Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning About Your Genealogy Can Help You Live Better Now

Genealogy is the most popular hobby in the world, or so I read last week. Why? If true, maybe it's because we all want to know where we came from, what chain of life we belong to, how we connect to the past, how to divine our future from the actions of our ancestors. Who knows? What I do know is that learning about ancestors is satisfying and fun. 

Finding Your Roots, now showing on PBS once a week here in the United States, must easily be the best ever produced about genealogy. Incredibly impressive efforts and extravagant expenses have gone into the creation of each segment. 

Tracing ancestors can be a fascinating hobby that can extend to the far reaches of the world. Getting names, dates, and locations where they lived can be extremely fascinating and unexpectedly time-consuming and expensive. 

The television show used the latest genetic technology to extend what could be found hounding paper evidence and graveyards for clues. Taking the time to make lengthy searches used to be the only method for finding our ancestors, but now we can each discover much more lengthy family histories, whatever our personal circumstances. In other words, even if we know nothing even about our parents, or beyond our grandparents, whatever we know, we can find out more than we could dream about our ethnic histories by sending spit (incredibly for only $99) to genealogy websites, my favorite of which is 23andMe as I written about herehere and here. Fascinating and geeky sites, such as my personal favorites, Promethease which I wrote about here, and Livewello, are coming online where (for as little as $5) dozens of pages of genealogy and health advice can appear in your email, protected for privacy. 

Improving current health and anticipating future health challenges can be a motivation for finding out more about ancestors. Some of these sites cross the line between health and genealogy to help us connect the dots between the recessive and dominant genes our ancestors had that we share with them. Being conscious and aware of health issues can help when visiting the doctor if the doctor has a better idea of the individual health risks we might have and it's on a personal printout that we can make and keep to ourselves. Our bodies are our own responsibilities and we should know everything we can about our own health before we have medical emergencies.

Being worried negatively (to the point of being paralyzed into inaction) about an identity being stolen is counterproductive and unrealistic. Being anonymously cloned for commercial purposes is impossible scientifically for humans. Such negativity is unhelpful because scientists aren't interested in putting together clones of any particular one of us any more than one particular peanut is interesting to a scientist when the overwhelming popular demand is for more peanut butter. And at this point we're all peanuts and probably will be forever. None of us knows if our particular skeleton will become the most important find of the century for a future archeologist. 

Scientists of many disciplines need to have aggregate collected information that will help all of us. Researchers have made new discoveries, based on saliva samples, donated by thousands of people around the world for the purpose of understanding historical migration and advancing medical research and the area is exploding from the possibilities created by combining information from the precious samples of thousands of people. 

Learning about your own personal history can be an entryway increasing understanding of the histories of people around the world, and that is the value of Finding Your Roots that is extremely helpful. Genealogy is helping motivate a better understanding of history because as always, if the commercial is served, the recreational will be improved as well.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bachata Fever


Music therapists recommend creating a relaxation playlist because healing music helps fight stress, find comfort, and manage pain as does exercise. On a deep level, music can make us feel understood and provide us with a release that allows us to move on. Counterintuitively, sad music has been shown in a study to have numerous positive health benefits according to a recently popular study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Music preferences can show how social we are, remind us of the people we would most like to be with, and are influenced by how we've been treated by other people, said the study author Chan Jean Lee, PhD of KAIST Business School in Seoul, South Korea. 

Bachata is urban Latin music for dancing, very sensual and loving, originally from the Dominican Republic, a bit slower than Merengue, and a cousin of Salsa, Mango, Cha-cha, and Tango. It's grown on me lately so I've decided to share with you, my precious reader, the names of a few of my favorite dance tunes.

Try playing this music while you read or when you're with friends as it makes excellent background music:

La Amo a Morir https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txCFYJ4ys4M

Bachata is danced with a partner, but not necessarily always. I've been enjoying learning it in a gym class (partnerless and in front of mirrors in rows) from a Uruguyan Zumba teacher who is passionate about Latin dance, and especially Bachata. Little wonder it's enormously popular. It's stretching credibility for this little Canadian girl (me) to learn this form of dance, but the music is beautiful when listened to over and over again. I'm trying to imagine myself sashaying around tropical cafes to this music. Okay, dreaming of that now that our New Jersey weather is chilling.

Here are a few more tunes. Just to give you fair warning: they will seep into your subconscious the more you listen to them, and can make them slow down (if you know how to do that):

If only more people around the world would listen to music and dance more for business and recreation instead of fighting useless, harmful political power struggles. Enjoy listening to this wonderful form of dance, and as hippies in the 60s used to say: make love not war.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

A theory of seven multiple intelligences described by Howard Gardner of Harvard University in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Here are the seven summarized:

1) Visual-spatial architects and interior designers are aware of their environments and think in terms of physical space and learn well with images and imagery.
2) Bodily kinesthetic dancers and surgeons have a keen sense of body awareness and language, learn hands on, acting out, role playing. 
3) Musicians show sensitivity to rhythm and sound in their environments, might learn better with music in the background. 
4) Interpersonal students learn through interaction, have many friends, empathy for others, street smarts, and have been shown to learn well with time and attention from instructors and audio conferencing, group activities, seminars, and dialogues.
5) Intrapersonal students tend to shy away from others, are in tune with their inner feelings, have wisdom, intuition and motivation, a strong will, confidence, and opinions, are best taught through independent study, appreciate privacy, and are the most independent of learners. 
6) Verbal-linguistic students use words effectively, like playing word games, and using computers for word games, listen well to lectures and multimedia presentations.
7) Logical-mathematical thinkers think conceptually, abstractly, and see patterns, solve puzzles, ask cosmic questions, learn through investigations and mysteries, and need to learn and form concepts before they can deal with details.

Also suggested as alternative intelligences are: Naturalistic tendencies (sensitivity to nature), "Existential" or spiritual intelligence, and Moral intelligence (having to do with ethics of right and wrong).

Isn't it likely we are mixes of many of these? Gardner believes we're each a unique mixture of these intelligences. 

However many intelligences there are, schools should allow students to study in a way that works best, whether it's allowing stuents to research independent studies with minimal supervision, or enjoying a lecture, physical education class or coffee break with classmates, or a mix of both. I believe test results would probably improve substantially, even if students pick and choose how they learn, and teachers allow space for that to change for various tasks or over time. Teachers and students would feel less frustrated with each other, if only each could play to the strength of the other.

There is value and truth in the idea that intelligence isn't etched in stone, and shouldn't be believed from a single test if one bad day can make or break a test-taker. Being late, hungry, tired, or feeling ambushed by life's demands can hijack some hapless test-taker's attention, and thus ruin intelligence test results with disastrous long-term consequences.

Here is a quiz you can take to find out your area of intellectual strength.

Myself, I think I'm a mix of musical intrapersonal linguist. Choosing one I'd say intrapersonal, and that was how I tested. I've always liked personal instruction the most and group instruction least. If asking an instructor a question in a group setting isn't possible, I feel frustrated. Yet often, questions aren't permitted and my questions must go unanswered forever. Isn't it frustrating to be in a lecture auditorium and have the lecturer take questions that can't be generally heard and not repeat them? It's usually impossible to guess a question, and extremely frustrating for listeners. I also think it's necessary for someone in that position to repeat a question that not everyone in a room can hear. It's good manners not to waste anyone's time. Try the quiz.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The More We Get Together, The Happier We'll Be

Have you been to a family reunion or important wedding this summer and perhaps shared folklore of distinguishing features of your ancestors and health information? Worldwide, there is a huge thirst for names of ancestors and many of us are interested in filling in quenching it and filling in those family trees. Yet sometimes even after names have been filled in on the charts, mysteries of personality quirks and health issues remain, and require interest in pursuing them further. Genetic genealogy is a way to fill in many of gaping holes, and changing the ways families enlarge conjectures they hold of their family heritage.

The first meeting of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) happened last weekend in beautiful Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. 

ISOGG logo
From nearby National Geographic Society, Spencer Wells gave the keynote address with a video illustrating the history of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Wells had written a paper with Oleg Balanovsky, Head of the Research Center for Medical Genetics at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow, and Dr. Balanovsky then described Russian efforts to trace human migrations and languages.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore gave an entertaining talk about her own family history in genetic detail, about how hard it is to get people to donate their spit in a humorous way, and tips on how to carry out the necessary detective work with genetic information when the paper trail goes cold and results in research brick walls.

Representatives from companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and a few others associated with the new field of genetic genealogy gave talks and explained how to research ancestors. It was a fascinating gathering, and I was privileged to attend this inaugural meeting of an entirely new discipline made possibly by the internet and advances in DNA technology.

Apart from the standard genealogical bread and butter advice to have family reunions and share information, genealogists can confirm (and sometimes) deny family relationships. Sometimes, the results can actually cause people to deny they have half-siblings they didn't know they had. CeCe Moore gave proof of this and described in detail how she discovered the Heming family relationship with the former American President Thomas Jefferson.

To find out more about health risks, inherited conditions, drug responses and distinguishing traits, 23andMe stands head and shoulders over other data providers. 

Once you have data, you can do a lot with it, and the most fascinating sites for me now are Promethease and SNPedia which I described here. I'm fascinated by any health information I can get that concern my children and ancestors. That's my primary motivation for researching my own ancestry further.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Promethease and SNPedia: Sites Worthy of Honor and Support

As I've remarked in earlier posts, my genes have been sequenced through various companies and the results have been analyzed through a very interesting organization and website called Promethease and the wiki site SNPedia, founded in 2006 by Greg Lennon. It would be a good idea to support their work. My results have been amazing and life-changing. 

The name Promethease itself could derive from legends surrounding Prometheus which typically have to do with honor and support.

PROMETHEUS Statue Courtesy: Buchhandler
Promethease is a fascinating site and company where you can directly send your genome data from another site such as 23andMe or most other sources and receive reports on your gene SNPs (or "snips), the so-called snips of your genes that make you who you are, and that make you different from your family. It's useful for everyone: members of large families who will learn more about their individual genetic predispositions and traits, orphans who could learn more personal family names or disease risks, and anyone can learn more about family lineages going back hundreds of years. For each person, genetic results are different. Certainly the healthcare field of doctors can use it as a research resource, genealogists searching for quirky character traits, maybe police forces searching forensically for an individual's DNA data. The uses for genetic information is in its infancy. Genetic data can be another useful and time-saving device and it's limited only by imagination.

A connected compendium of SNP results is organized into a wiki called SNPedia, founded by Greg Lennon and Mike Cariaso, both also of Promethease. Mike has made many informational videos explaining how to use the site.  SNPedia is a resource that can be used by the medical field around the world. It's meant to be updated like Wikipedia by doctors and medical students and provide  a database useful for biomedical research and discovery. SNPedia lists medical papers related to diseases connected to genes and SNPs, and much that is currently known about the current field of DNA interpretation.

Incoming Stanford and Harvard medical students will have their genes sequenced and will learn how to analyze genetic results to help patients in the future. That's how important this field is. As well as medics, anyone searching for medical information can broaden their understanding of disease and personality characteristics. Genealogists can find clues when paper trails have run their course and evolutionary biologists and anthropologists can use it as a resource. Many professionals now have another avenue to use for investigations, and have been finding that DNA can answer longstanding mysteries.

It's possible to look at a website about SNPs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but that website, unlike Promethease, doesn't give you a definition of each one of your SNPs, tell you whether your particular allele is in "good" or "bad" repute, how your personal risk compares in percentage size to the world population of your ethnicity. The NIH gives chromosomal raw numbers but without interpretation such as that found on Promethease, all that data is useless. The search mechanism of Promethease makes use of NIH's ClinVar (Clinical Variants) information from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which also aggregates and archives information, but doesn't yield popularly-useful interpretations. Promethease, in contrast, goes much further and describes what each SNP is and what diseases and traits it determines.

 At the related SNPedia site, it's possible to find papers to research for more information, and papers are continually updated into the site every day. For that reason, downloading your gene data into the site will yield updated information as the site forgets information after 45 days. The data is only searchable on Promethease when it's fresh, but can be kept in your files. Whether the service is free or not depends on whether you'd like to wait hours for the report or have it in a few minutes, and that cost is only five dollars, for results that were unavailable until now in any medium and will quickly become priceless to you. It's an easy to do and easy to understand. Recommend putting this on your to-do list. Everyone should try this at home.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Should Stay Out of Financial Games of Politics

"The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is pulling millions of dollars in investments out of three U.S. companies tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
In a close vote at its annual assembly in Detroit on Friday, the church voted 310-303 to divest $21 million from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.
The church says Caterpillar supplies products to Israel that are used to destroy Palestinian homes, Hewlett-Packard provides logistics and technology to help enforce the naval blockade of Gaza, and Motorola Solutions provides military and surveillance systems in illegal Israeli settlements.
But immediately after the vote, church leaders said the decision was not a judgment against Israel. "In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers," Moderator Heath Rada said." CNN

Here's why I don't agree with the recent announcement by the Presbyterian Church in America to sell investments in these companies. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is harming American industry and innovation and the hard work that the thousands of company employees do in their jobs every day. These are enormous companies: Caterpillar employed 125,341 people as of Dec. 2012, Hewlett-Packard: 317,000 in 2013, and Motorola Solutions: 22,000 in 2012. 

I didn't think I'd ever have to support American industry single-handedly, but I do think it's wrong for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to get into politics by making this decision because it's a two-edged sword. Where does entering world politics stop for a church? Surely every  multi-national company could be faulted for one reason or another. Apart from being narrow-minded, it's hypocritical in a church that should value inclusion and seems to me close to anti-Semitism.

It's thought that these companies aren't helping Palestinians. The importance of helping Palestinians is an attitude that has pervaded the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in recent years. It has already divested companies with operations in Israel, noting that church divestments in the 70s helped end Apartheid. That last assertion sounds rather grandiose to me; I'd need to see evidence of that. To me, limiting investments in these companies is an absurd stance and is a decision reeks of church politics, and someone always wins and loses with politics. Besides, what's wrong with investing in agricultural machinery, computers, and telephones?

These companies employ many thousands, and the ones singled out by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) currently employ thousands in America whose present salaries, future pensions, and the lives of their families, might be affected through no fault of their own. It's an insult to the personal histories of all employees and is hurting them for church-political reasons. The Church will instead help to contribute to global poverty and global hunger if these machines and devices aren't made and sold overseas. Who knows how the companies and my friends in Israel might retaliate? 

Full disclosure: it's a church I haven't joined. You may not know, as I haven't said this before on this blog, but I happen to be the grand-daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Canada, and grew up going to Church on Sundays in Ottawa with very devout parents. I think I have as much right as anyone to throw in my two cents, and hope my Canadian friends show better financial acumen than this.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

"That's Just The Way It Is" Internationally In American Education

America has had trouble coming out in first place internationally in the field of education recently. 

The losing streak was beginning to show hope of fading after a report came out that supposedly highlighted how well America had done with problem solving skills. The idea, reported in the media, was asserting that American students were better at problem-solving and flexibility skills than students in other countries. 

Then I saw an article  in The New York Times called "American Students Test Well in Problem Solving, but Trail Foreign Counterparts." Note that even a subordinate clause in the title says that it really trails other nations. Yet NPR radio in reports had made it sound as if this result was a shining achievement of American education, when in reality, America trailed even here Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain. And this was hailed by an American politician as a relatively "strong suit." It was hoped that the value of flexible thinking would redeem the weakness of American education, but it turns out the improvement was decided as only minor. Excuses were given to explain the higher standing of foreign countries, such as the emphasis on rote learning of facts and formulas in Asian countries. 

The topic fascinated me and I decided to look further into the 2012 scores of the Program of International Student Assessment (P.I.S.A.) published in December 2013 and only now being reported in the popular press. America's losing streak appears to be continuing however the press wants to spin it.

In this article in the Washington Post article mathematics:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 27 education systems, higher than 22 education systems, and not measurably different than 13 education systems."

In science literacy, a similar story:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 17 education systems, higher than 27 education systems, and not measurably different than 15 education systems."

Even reading literacy wasn't exceptional:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 14 education systems, higher than 33 education systems, and not measurably different than 12 education systems."

Where, besides Sarah Palin, do Americans get the idea of American exceptionalism, or of America as the hub where people must be seen and live to become "known"?  Exceptionalism doesn't appear to have any basis in reality if these test results are any guide. If any American students go to university primarily to play sports instead of to learn academic studies, then I don't suppose anything will ever change and their standings will never improve except in the unreal world of American propaganda. 

According to this article in The Atlantic magazine:
"The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S. spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000."

Worse, even the advanced state of Massachusetts lags two years behind Singapore at the high school level, so that foreign students fall behind if they attend American high schools, and have a huge advantage if they attend American universities. This education failure sadly is an old refrain, and I hope to have a more optimistic tone, as I usually do have, in my next post. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is the Act of Forgiveness Dying?

Last week I attended a conference for women in business where the keynote speaker said that for women in business it's wrong to apologize and say "I'm sorry." The speaker exhorted us to promote rather than apologize and ask permission and said instead of apologizing to say "excuse me" or "please go on" and that apologizing is now supposedly a sign of the weakness of women in a business setting. But I have to say here (in my one still and tiny voice) that "I disagree."

Her speech about gravitas and how to have it was given to a huge audience of influential women here in the Princeton area of New Jersey. The lady who said it (and who shall remain nameless to avoid trouble) gave a talk otherwise laudable and praiseworthy, and I recognize that I'm taking this single topic straight out of context (and apologize).

It's the height of arrogance not to apologize when circumstances warrant outpouring expressions of kindness. It makes the person who made a mistake own it (along with shame, guilt, fear) and makes him/her into a better and more trustworthy person, and the apology must be said with sincerity and forgiveness requested and granted or else it won't be believed. Showing empathy and compassion shows your human nature in its best light.

Forgiveness is possibly a genetically inherited character trait, a sign of strength, of empathy, and of compassion. It isn't the sign of a healthy relationship if the other person doesn't admit they are wrong, doesn't take responsibility or ever admit to being at fault. In fact being callous and remorseless has been called a sign of psychopathy.

Not all apologies are equal. We've all heard someone apologize in a sarcastic or insincere way, such as to an opponent in reference to winning a competitive game "I'm sorry to say I won that match." That isn't really meant as a deep apology, and perhaps this casual use of the phrase is inadvisable except in the most casual of settings. 

I do think there is a place even in business for a sincere apology. Apologizing shows respect for the feelings of others. Saying you've made a mistake should also in turn be respected. It does get easier to say the more you say it and you will feel better for saying it. In fact, they are the two (or three) sweetest words I can hear from someone with whom I've had a disagreement, and who I feel is truly at fault.

It's not that I'm a fine example of a businesswoman (far from it), but from an international point of view as I generally have I don't agree that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Apologizing and asking forgiveness is a method useful for reconciliation and continuing diplomacy engaged as a sign of true humility and repentance.

Sincerely, I hope that asking for forgiveness doesn't soon become a lost art because forgiveness helps us all move on with our lives. Apologies are meant to signal that water has passed under the bridge so why not strengthen that metaphorical bridge and not ignore it? Apologizing and asking forgiveness is a useful interpersonal diplomatic tool when the end goal is peace. Don't we all want that?

File:Richmond Bridge Panorama.jpg
wikimedia: Richmond Bridge Tasmania

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jane McGonigal's Extraordinary TED Talk


Jane McGonigal, Game Designer 

Thanks, Jane! In Jane McGonigal's TED talk, she talks about how to add ten years to your life. 

After people have had trauma similar to Jane's severe head trauma, goals they often share are to:

1) do whatever makes them happy
2) feel closer to family and friends
3) understand themselves better
4) know who they really are now
5) have a clear sense of meaning and purpose in life
6) be better able to focus on goals and dreams.

When people are dying, the regrets most often expressed are the opposite and reinforce the above positive goals. They often wish they had:

1) not worked so hard
2) stayed in touch with friends
3) let themselves be happier (for example, by playing video games)
4) had the courage to express their true selves
5) lived lives true to their dreams instead of what was expected of them.

To review, those who lived on average ten years longer continually boosted four types of resilence:

1) physical - by never sitting still for more than an hour at a time
2) mental - by tackling tiny goals to boost willpower
3) emotional - by achieving the three-to-one positive emotion ratio
4) social - by reaching out to one other cared-for person every single day

McGonigal's a game designer and approves of games. Scientific literature proves that when we play a game we tackle challenges with greater creativity, determination, optimism, and we're more likely to reach out to others for help, be more courageous, ambitious, and committed to our goals.

Video games can help with survival and longevity with behaviors we can adopt for use in real life. Another reason to like online video games is that "groundbreaking clinical trials recently conducted at East Caroline University showed that online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression. Just 30 minutes of online game play a day was enough to create dramatic boosts in mood and long-term increases in happiness." 

Here's the entire transcript of the video and it's well-worth watching or reading.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Michelle Obama Is A Vital Asset to America's International Image





Michelle Obama has always had a difficult journey to walk in the White House. From the beginning of her husband's first term as 44th and current President of the United States, her husband's political opponents have taken it on themselves to criticize her at every opportunity, most vocally for her choices of clothes.

And now she's staying in Hawaii for a few weeks as a gift from her husband, staying at Oprah Winfrey's house while the East Coast freezes, and the petty jealousy in the press is everywhere. The neverending cheap and nasty sniping and the publishing of disrespectful and unflattering photos makes me sad. It's extremely obvious that her opponents use the race card at every opportunity, since Michelle Obama is the first African-American First Lady.

Michelle Obama is a beautiful, accomplished, experienced individual whatever her detractors have to say. She was born Michelle LeVaughn Robinson in Chicago, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School before returning to Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley Austin, on the staff of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The First Lady has used her platform in the White House to draw attention to the problems of poor children by starting a Task Force on Childhood Obesity. She grew organic vegetables in the first White House vegetable garden and started bee hives that supplied fresh organic produce and honey at state dinners.

Michelle Obama has been involved in the many aspects of being wife of the President, and she will leave a lasting legacy as an advocate of LGBT rights, and on many issues of concern to military and working families. I wish her opponents could wise up to her assets within the realities of this farflung multinational country.


Monday, December 30, 2013

23andMe Offers Personalized Medicine Today





The article called "I Had My DNA Picture Taken, With Varying Results" in the New York Times is useless. The 23andMe $99 home test kit was compared to other kinds of tests: blood tests and test kits that have to be ordered and received by a doctor that effectively remove information from the realm of the tested. Worse, it's unhelpful to see the New York Times publishing such drivel in its influential news outlet. In an article to review a $99 dollar home test from 23andMe, why didn't it compare apples to apples instead of to oranges? Why not compare an equally-priced $99 home test kit, for instance, one from Ancestry DNA? Instead, the New York Times indulged in shoddy journalism, and by that I'm suggesting the article was a lazy, inaccurate, and narrow summary of the facts and I'm worried it will be taken seriously by everyone (patients, doctors, the F.D.A.) when it should have been published somewhere else. The New York Times is just one newspaper, albeit an influential one, but it could have done a whole lot better at checking the facts than it did.

Why didn't the New York Times ask me and other hundreds of thousands who have benefited from 23andMe without any other reasonable alternative? Did it take the effort to check its references of 23andMe by reading threads of glowing testimonials for the company, of which I could add another?

The real story that was missed is the story behind genetic testing: about how lazy and sloppy the F.D.A. has been for millions of American doctors who are unable to tell patients their true genetic risks because of agreements with genetic testing companies to keep results secret, as for example this linked article points out, written by an expert for the benefit of other doctors. That deceit isn't in anyone's best interest, and is a murky truth that has already drowned in the miry swamp of everyday medicine. 23andMe is helping mitigate this widespread spiral down into ignorance.

The last lines of that unhelpful article sum up the current state of health advice for most patients: "Step on a weigh scale." Full stop. Certainly, a weigh scale (and self-journaling, I might add) go far in helping patients achieve better health. But we knew all that already. Why settle for little when so much more is possible? Huge fountains of personalized medicine facts are (were until recently) inexpensively available from the 23andMe reports, authorized by a CLIA lab (also used by LabCorp), through the generosity and intelligence of the founders.


23andMe reports help us understand how to be healthy our entire lives. The unique and essential information from 23andMe is life-changing. Whether or not the 23andMe results agree with other company reports is trivial. A positive diagnosis would be worth double- or triple-checking. A website says that primary care doctors can understand 23andMe reports in ten minutes. 23andMe is the premier personalized medicine site democratically allowing patients personal insights within the ever-shifting quicksands of science. It's definitely a step in the appropriate direction.

I'm healthy enough I wasn't going to pay for a full genomic sequencing without any medical reason. As it turns out, I inherited medical conditions from both parents that aren't probably strong enough for medical intervention and that I was unaware of, but might need medical care at some time in the future. And I'm literate enough to understand the reports, which opened up a new direction for my own personal medical research. Just one person, I remain grateful to thoroughness of the plethora of information and scientific articles about studies at 23andMe.




Friday, December 27, 2013

A Shameful Example of Poor Leadership in Texas

'Affluenza' case in Texas

Judge Jean Boyd of the Fort Worth Juvenile Court, shown in 2012, has sentenced a 16-year-old to 10 years' probation and ordered him to get therapy, for which his wealthy family will pay, to settle a drunk-driving case in which four people died. http://lat.ms/JhQp3y

The story of the student in Texas who killed four people driving his car drunk and for legal punishment went to live in a country club paid for by his parents to learn horseback riding is truly bizarre and inexcusable by any international standards.

My readership is international, and I would say to Judge Jean Boyd in person if I could: "It doesn't look good."As a lawyer friend said, "There must be something we don't know."

I say shame on Judge Boyd. Shame on the entire American legal system, too, for ultimately letting this one boy get away with murdering four people without any punishment when everyone knows it wasn't fair from an international perspective. Sadly, I don't suppose any shame will be felt.

As Shakespeare said, "Justice has to be seen to be done," and justice wasn't seen to be done here.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Where's the borderline between privacy and protection?





The topic of this post is to attempt to identify where to draw a line between individual privacy and  security protection. America enjoys being an open society, and readers have grown to expect privacy in many places, in online banking, an within our homes. Outsiders historically haven't been allowed access to our centers of individual privacy without our knowledge, nowithstanding nanny cams.

Perhaps that's why the NSA's collections of data from phone calls strike many as upsetting invasions. 

Where should the national security and military write an official line of policy between an invasive police state on one hand, and protection from international terrorists on the other? 

The importance of surveillance cameras at specific locations for specific risks made headlines in the Boston bombings, when a department store camera helped identify the bombers and strengthened personal security. Any and every photo was potentially useful at the time.

A lot of people feel safer knowing that cameras are following their footsteps in public places, just as they feel safer with security systems in certain specific locations than without. 

How much surveillance is enough? Factors depend on individual locations. Both surveillance and privacy are important values protected by the American Constitution. The bottom line probably concerns a meaningful personal security issue topic: lives saved. America lacks meaningful relevant statistics about the widely misunderstood topic of weapon availability and criminal acts and has no idea how to counteract violence with all their centuries of wisdom. This despite other countries being able to successfully boast of greater personal safety and very little crime. Perhaps this topic should be studied: what actually does help lessen crime rates? Perhaps there are societal factors, as this quote from the National Bureau of Economic Research makes clear:

"Many attribute New York's crime reduction to specific "get-tough" policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the "broken windows" approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime. As Mr. Guiliani told the press in 1998, "Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other." "



The installation of traffic lights as one example has been historically controversial and inflammatory. A 2009 ruling by the 7th US Circuit court of Appeals rules there isn't an expectation of privacy while driving on the road, so traffic cameras are authorized to take photographs only when a vehicle has run a red light, and not the occupants or driver. 

Police abused their powers in the small municipality of Segrate in Italy, when they synchonized two traffic lights. Drivers either broke the speed limit or passed during the red light as a fraud thereby increasing income from tickets. The program took months to dismantle.

Well-known alternatives to fines that attract any driver's attention in time to stop are: 

1) retiming lights and decreasing red lights,
2) increasing duration of amber lights,
3) adding a limited short period at a traffic light where all directions have a red light.

 To review, the issue of protection opposing privacy will likely take years to play out in courts. Novels can be and have been written on this topic. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Long Live the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II
Courtesy: wikimedia
The Queen of England has worked hard for decades. The Royal office owns and manages real estate, residences, and art collections, and opens bridges, ships, shopping centers, and nursing homes. The Queen opens and closes parliament each year, and holds veto power over laws. She signs every law in the UK. The official website of the British Monarchy outlines her duties:

"Some are public duties, such as ceremonies, receptions and visits within the United Kingdom or abroad.

Other duties are carried out away from the cameras, but they are no less important. These include reading letters from the public, official papers and briefing notes; audiences with political ministers or ambassadors; and meetings with her Private Secretaries to discuss daily business and her future diary plans.

Even when she is away from London, in residence at Balmoral or Sandringham, she receives official papers nearly every day of every year and remains fully briefed on matters affecting her realms.

In front of the camera or away from it, The Queen's duties go on, and no two days in her life are ever the same."

She does rule by popular consent, and could be overthrown if she became tyrannical. Her massive powers have lately "gone dormant" and aren't used unless on the advice of her Ministers. In a nutshell: Queen Elizabeth has the power to dissolve parliament, fire a Prime Minister, break a treaty, declare war, but she can't raise an army on her behalf, raise taxes for herself, or make and enforce any new law. 

The United Kingdom is fortunate in having a phenomenally calm period under her reign now, and since her Investiture in 1952. The world can hope for her continued good health.

For further insights into the British Monarchy, please read these excellent articles. The Telegraph calls Queen Elizabeth the most dutiful monarch in a thousand years. Newsweek said the Queen has been "briefed every Tuesday by 12 different Prime Ministers, knowing they'll one day leave their jobs."