March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day.
Temple Grandin wrote:
It is likely that genius is an abnormality. If the genes that cause autism and other disorders such as manic-depression were eliminated, the world might be left to boring conformists with few creative ideas.
Down Syndrome is not genius, at least not in the intellectual sense. If I could wave my hand and eliminate that third copy of the 21st chromosome, I imagine I would do so. But would that be a good thing? The more I hear from families of children with Down Syndrome, the more I wonder if these people have something important to offer the world that shouldn't be thrown away.
Even if eliminating the genetic defect that results in Down Syndrome would be best for all concerned, I know for a fact that eugenics is not the right way to effect a cure.
The population of people with Down Syndrome is diminishing rapidly, not because someone has cured the condition, nor found a way to prevent its occurrence, but simply because more and more babies with Down Syndrome are killed before they have a chance to be born. Prenatal testing to determine the presence of that extra chromosome is widespread, and more and more parents are opting for abortion rather than meet this challenge.
It's not my place, here, to judge another person's response to a difficulty I have never faced. But as a society we need to be aware of exactly what we are doing. There have been other times in our history when we have made deliberate efforts to eradicate the "unfit," and those actions have been rightly condemned by subsequent generations.
C. S. Lewis wrote about peer orientation? Certainly not by that name.
But recently, as part of my C. S. Lewis retrospective, I came upon a passage in Mere Christianity that immediately brought to mind the epidemic of children taking their culture and direction from peers, rather than from parents or other adults, which has been going on in our society for at least three generations.
What Lewis was actually writing about was the central tenet of Christianity: what it is and what it is not.
The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did that are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
As part of his explanation of one of those theories, Lewis likens God's work in us—enabling us to repent, reason, and love—to a teacher who helps a child learn to write by holding the child's hand and forming the letters with him. Later he writes [emphasis mine],
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, "because it must have been so easy for Him." Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If [the child] rejected him because "it’s easy for grown-ups" and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write ... (and so had no "unfair" advantage), [the student] would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) "No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank"? That advantage—call it "unfair" if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?
Rejecting the help of those who are stronger than ourselves is what we have been doing for decades. We turn for help and advice—for the very shaping of our lives—to our peers, and we not only tolerate, but encourage, the same in our children. Unlike all generations before the 20th century, we do not acquire our culture from our parents, but from agemates who have no more experience, knowledge, and wisdom than we ourseves. We ignore history, throwing out all mankind has learned from the beginning of human life on earth, on the grounds that the benighted, ignorant savages that came before us have nothing to say to our modern world. The latest TED talk or Huffington Post article gets more respect and attention than the wisest writings of the past.
No wonder we're in a mess.
Sandwiched between 3:14 (Pi Day) and 3:17 (St. Patrick's Day) is
3:16 (Greatest Love Day)
John 3:16, that is.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In honor of which I present this beautiful anthem, John Stainer's God So Loved the World. No, that's not our choir. But Porter and I have sung this many times and it's one of our favorites.
I've never seen the show, The Bachelor, never wanted to see it, still don't want to see it. But even I have to admit they did something right on their recent "live finale," whatever that was. Try to ignore the inanity.
Hear that piano? That's Mirko Tessandori. If you don't blink, you can even catch a few glimpses of him.
South African deep-sea diver Rainier Schimpf was diving with a crew that was documenting a sardine run in the waters east of Cape Town. Suddenly the water around him started churning, and he found himself sucked into the mouth of a Bryde whale. All was dark. He held his breath.
The whale later spat him out, unharmed.
“Nothing can actually prepare you for the event when you end up inside the whale," remarked Schimpf. Jonah would agree.
You can read the story and see photos here.
I appreciate living in this time and place. I know I've sometimes said that I think I was born in the wrong century, but in truth I'm glad to be in the era where we have antibiotics, smoke-free plane flights, and respect for women. That said, I'm shaking my head more and more at our modern American culture (and I'm not sure Europe is any better).
Born in the early 1950's; laboring through most of my education under dress codes that required me to wear a dress or a skirt to school every single day; learning from my voluminous childhood reading that boys are smart, strong, and have adventures, while girls are intellectually inferior, weak, and interested only in clothes and romance; having been the "first and only girl" in my Boy Scout Explorer troop, high school stage band, physics classes, and who knows what all else—I've witnessed quite a bit of change, much of it for the better, when it comes to how our society views men and women.
But now I think we've taken a few steps backward. A walk through the toy department in any major store reveals that children's toys are nearly as sex-stereotyped as they were when I was a child, and much more so than when our own children were young.
Even worse, if you deviate in interests, abilities, or goals from the norm for your sex, you're not just a bit odd—you risk being labelled "transgender" or at best "confused about your sexual identity."
Why can't we acknowledge, and celebrate, the fact that interests, abilities, and goals are broadly spread among males and females, without snipping that spectrum up into labels and diagnoses so that almost no one feels normal? The issue of making differences into diagnoses is much bigger than sex stereotyping, but the gender dimension happens to be especially big these days.
Here's an article about a Viking warrior's grave, assumed for more than a century to be that of a man; it was discovered in 2017 that the body is female.
When researchers announced in 2017 that the warrior was actually female, they received a lot of pushback—surely the archaeologists had made some mistake? Perhaps they tested the wrong body?
Now that's an attitude that could have been from the 1950's. A strong leader? Must have been male.
The following, however, is clearly from 2019:
The ensuing conversation raised questions about the role of women in Viking culture—as well as how Vikings understood gender identity. Unlike other Viking women buried with weapons, this person wasn’t wearing typical women’s clothing or jewelry.
“In this grave there is nothing that we archaeologically would interpret as female,” says [Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who co-authored the 2017 paper about the discovery].... “It’s not a typically male costume either probably because it’s very high status…but there is nothing indicating a woman, there are no typical finds that we link to women.”
There is speculation, then, that the woman must have been "transgender," an issue the author addresses in a more recent paper.
As for the warrior’s gender identity, Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues write, “There are many other possibilities across a wide gender spectrum, some perhaps unknown to us, but familiar to the people of the time.
“We do not discount any of them.”
So. In the 21st century we have moved on from the archaic idea that only men can be strong leaders, not women. But what have we moved on to? The idea that women still can't be strong leaders, because if you are a strong leader, you must be someone who isn't really female, but something closer to male on the spectrum.
Is that progress? Not for women.
If you think backseat driving is annoying, you should try backseat navigating.
We were with a friend, driving through unfamiliar streets and anticipating a delicious Thai dinner. As the one with the shortest legs, I was in the back seat. I usually prefer that position, as both our friend and my husband enjoy keeping up a lively conversation and that's much more convenient if they're both in the front. In the back seat, I can read, or think, or just enjoy the ride, which is generally my preference.
But it doesn't work for navigating.
We had just entered a tricky part of the route, where many turns happened in a very short period of time. I tried to interrupt the above-mentioned lively conversation to give directions. Not only were they not listening to my directions, I became convinced they weren't even hearing me, since every time I jumped into a break in the flow of words, our friend would talk right over me.
Finally, in utter frustration, I raised my voice and cried, "CAN YOU ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING FOR A FEW MINUTES AND LISTEN TO MY DIRECTIONS?"
My husband slammed on the brakes and brought us to a screeching halt.
No harm was done: we were in a residential area and it was safe to stop. But chaos reigned and some not-so-happy words were exchanged for a few seconds.
It wasn't until we were at the restaurant waiting for our meal that some light was shed on what had happened there. Our friend was not being rude when he talked over me: he had left his hearing aid at home, and he truly did not know I was talking.
And it wasn't till we were home (after a delicious lunch) that I figured out why my husband had slammed on the brakes. I had thought he was angry. But picture the situation: You're driving on unfamiliar roads, you are trying to pay attention to someone with a loud voice who is talking in your right ear, and you aren't quite hearing what the softer voice is saying from behind you—until that voice suddenly becomes a shout: "CAN YOU ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING FOR A FEW MINUTES AND LISTEN TO MY DIRECTIONS?"
What does your brain hear?
It hears the one word, "STOP!"
In retrospect, it was funny—it just took us a while to realize that.
What did I learn?
- Just because someone raises her voice, it doesn't necessarily mean she's angry (though she might be a little bit)—maybe she's just trying to be heard.
- Just because someone doesn't respond to you, it doesn't necessarily mean he's rudely ignoring you—maybe he's hard of hearing.
- Just because someone does something that appears to be an outburst of temper, it doesn't necessarily mean he's reacting in anger (though he might be a little bit)—maybe he thinks he's responding to an emergency situation.
And one more thing: Don't try to navigate from the back seat.
Not long ago, Ancestry.com added a new feature to their DNA services, where for an additional $10 they will analyze your existing DNA sample for certain genetic traits. It's not nearly as extensive as that offered by 23andMe, but for $10 I thought it worth checking out.
The verdict? Interesting, of questionable use, somewhat confusing, and mildly amusing. I'm posting our results for the few family members who might be interested, and for anyone else who wonders what the $10 will get you.
Bear in mind that having the gene for a trait does not mean that you actually have that trait, since genetics is complicated! Many different genes may influence the trait, and environment is often a factor as well. As I understand it, current DNA tests can give you a good general picture, but not the whole story. As the site says,
Sometimes your trait doesn't match what your genes say—that's totally normal. Genes don't always tell the whole story.
What the Ancestry.com Traits testing told me I can often confirm—but not always. They hedge their conclusions with "probably" in most cases. I've listed what Ancestry says, followed by my commentary. In some cases this may be more information than you want to know; you have been warned.
- Cleft Chin Yes. I see no evidence thereof. Maybe too small to notice.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. Maybe. It's hard to measure, and harder still when fingers are affected by arthritis.
- Earlobe Type Attached. I can confirm that.
- Earwax Type Wet. This one is more complicated than they make out, I'm certain. The two types are "Wet and sticky, yellowish to brown in color)" and "Dry and flaky (gray to tan in color)." Ancestry says, "Dry earwax is common in Asian and Native American populations. Just about everybody else has the wet variety. But in practice, I—with no measurable Asian or Native American ancestry—have primarily what they describe as "dry." But not exclusively: occasionally it's more like the wet, though not sticky, and nothing like that of others I know whose earwax is clearly of the wet-and-sticky variety. So there's a lot more going on here than a single genetic marker.
- Eye Color Light eyes. No surprise there—blue.
- Freckles No freckles. They got this right, too.
- Hair Color Lighter hair. Yep. Not now, but I was blonde as kid. My optometrist confirmed that: I have a blonde fundus. Even Miss Clairol can't fool an eye doctor.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Where did that come from? My hair is straight as can be. I remember my sister having somewhat wavy hair until her first haircut, so maybe I did then, too. But after that the only waves in my hair came from the painful overnight application of curlers—until my mother gave up on making me into someone who thought it reasonable to endure pain just to conform to society's standards of beauty. :)
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. I suppose so. Never thought about this one much. The gene variant for "thick hair" is "almost nonexistent in people of African and European descent," so when the hairdressers tell me (as they frequently do), "You sure have thick hair!" they must be talking about something else.
- Iris Patterns I should have furrows, crypts, and rings in my irises. I'll take their word for it; I find it hard to tell, though my irises are certainly more complex than I thought.
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Too bad we didn't have sons; I hope our daughters inherited the gene (which their father has, too) and passed it on to their sons.
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. No surprise here.
- Unibrow Yes. Oops, they got that one wrong.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection No. Well, half right As with the Earwax Type, it's more complicated than it seems. What they say, exactly, is this: your DNA suggests you might not notice a distinctive smell when you pee after eating asparagus. This is correct; I do not. However, they also say the following:
When your body digests asparagus, it produces a chemical called asparagusic acid, which breaks down into compounds that contain sulfur, which is notoriously stinky (think rotten eggs). Some people can smell this in their urine after eating asparagus; others can’t.
Scientists used to think that asparagus caused some people to produce bad-smelling urine, but it turns out that it’s probably not the stench but the ability to smell it that varies. The inability to smell is called “asparagus anosmia.”
I'm inclined to think that the new theory is wrong, since I cannot smell the distinctive odor in my own urine after eating asparagus, and neither can Porter. You might think that the quantities of asparagus eaten make a difference, but even when I eat a lot, we don't notice the smell, and when Porter eats the tiniest amount of asparagus, we both know it! So we can both smell it, but as far as we can tell, only he produces detectable "asparagus pee."
- Bitter Sensitivity No. This is a test for the ability to taste the bitterness in glucosinolates, which are common in vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. This may explain why I don't understand people who have an averson to kale....
- Cilantro Aversion Yes. Boy did they get this one wrong. I love, love, love cilantro! But my grandson may have received this gene, since he says cilantro tastes like stinkbugs. (Don't ask me how he knows the taste of stinkbugs.)
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets. If this is true, I taste sweet flavors more intensely than people without this variant. Maybe. I do find that baked goods like cakes and cookies can do with a lot less sugar than the recipe calls for. But that doesn't change the fact that I love sweetness!
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors. Maybe this is why I never get "Chinese restaurant syndrome." I love the "umami" flavor in foods, but am not noticeably sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG).
I'll give an abbreviated version of Porter's results. For some reason, he has one more trait (Birth Weight), added recently, which I don't see in my results yet.
- Birth Weight average-sized newborn. His birth certificate doesn't have birth weight information, so we'll probably never know.
- Cleft Chin Yes. Wrong—as far as we can tell.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. As far as he can tell, they are the same length.
- Earlobe Type Unattached. Wrong—Attached.
- Earwax Type Wet. Right.
- Eye Color Light eyes. Right—hazel.
- Freckles No freckles. Right.
- Hair Color Darker hair. Right.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Wrong.
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. Probably right.
- Iris Patterns He should have furrows and rings in his irises. Who knows?
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Looks right so far. :)
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. Right.
- Unibrow No. Right.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection Yes. Right.
- Bitter Sensitivity No. Probably right.
- Cilantro Aversion No.
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets.
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors.
Verdict? I don't see any use for it, but it was a fair $10 (each) worth of entertainment, to have done once. Coming up? We grabbed a set of 23andMe tests on a Black Friday special, and finally sent them in recently. We'll see if they're any more enlightening.