And they replenish our labor force, as our population otherwise ages, with ever larger percentages in retirement. A key reason we see so many “help wanted” signs is because, since 2016, new arrivals to this country are way down. It’s a cliche that immigrants, rather than “taking jobs from Americans,” take the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. But they also fill many other gaps in our workforce. And our big labor shortage — forcing employers to offer higher wages to attract staff — is a major cause of inflation.

President Biden’s half-Trump measures to curtail immigration and refugee admissions won’t in any case gain him votes from migrant-haters. He, and the Democratic party, should stop being scared of their shadow when it comes to these issues. They know what’s right. They should do it, and loudly defend it.

My book talk, “The Trump Shitstorm,” SAT. JAN. 14, 3 PM

January 8, 2023


You’re invited to a talk and open discussion on my new book, THE AMERICAN CRISIS: Chronicling and Confronting the TRUMP SHITSTORM — 3 PM, next SATURDAY, Jan. 14 — at Bookhouse of Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany. 

I aim to make it fun, informative, and entertaining! 

Please come, I’d love to see you there.

The book is an edited chronological selection of blog essays, trying to understand and analyze events as they were unfolding — echoing the notion of journalism as “the first draft of history.”

The American Crisis: Chronicling and Confronting the Trump Shitstorm, by Frank S. Robinson; Verity Press International; 247 pages; $12.95 (+ $4.50 shipping in USA). Payment by check, credit card, Paypal or Zelle; 518-482-2639 

Blacks Go Back to Africa

January 3, 2023

“Go Back to Africa!” the marchers chanted, shaking their torches. “Go Back to Africa!” their signs declared.

One small detail they overlooked. Black Americans’ ancestors hadn’t exactly come on tourist visas. It was not a “choice” (contrary to what Kanye said). Yet nevertheless, “Go Back to Africa!” the marchers intoned.

The next morning they awoke to find their wish granted! Black Americans had overnight all decamped to Africa.

It wasn’t reported in the newspaper. In fact, the first sign of something amiss was the paper not found on people’s porches that morning. Then they noticed the trash hadn’t been collected. To find out what the heck was going on, they turned on their smartphones, TVs, and radios, but none of those were functioning as normal either. So they went over to the local diner hoping their neighbors might have some information. But the diner wasn’t open. Nor was mail delivered that day.

All of it of course because the Blacks had gone back to Africa. All those who used to work to produce the daily paper, now gone. And the ones who’d worked on the garbage trucks. All those internet workers too; the TV and radio folks; the staff at the diner; the postal system personnel. And so many more, in every part of society. All those Black people who toil every day to make it function. All gone.

It quickly got worse. Much worse. Some bright bulbs thought they’d better head right over to the supermarket, to stock up on groceries and other necessities. Well, guess what.

Mad Max time.

Very soon another march was organized. This time without torches, and the chants were desperate: “PLEASE come back from Africa!”

But the Blacks couldn’t hear them from so far away.

Trumpery Recap

December 26, 2022

His tax returns have finally been made public, after a years-long legal battle. What was he hiding? The New York Times already reported in 2020 that he’d been paying almost no income tax, due mainly to business loss deductions. According to his tax returns, literally the nation’s losingest businessman.

If you believe the returns. Trump’s business has meantime been convicted of tax fraud in New York State.

And remember his claiming he couldn’t release his tax filings because they were under audit? A lie, because audit was no bar to disclosure. But it was was also a lie that he was under audit. In fact, we now learn the IRS even violated its rule requiring audit of every president’s tax returns. Only in Trump’s case did it skip auditing. And when they belatedly started, assigned only a single agent. Something smells very stinky there.

The Congressional January 6 committee has now formally recommended that Trump be prosecuted for four serious crimes, betraying his oath of office to uphold the constitution. Incontrovertible evidence makes clear his guilt for an attempted coup, in which police officers died.

The House GOP has produced its own rival report, saying — wait for it — the problem of January 6 was one of proper police oversight. Not a word about Trump’s criminal effort to overthrow the election.

The Justice Department had already appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith (a highly regarded veteran prosecutor), to investigate Trump’s January 6 related actions. Also his improperly taking White House documents to Mar-a-Lago. Both cases entail indisputable criminality, now likely to result in indictment and trial.

There’s also the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to corrupt the 2020 Georgia vote count, by pressuring officials to “find” him 11,780 phony ballots; and to send a slate of fake electoral votes to congress.

Lately Trump, never missing a chance to fleece his suckers, has been selling $99 “digital NFT trading cards” depicting him in various superhero guises. “NFT” means you don’t even actually get a card, it’s just digital. Trump’s video hawking these non-items was so puke-worthy that even Steve Bannon himself, watching it, reportedly moaned, “Make it stop!”

In September I noted a fellow at a Trump rally, interviewed by a TV reporter, saying “If the guy had done anything wrong, it would have come out by now.” So many otherwise sane, intelligent people so completely ensorceled by so obviously evil a character. I’ve mentioned a friend — with a masters degree in history! — spouting internet “alternative facts” whitewashing Trump and January 6. At a recent holiday party he waved away my Trump book — despite being told it quotes him — declaring “I do my own research.”

I do my own research. We started hearing this line, especially regarding Covid vaccines. It means marinating in whacko online nonsense while blocking out information from credible sources. It means having no concept of what’s credible.

Such true believer cultists cannot be reasoned with. A recent radio commentary (by Rex Smith, former Times Union editor) highlighted scientific research showing that human beings on average have less mental flexibility, less ability to change their thinking in light of new information, than monkeys.

Nevertheless, MAGA ranks are inexorably shrinking under the relentless assault of reality. But are they still numerous enough to gain Trump the 2024 nomination? Some polls have actually shown DeSantis ahead. However, primaries are dominated by small turnouts of zealots. And if a bunch of candidates divides the vote (why does Pence fantasize winning?), Trump could ride to nomination with 30% pluralities — as, indeed, he did in 2016.

Democrats might relish this, thinking Trump sure to lose in November — as, indeed, they did in 2016. Be careful what you wish for. Though Trump does seem to be a much more damaged candidate now, thoroughly repelling a big majority of voters. One might even hope he’d take down with him the whole rotten Republican party, once and for all.

A recent column by Ross Douthat warns against such dreams of final triumph. American politics doesn’t work that way. One might have wondered why the GOP — though not doing as well as widely expected in 2022 — actually paid scant electoral price for January 6 and all that. Voters simply do not hold parties accountable for past misdeeds absent obvious continuing effect. And Douthat doesn’t even foresee some kind of final comeuppance for Trump himself. He’ll “go out with a whimper,” says the column’s title. All the disgusting Republicans who so cowardly enabled Trump will merrily go on with their political careers.

Final vindication will have to come from the judgment of history. But history too can be a fickle judge.

I wish I could see how a 22nd century history book will treat all this. Assuming there’s even such a thing as “history” in the 22nd century.

The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action

December 18, 2022

The way to stop racial discrimination, Chief Justice Roberts has said, “is to stop discriminating by race.”

The Supreme Court will yet again revisit affirmative action this term, and almost surely outlaw it. Affirmative action in school admissions (and also workplace hiring) is intended to rectify the disadvantage certain minorities (mainly Blacks) have suffered due to past unequal treatment. For all that America has done to fix it, it’s a reality that that past, which included slavery, still causes lingering disadvantage. One glaring example is that schools for Black kids are too often shamefully substandard, handicapping their future prospects. Applied to such students, compensatory affirmative action, in college admissions, makes some sense.

There are two offsetting considerations. One is a tendency to stigmatize the achievements of Blacks as not truly earned but rather the results of preferential treatment. The other is the resentment created in whites; the idea that they are being discriminated against, disadvantaged unfairly, in favor of people not deserving on their merits.

Asian-American students have a particular beef. Tending to excel academically, they claim that if school admissions were strictly merit-based, more of them would get in; but colleges apply tacit quotas to avoid being swamped with Asian-American students.

“Reverse discrimination” is not a completely baseless idea. For every applicant admitted to a college there must be one rejected who would otherwise have made the cut. The “reverse discrimination” of affirmative action has provoked a backlash and the rise of white nationalism, a very bad thing for the country.

Meantime, it cannot be said that affirmative action in college admissions has been a great success at rectifying the kind of racial disadvantage described above. If you simply give extra points to an applicant for being Black, you are going to admit mostly Blacks from middle and upper class families who were thus able to build good resumes, while still excluding the really disadvantaged ones from poor backgrounds. Who, of course, also face financial obstacles to attending college.

So in fact, while colleges and universities have broadly succeeded in achieving racial diversity in student bodies, they have blatantly failed at socio-economic diversity. The overwhelming majority of students are from middle and (especially) upper class families; very few from disadvantaged ones.

It would be no tragedy for that kind of affirmative action to be outlawed by the Court. Though it must be said — why should racial preferences be disallowed, when so many other sorts of preferences remain — notably “legacy” admissions for the children of alumni and donors. Those too are a big factor behind the mentioned socio-economic imbalance in student bodies. And there’s surely less justification for such preferential treatment than there is for the racial sort.

If higher education wants true “diversity” among students, extra points should be given not to race simpliciter but, rather, to students who come out of disadvantaged circumstances and crappy schools and who nevertheless manage, against all odds, to build at least a halfway decent record of achievement. Giving those students a leg up would be the kind of “affirmative” action that will advance true justice and also make a better America.

Surely the Supreme Court’s decision should allow for that. If only the Court were sane.

Ai Weiwei and Bono on Art and Capitalism

December 13, 2022

No word triggers more nonsense thinking than “capitalism.” For centuries, when Christianity reigned, the ubiquitous bogeyman was Satan. As that superstition wanes, now it’s capitalism. (At least capitalism exists.)

China’s economy is in some ways the world’s most free-market capitalist — while its political system is an Orwellian dictatorship. China’s most famous artist is Ai Weiwei, who often pushes a thumb in that regime’s eye. But not his essay in a recent publication of The Economist he titled “Reclaiming art from capitalism.” Which is the bogeyman here.

A Martian reading the essay would never guess at the global confrontation between tyrannies like China’s and open democratic societies. Not mentioned as something art should be concerned with. No — it’s capitalism!

Ai complains that today’s global culture, very much including art, forms a “complete system” which “reflects the values and aesthetic tendencies of capitalism in every respect.” Characterized “by capitalism’s fervent advocacy of individual freedom, its encouragement of so-called ‘creativity’ and the idealisation of unfettered personal development . . . observed in the overwhelming tendency to consider art from a purely commercial perspective, neglecting spiritual concerns in favor of wealth accumulation.” While “societal injustices, regional inequalities, exploitation of the weak and unsustainable use of natural resources are ignored. By dodging these questions, contemporary art has become just a form of entertainment, detached from spiritual life. Art’s power . . . has been compromised. The outlook is dim.”

In other words, artists are selling out, sacrificing social concerns for filthy capitalist lucre.

What planet is he talking about? Is he on Mars? It sure doesn’t sound like he’s been to any modern contemporary art shows. Ones I’ve attended have been chock full of work concerned with exactly the kinds of “socially relevant” subjects Ai deems ignored. If anything, overbearingly so, in-your-face.

Unsurprisingly, Ai asserts that his own art fills the void he claims to identify: “concerned with life and death, the bigger sociopolitical context . . . all connected with the human condition and human dignity.” Well, bully for him. But to cast himself as some unique hero in that regard smacks of “mankind’s exaggerated self-esteem, extreme arrogance” which he later decries.

Rarely do voices flaying “capitalism” ever seriously offer an alternative. Meantime, a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial discussed an interview with pop icon Bono, known for his anti-poverty crusading. It “may give progressives vertigo.” Quoting Bono: “I thought that if we just redistributed resources, then we could solve every problem. Now I know that’s not true.” Rather, “the off-ramp out of extreme poverty is, ugh, commerce; it’s entrepreneurial capitalism.”

Because it enables people to keep the fruits of their efforts — an incentive to work harder, producing more goods and services. Businesses make profits by providing things other people want.

Adam Smith nailed the point: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

What we call capitalism (or a market economy) is not some concocted system, but simply the normal default mode for human interactions. A has something B wants or needs; B has something A wants; an object, or labor, or an intangible, etc. When A and B agree on its terms an exchange occurs. True, they don’t always have equal power. B may consent to work for A for pittance wages. But wouldn’t do so unless better off than not. Life is unfair; a market economy is how such unfairness is negotiated to maximize people’s aggregate welfare.

“Globalization has brought more people out of poverty than any other ism,” Bono said. “If somebody comes to me with a better idea, I’ll sign up.”

Myanmar’s Agony: “The Road Not Taken”

December 10, 2022

“The Road Not Taken” is a film (created on an iPhone) by Ko Pauk, of Myanmar (Burma), illustrating the country’s situation. My wife and I were invited to a screening at a local hotel, by Zaw Nay Myo, a gentle soul, poet, and former student leader in resistance to the military regime. He calls my wife his “teacher.” In the sizable audience, we seemed to be the only non-Burmese.

Backstory: Myanmar has been a military dictatorship since 1960. Ruling the country like Al Capone ruled Chicago. In 1990 they allowed an election, but were cluelessly shocked by an overwhelming victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. They annulled the vote and put her under house arrest. Eventually a new military leader, Thein Sein, sought to start Myanmar on a path to democracy.

Suu Kyi was freed and her party again won elections; she became the country’s de facto head. But Thein Sein was apparently sidelined by harder men; and when the NLD won another huge election victory, they called it fraudulent, staged a coup, retook complete power, and imprisoned Suu Kyi, in February 2021.

The film (a basically true story) starts at a small military encampment out in the bush. Despite a false scare of an “enemy” attack, the soldiers seem to be leading a quiet, even dull life. But I was thinking about their actual mission. Myanmar has been beset with endless ethnic and separatist conflicts; and notably, the army has prosecuted a horrifically vicious pogrom against the Muslim Rohingyas, whom the Buddhist majority refuses to accept as fellow citizens. The violence belies Buddhism’s peaceful image.

Then we meet a young woman and her pre-teen daughter. Turns out she’s married to one of those soldiers, a Captain, a contemplative fellow, seen reading a philosophy book. When word of the coup comes, the troop is ordered back to the city. The Captain phones with the good news that he’s coming home. She asks if he’ll be shooting anti-coup protesters. He says yes, if so ordered. But what if she and their daughter are among them? Then of course he wouldn’t shoot. She upbraids him for a lack of human empathy. The call ends unsatisfactorily. The Captain has something to think about. (Apparently he will join the rebels.)

Meantime we do see something of the regime’s ferocity toward the massive protests. Accompanied by a repeated song about their being heroes, giving their lives for democracy. One couldn’t help wondering if things could come to that here in America.

As the wife and daughter of a soldier, the pair become outcasts. Vendors in the marketplace, previously very friendly, now put up signs saying they don’t sell to soldiers or police. Seems awfully brave if anyone actually did that, given the army’s murderous brutality to anyone not knuckling under. Which is most Burmese. In fact the coup, and the repression, plunged the country into full civil war, with the pro-democracy forces linking up with some of the pre-existing insurgencies to fight the national army. It’s wrecking the economy. The soldiers don’t care.

The film ends with another military encampment — this time a rebel force — spiritedly going into battle.

It wasn’t immediately obvious, in each case, what side the depicted soldiers were on. It almost seemed they could be interchangeable.

Mankind’s worst-ever invention was the gun. No guns, no dictatorships. Imagine how much better off the whole world would be if guns did not exist.

What Does Ancestry Mean?

December 7, 2022

My wife was intrigued by a statistician’s writing that if you go back 3400 years, we’re all related. Not actually surprising if you think about it. After all, you’ve got two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents . . . that’s exponential progression and it’s mathematically powerful.

My previous partner’s nine-times-great-grandfather was Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island). But she had a lot of forebears in that generation — over 2,000. Go back twenty generations and it’s over a million. That’s only around 500 years. Go back a few centuries more and the number of your ancestors exceeds the entire human population.*

How could that be?

Family trees are not rigid lineages separated from each other. To the contrary, they are all tangled together. Your ancestors were of course not yours alone, but the ancestors of countless other people. And those long-ago ancestors with innumerable modern descendants likewise share those descendants with similarly huge numbers of other forebears.

That suggests you are indeed related to every other human being; a cousin many times removed.

But you may have to go pretty far back for that link. Because while our lineages are tangled together, it’s not random, there is a lot of segregation, notably geographic, among genealogies.

Though there has of course been mixing of disparate segments of humanity, for most of history people in a given geographic locale had limited opportunities for mating with foreigners. So someone like me, with European Jewish ancestry, might have a hard time finding a common ancestor with a Bornean. Yet on the other hand, with each of us having millions of ancestors, a single match is not implausible.

Humanity’s more distant antecedents also show our relatedness. There were many different “homo” species, but all except one went extinct. And the environmental challenges that defeated all those others nearly did us in too. Apparently at some point there was a “bottleneck” that only a very small group managed to scrape through — ancestors of all modern humans. In fact, scientific DNA analysis suggests we may all have descended from a single woman in that band. Her name was Eve.

Going back further, our closest related species is the chimpanzee, with whom we shared a common ancestor around six million years ago. Our DNA is 99% identical to chimp DNA. Among all humans DNA is 99.9% the same.

We are in fact related to every other living thing. Mouse DNA is around 90% identical to ours. Go back to your millions-of-times-great-grandpa and he’s a fish.

DNA tests give ethnicity percentages. For American Blacks, there’s typically a high percentage of West African, but also a significant percentage of northern European. For obvious reasons. I never did a test because I’m pretty sure it would come back almost 100% Ashkenazi Jewish. I’d be shocked if it said something like 12% Cherokee. Though again, somewhere along the line, some other DNA might have crept in there.

My wife’s forebears all came from Ireland. But she queries what it really means to say she’s “Irish.” Questioning whether there’s really any such thing, given Viking incursions and so forth, and again that all our DNA is 99.9% the same anyway. But calling someone “Irish” can mean merely that their not-too-distant forebears were born there.

As to that 99.9% human DNA identicality — the variations within any human subgroup (like “Blacks”) actually outstrip variations between such groups. Yet DNA — which is a string of many thousands of molecules of which there are just four variants, labelled A, C, T and G — does contain sequences which can be identified as unique to particular subgroups.

Thus if I am (mostly) genetically Ashkenazi, that’s a biological difference from a person who has little or no Ashkenazi DNA. Likewise for someone “Irish.” But it’s very important to say that it’s entirely up to us what significance, if any, we place on such differences. Perhaps the answer should be “very little,” given again the 99.9%.

But human life is not that simple, and maybe an even better option is to make the differences something positive. Culture is more important than biology. It’s the cultural differences that really matter; and we can embrace, even celebrate, our human cultural diversity, enriching and strengthening us. That’s how I see America.

I call myself an American rather than a Jew. I don’t follow the Jewish religion, nor even see myself as part of the related culture. Rather, always steeped in history, I see myself as embedded in the great global human project, as my prime source of meaning. And yet my particular ancestry does have a part of that meaning. I’m mindful how it fits in the bigger picture and illuminates it. And how it shaped my own life. For my grandparents and mother in Nazi Germany, Jewish identity was not something they could set aside.

* At 100 generations — before you even hit the 3400 year mark — the number would contain 31 digits.