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Stephen King’s Carrie and the problem of genetics in an horror story

carrieIn the novel, Carrie, Stephen king attempts to explain telekinetic ability in terms of a real genetically inherited trait. OK, this is fiction, I have no problem with Carrie’s telekinetic ability … where would this story be without it after all?
Explaining this ability in terms of science was a mistake for two reasons. For one thing, it undermines the very idea of ‘supernatural’ that the reader has already bought into. This was exactly the problem that fans of Star Wars had with the prequel trilogy’s explanation of ‘The Force’ in terms of sub-cellular microorganisms. The second reason he shouldn’t have done this is because he didn’t understand it well himself.

Characters:
Carrie White – The protagonist, who possesses telekinetic (TK) ability
Margaret Brigham – Carrie’s mother
Ralph White – Carrie’s father

From Stephen King’s Carrie (please don’t sue me Mr. King)

It is now generally agreed that the TK phenomenon is a genetic-
recessive occurrence-but the opposite of a disease like hemophilia,
which becomes overt only in males. In that disease, once called “King’s
Evil,” the gene is recessive in the female and is carried harmlessly.
Male offspring, however, are “bleeders.” This disease is generated only
if an afflicted male marries a woman carrying the recessive gene. If the
offspring of such union is male, the result will be a hemophiliac son. If
the offspring is female, the result will he a daughter who is a carrier. It
should be emphasized that the hemophilia gene may be carried
recessively in the male as a part of his genetic make-up. But if he
marries a woman with the same outlaw gene, the result will be
hemophilia if the offspring is male.

In the case of royal families, where intermarriage was common, the
chance of the gene reproducing once it entered the family tree were
high-thus the name King’s Evil. Hemophilia also showed up in
significant quantities in Appalachia during the earlier part of this
century, and is commonly noticed in those cultures where incest and
the marriage of first cousins is common.

With the TK phenomenon, the male appears to be the carrier; the
TK gene may be recessive in the female, but dominates only in the
female. It appears that Ralph White carried the gene. Margaret
Brigham, by purest chance, also carried the outlaw gene sign, but we
may be fairly confident that it was recessive, as no information has ever
been found to indicate that she had telekinetic powers resembling her
daughter’s. Investigations are now being conducted into the life of
Margaret Brigham’s grandmother, Sadie Cochran-for, if the dominant/recessive
pattern obtains with TK as it does with hemophilia,
Mrs. Cochran may have been TK dominant.

If the issue of the White marriage had been male, the result would
have been another carrier. Chances that the mutation would have died
with him would have been excellent, as neither side of the Ralph
White-Margaret Brigham alliance had cousins of a comparable age for
the theoretical male ottspring to marry. And the chances of meeting and
marrying another woman with the TK gene at random would be small.
None of the teams working on the problem have yet isolated the gene.

Surely no one can doubt, in light of the Maine holocaust, that
isolating this gene must become one of medicine’s number-one
priorities. The hemophiliac, or H gene, produces male issue with a lack
of blood platelets. The telekinetic, or TK gene, produces female
Typhoid Marys capable of destroying almost at will….

Questions

Stephen King’s explanation of the genetics of hemophilia is not quite right.

1. How is hemophilia actually inherited? Explain in terms of dominant / recessive inheritance.
2. King suggests that hemophilia is inherited from two carrier parents. Is this correct? Describe, in genetic terms, how a boy can be born with disease.
3. Is it possible for a female child to inherit the disease?

Queen_Victoria

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Mozart and Harper Lee

I could really use some music to honor my wife on the anniversary of her death...

I could really use some music to honor my wife on the anniversary of her death…

In 1791 Mozart died while working on a beautiful piece of music, his Mass in D minor. I love much of Mozart’s work, but I think that this is probably my favorite (perhaps a tie with The Marriage of Figaro). Yet, there has always been discussion about how much Mozart, himself, completed and how much his friend and copyist (possibly student), Franz Sussmayr, wrote as he completed the manuscript for delivery to Count Franz von Wallsegg in 1792.

What is relevant here is that it does not really matter to me who wrote it. It’s attributed to Mozart, so I assume that he did the majority of the work in at least shaping it and providing hints as to how it would develop.

Similar accusations have been raised about Harper Lee’s authoring (or lack of authoring) To Kill a Mockingbird, and now Go Set a Watchman. Ms. Lee was good friends with another iconic writer, Truman Capote. The two were childhood friends, and she worked with him for some time as an research assistant for his opus, In Cold Blood.

To answer this, Maciej Eder and Jan Rybicki assembled a data analysis algorithm to analyze writing styles. With only a single novel, it is difficult to say much about the authorship (of Mockingbird), however, with the release of a second novel, a data analysis technique known as ‘cluster analysis’ becomes more meaningful. Using a number of analyses, the two data miners assert that Ms. Lee’s voice is her own, distinct from Capote’s. One of these analyses is presented below (taken from the Computational Stylistics Group website), examining most- frequent -word usages by Lee and a number of other Southern Authors.

Lee_and_others_consensus

We see that both of Lee’s books cluster together (as do other authors), and that her own style appears to more closely resemble authors that she professed were influential to her rather then that of her friend, Capote.

What is most important to me though is how I feel about the text. At this point I am nearing the end, but have not gone far enough that I can say definitively what my conclusions are. I admit that it took some time to get into the novel – the first chapter or so didn’t feel right to me – but most of the book has developed well in my opinion. I think what will make or break this book in terms of real importance to me is where things go with respect to the central question of race that it deals with.

Regardless of that conclusion, I have greatly enjoyed this book (as I did Mockingbird), for its ability to transport the reader into the mind and body of the protagonist, Scout. Taking us in a journey through time – twice! Once to Scout’s childhood, and again to her adulthood, still many years past now, just after World War II.

These books and Mozart’s Requiem Mass, they are what they are. And I intend to enjoy them by that standard.

The Requiem would be no less a masterpiece if it was written by Donald Duck. And Go Set a Watchman is what it is regardless of who wrote it or who wanted it published. The fact is, it’s out there and the whole world is devouring it this week. I say, discuss the politics of the book all you want, it’s all quite interesting too, but judge it on its own merits, irrespective of all these other questions.

That said… are you reading it? What do you think? I’ll probably be finished by the time anyone gets around to reading this, so answer as thoroughly as you like. Let’s consider this a SPOLIER ALERT for anything beyond this point – don’t read the comments if you have not finished the text. (OK, with all that lead up, I need some comments….)

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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An open letter from NaNoWriMo

Thank you for opening this briefing. This message will self-destruct in five minutes.

You are receiving this transmission because we have a task only you can handle. Intelligence has it on good authority that there is a novel inside of you: a story so crucial it must be shared with the world. Your mission, if you choose to accept it: write your novel in 30 days. Code name? Operation: Power-Up.
 
As always, NaNo HQ is in the sky and on your shoulder, ready to guide you through.
 
Assemble Your Team: Get Sponsored
This mission is not a one-agent job. You are authorized to keep your friends and family apprised of your progress, and encouraged to establish an inner circle. Consider engaging that inner circle in your mission by asking them to sponsor your novel through StayClassy and support your march to success.
 
Establish Your Supply Lines: Help Earn $10,000 for NaNoWriMo and the YWP
Our partner agency, Goodsearch, has committed up to $10,000 to encourage the creative cause this November. How can you help?
  1. Download and install the Goodshop button for your browser.
  2. Make a purchase from their more than 3,000 online vendors, including Amazon.com, by December 31. November provisions such as caffeine and candy have full HQ approval.
  3. Goodsearch will donate $5 and 20% of your total purchases to NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program.
Get kitted out to ensure the success of your mission while supporting the creative mission of young writers in classrooms the world over. That’s the kind of team player that earns medals.
 
Meet Your Handlers: Seek Advice from Published, Veteran Authors
We’ve lined up a series of published authors to guide you through your trials, tribulations, and triumphs via our Twitter account. Beginning on Monday, October 28, authors like Teri Brown, Jason Hough, and Kristyn Kusek Lewis will take over @NaNoWriMo to provide the advice, inspiration, and intel you need.
 
You have our support, you have our faith, you have the fate of a world in your capable, authorly hands.
 
(Please pretend this email exploded with a small puff),
 
Tim Kim
Editorial Director

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Hey – it’s Day Two!

Image

Jam!

NanoWriMo started yesterday. That means I’m only one day behind. Not to worry. I have access to vast amounts of caffeine, and even though I haven’t even thought about what I plan to write about, I’m sure it’ll just spill out the moment I open the NaNoWriMo part of my brain.

Well…

Hope Springs eternal.

A moment’s brainstorming here… I have been considering putting together a book of science writing a la Matt Ridley’s Genome. His book had one essay for each of the 23 human chromosomes with the topic coming from a gene on the chromosome of that number. A little contrived, don’t you think? I wouldn’t do anything like that, right.

Ok, so I would. But since he already did that, how about one essay for every… uh. I don’t know. However, I am suddenly taken by the idea of making a book about the ages of the Earth and how life developed over time both (in some cases) causing and in (all cases) concert with geological and atmospheric changes. As always, my primary interest would be to do something of this sort that could be used to educate kids of all ages.

Whenever I think about this, I am reminded of a wonderful set of books that we had in my grandparent’s library. I think it might have been some kind of interpretation of The Origin of Species, but not following that text and with illustrations on every page. To this day, I can’t remember what book this was or find anything that satisfies my desire to provide the same sort of resource to my own son.

Well, there it is. Not a novel, but an idea. I’ll let you know where I go with this once I sit down to write tonight. Best of luck to all you other NaNoWriMo-ers out there.

 

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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I must think I have too much time on my hands

ImageNational Novel Writing Month is November. Each year NaNoWriMo (pronounced nano-rye-mo) unites people who think it would be cool to write a novel but aren’t motivated, can’t spend years of their life on something – but can commit to some time for 30 days or need companionship to keep them going.

The goal is to start from scratch on Nov. 1 and write a 50,000 word novel by Nov. 30. Last year there was 256, 618 participants and 36, 843 winners (a winner is someone who meets the word count and has put together a coherent story, i.e. not writing nonsense). Broken down, it’s 1667 words a day over the period. I lasted about 17 days last time and wrote something on the order of 30,000 words. Let’s be honest – it was awful. But it was fun and I enjoyed being part of a larger community pursuing this goal. Every night after writing I would upload my word count and see how I was faring as compared to others in the region and across the globe.

I’m going to give it a go again this year. Maybe I’ll only make it 5 days, maybe I’ll ‘win’.

If it sounds like something you’d be interested in trying, start here. And remember, you’re supposed to try things and fail – otherwise you’re not really trying

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Ideal Gas Law Followup

Just a quick note… I put an ad on oDesk (a contractor website) for artists to do my Chemistry / Mythology project and got two dozen replies since last night. There’s a lot of variability in the work, but at least several of them have fantastic portfolios and one or two look like excellent matches.

I’d still rather have a collaborator than a contractor, but perhaps I’m going about it wrong. 

What’s more important? Getting the work out soon or finding a good collaborator?

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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