Posts Tagged ‘Myanmar’

Genetic drift is one of the infrequently mentioned mechanisms of evolution along with our all-time favorite, natural selection, and the remaining two: mutation and migration.


Genetic drift is a form of selection by consequences.  In genetic drift it is a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 


Unlike natural selection, which operates primarily on the genotype over relatively long time periods, selection by consequences operates on the organism’s phenotype or behavior which is a combination of genetic and environmental factors of the organism that can change over relatively short time periods. 


 Genetic drift results in having reduced elements of variability in the population from which natural selection can work.  Some of the variants of the species that were zapped including mutations are no longer available for selection.


 Thus, just by chance, a part of the population was wiped out and the surviving organisms would be left to propagate and leave behind more genetic descendents than those that were killed. (dah!) The organisms in subsequent generations would thus be the “lucky” because they didn’t get zapped. 



Thus, the next generation organisms are not necessarily a better fit or a product of the survival of the fittest [in the biological sense].  The organisms represent the survival of the luckiest and in so doing, represent genetic drift in that they are there because they avoided the vagaries of chance. 


 Genetic drift affects the genetic makeup of the population but, unlike natural selection, these effects are via a random probability set of processes or events. Some gene attributes end due to things outside forces and independent of their behavior.  They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time.


 Such is the case with Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the former Burma.


As if being stepped on in the form of a cyclone, the reclusive and isolated communities of Myanmar have been squished.  With 28,000 known dead and no water, food, or shelter, disease could take up to 1,500,000 people (3% of the population) in the coming months.  They have died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.



 Besides the huge losses, the callous and unconscionable refusal to deliver aid to its citizens will make the next decade hostile for life in Myanmar.  As a culture ethnically made up Tibetans and Chinese, they are one of the most superstitious cultures on earth.  This doesn’t bode well for changing their situation or for life.  Furthermore, small cultural groups disproportionally make up the ultra militaristic government and social and economic wealth of the country.



In a sense, are we seeing the effects of a genetic drift on an entire population take place?  The isolation by both tribes within Myanmar and the entire population as a whole has kept the genetic pool more free of global interaction from outsiders. The harsh military dictatorship and close control of visas has accentuated the effect of keeping the Myanmar people without much genetic variation over the last 40 years.   



·         Do you see a parallel here to genetic drift that results from wiping out a portion of a bird colony or a seals from their breeding grounds?  

·         What can we expect in this case?  Are some changes going to occur due to the loss of select tribes [in whole or in part] along the coast that never really intermarried or mingled with those in the deep forests?  

·         Is the superstition culturally at play today going to be accentuated or be challenged in an effort to survive?   

·         Is it likely that the soothsayers or the fortunetellers will be held accountable for not telling the faithful what was about to happen?

·         How is the surviving genetic pool – still isolated by military decree – going to change if they do change?


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Nargis was fate!


May 9, 2008

With a gaping look of angst similar to what played out during the Katrina catastrophe in this country, the heads of state around the world are trying to “help” Myanmar’s military ruler, Than Shwe, respond to Cyclone Nargis.

Problems abound. 

  • Over 100,000 people are dead; millions homeless and starving
  • Than Shwe is a military dictator that didn’t get complete control of the idyllic former Burma by trusting carpet baggers.
  • They have one of the more superstitious cultures on Earth
  • Cities are cut off from food, water, communication and shelter
  • As a country they compare well with Cuba as repressive and reclusive

President Bush said that “We’re prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those people who need help” but I am sure he meant the Seabees and not the military part of the Navy.  But, as usual, the 3rd item above may be the most critical for NOT being able to help than the others but, of course, there are always multiple causes for behavior, political or individual.


Everyone in Myanmar relies on soothsayers, fortunetellers and spiritualism to make their decisions at every level of the society.  It is all the rage.  So, not just the generals and the government bureaucrats don’t want the help, the people themselves have a conflict in that they need to eat today but they believe in fate as a way of life; Nargis was their fate!  That means they have to consult their spiritual leaders mentioned above.


There is a separate layer of logic or influence that controls the behavior of the leaders and the citizens that has a bigger influence than the life and death struggle they are waging right now.  It is almost like an organized ‘thing’ they do.  What this means in a bigger sense, those that want to help better be sensitive to the belief systems of the leaders or they won’t get anything done.  Sound familiar? 


The consequences of all this are bountiful for those trying to figure it out.  Bottom line for the people in Myanmar:

  • What I value may conflict with what you value
  • What I believe is of value to me more than what you believe
  • I value going to the advisor, soothsayer, fortuneteller to get direction
  • I am subject to my fate

We’re lucky – knock on wood – that we live in a democracy where we exercise free choice to go to church and exercise our free will by voting that prevents dictators from overstepping the bounds of our government – except in Michigan and Florida – and for having institutions that take care of us without strings attached and provide for us during times of need.  We should all go and pray that Myanmar’s kind autocratic bullying and superstition never takes root on American soil. 


Now if I just had enough money for gas I’d go light a candle in the darkness at my church.  I’ll have to walk even though it is raining.  Better not open my umbrella in the house.  It might catch that ladder over the doorway and scare Chester my black cat across my path.


After a Bloomberg.com article By En-Lai Yeoh

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