biological markers

On Xenophobia and Racism

If you follow this blog you might find me screaming often that “xenophobia is not racism”. Because I wanted to explain this for once in a big post I can always use for reference, and any of my followers too, I made this post.

As a Dutch citizen with a black mother and a white father I have experienced anti-blackness in both seeing my mother experience it and experiencing it myself. Hereby I declare myself a mixed black European. So this is all coming from a PoC in Europe, you know, someone who’d know whether or not there’s racism here, and how it’s handled.

So often I see posts about the status of race in European countries and how it’s different from America and how Americans should just shut up about the global nature of racism because it’s not all the same. While you’re definitely right in stating different countries, parts of the world have different ways of handling ethnicities and discrimination, when talking about racism you should realise the background the concept of race and racial discrimination have, as well as its links and differences with xenophobia.

First off all, definitions. Xenophobia is related to nationalities and often ethnicities. An ethnicity is just any kind of group of people sharing cultural, biological, genealogical and physical similarities. As for racism, I’ll re-use the bits of my thesis to explain it.*

First and foremost race is a social construct. Through a racial constructivist lens the historical definition of the construct of race can be explained. Racial constructivism is an instance of social constructivism, how interactions between individuals ‘construct’ society by creating concepts applicable to them. (1) Racial constructivism “refers to the argument that, even if biological race is false, races have come into existence and continue to exist through “human culture and human decisions” … Race constructivists … argue that the term still meaningfully refers to the widespread grouping of individuals into certain categories by society, indeed often by the very members of such racial ascriptions.” (2) Racism is the continuous systematic execution of racialization and discrimination of non-white groups of people, both institutionalized and on smaller scales. Race and racism are global occurrences due to colonization, imperialism and globalization, yet the Western definition of race is not applicable to all people in the world. … While racial relations and conceptual ideas of race existed before, racial structures were created during the Enlightenment, as was the name. … After the middle ages through trade and eventual colonization of territories with ethnic groups who had previously not encountered Western ethnic groups, phenotypical differences were quickly established, but not designated. During the Enlightenment classification and structuralisation of nature became the scientific norm, leading to the classification and denomination of different ethnic groups. … While these classifications did include cultural, religious and ethnic markers, the biological markers were most important for classification, leaving a majority of European citizens with the attribute ‘white’. (3, p. 58) This historical analysis of the construction of race serves as backing for the way racial relations worked both during the Enlightenment and today.
—–(From my BA thesis, pages 7 to 9)

In other words, the current concept of race was constructed by thinkers of the Enlightenment in order to classify others by ways of biological and cultural markers. However, these thinkers were all white European men. They established a hierarchy in their creation of race as we know today, placing whiteness at the top, and any non-white categories at the bottom. This is also dubbed white supremacy. Due to colonization and the imperialistic efforts of European countries all over the world the concept of race and its effects (racism) became global. Meaning the kind of racism you see in the USA is just the same racism you’d find in European countries, just in a different jacket.

Another important conclusion you can draw from this hierarchal structure of race is that as white people are placed at the top of the structure, they cannot experience racism. That’s the deal of white supremacy. In a world dominated by this racial structure (aka our world) white people cannot experience racism as they lack the racial position to experience racial discrimination. Sure, prejudice is a thing, but prejudice is not racism. Prejudice does form an important part in the execution of racism against non-white individuals, however.

You need to understand that racism is not based on skin colour alone. It’s a myriad of both phenotypical (appearance) and cultural discrimination. It’s an all-encompassing experience which draws on appearances, culture, ethnicity and historical connections between groups of people. Xenophobia is very much rooted in territorial differences, such as nationalities. Racism draws on racial issues. The two do overlap a lot of times, as xenophobia can be strengthened by racism if the ethnicity they’re discriminating against is not white (see: the Roma people, most of the north-African, Middle-Eastern and Arab population).

So any of your accusations about how Polish people are experiencing racial discrimination are utter crap. Polish people are white. They cannot, by nature of being white, experience racism. (4) And no, I’m not talking about Polish Roma people, or Polish Jewish people, or Polish black people, because you and I both know those are not the groups you refer to when it comes to this argument. I’m talking about the white Polish ethnic group which dominates Poland that has that “darker” skin colour you claim they suffer racism for.

So one more time, quoted from another time I talked about the differences of xenophobia and racism: “WHITE Eastern Europeans experience discrimination on basis of XENOPHOBIA, not RACISM. Discrimination they face is tied to xenophobic sentiments within Western/Northern Europe, and is also implicitly linked to an association with NON-WHITE individuals (Eastern Europe is ‘too close to’ the “East”, while Southern Europe has been non-white territory for centuries). ” (See links below)

So let’s say this one more time. Xenophobia is not racism.

——-

* Meaning if you copy-paste the following argument for your own academic work you’ll be plagiarizing and any consequences it might have on your career are not my problem. This has been literally copy-pasted from my own thesis.

  1. “Social constructivism.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12th August 2016. Web. 14th August 2016.
  2. “Race." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Accessed 22June 2016, plato.stanford.edu.
  3. Baum, Bruce David. “Enlightenment, Science and the Invention of the Caucasian Race, 1684-1795”. The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity. New York: New York University Press, 2006. 58-94. PDF.
  4. As someone who’s one-eighth Polish, I’m going to claim knowledge on this feat.# In fact, both my mother and I have expressed fear about going to other countries we know little about how to handle their racial climate. As Poland has many extremist white supremacist right-wing parties. In the Netherlands we have those too, can’t escape them, but at least we know the ways to go about in this country.
    #: (For people who have trouble understanding sarcasm, I’m joking.)

Other links on the topic:

anonymous asked:

I need a fic where Ashoka from Rebels finds Anakin (either she time traveled or Anakin does) and Ashoka just hugs him and cries--thinking how can this man become Darth Vader and Anakin is really confused but he hugs her and it's all cute and yes. Or for angst--Anakin finds out about his future from Ashoka and he's terrified but idk I need older Ashoka talking to Anakin ahhhh.

It’s not Anakin.

It cannot possibly be Anakin.

“Just hang in there. We’ll get you back to the medics in one piece. Just don’t give up on me, okay?”

But that voice and hair and those too-old eyes in a too-young face are Anakin’s. The thin scar is Anakin’s and the impossible balance of cold durasteel strength and warm, calloused skin around her hand are Anakin’s.

The sounds of battle all around her, is the music of his life, of his existence. Anakin Skywalker was born to wage war and Ahsoka Tano knows this better than anyone.

She has watched him perform this dance for almost two decades now.

“Anakin?” Ahsoka croaks out, grimacing in pain as she looks up at his young, unscarred face. This is not the burning demon with hellfire eyes and a dead star for a heart.

This is not Darth Vader.

This is her Skyguy.

But even know, she can feel the darkness eating away at him.

“Sir! She’s awake!” Kix cries out and Ahsoka wants to weep. It has been so long and she has missed her family so much. So many of them are gone, so many lost to time and Palpatine’s machinations.

“Kix?” she whispers, marveling as he turns to look down at her, the familiar blue paint of the 501st scratched up on his helmet and chest plate. “Is that really you?”

Why does it hurt to breathe? Where did she get hit? When did she get hit? Where had she been before this?

“General! The charges are set!” Rex’s voice crackles out of his helmet as he runs into Ahsoka’s vision, firing back at battle droids as Anakin continues to protect her, deflecting bolts like he was born with a blade in his hand. “Ready when you are.”

She’s back. She doesn’t know how she’s back or what brought her back but she has to tell Anakin while she has the time. While she’s still aware, before she passes out.

There are sounds of gunships and suddenly she’s being lifted up, shouldered between Kix and someone else as they drag her to the gunship. She lets out a groan and tries to keep the contents of her stomach down as they run, jostling her and nearly knocking her out as whiteout flashes of pain wash through her.

The world tilts sideways and then Anakin is running for the ship, Rex hot on his heels. They jump inside as the ship starts to take off, the doors sliding shut in a perfect symphony of skill, bravery and sheer dumb luck. It is an evac only Anakin Skywalker is capable of.

Anakin Skywalker, the man slowly turning into Darth Vader.

The man being eaten alive by his fear and his love.

“Skyguy…” she whispers, trying to reach him in the Force, trying to tell him everything he needs to know before she loses consciousness, before she wakes up and it’s all a horrible dream. “Please… master… You have to… listen to me.”

“Sir? I think she’s trying to tell you something,” Kix shouts over the sounds of battle, as the ship is buffeted by the explosive force of cannon and laser fire. The lights flicker out for a moment and Ahsoka stifles a cry.

She has to tell him.

She has to stop him.

“Skyguy…” she nearly sobs, holding out a hand. “Please!”

Anakin manages to climb over the wounded to make it to Ahsoka’s side, confused. “Kix, what did she say? I can barely hear her.”

Kix shakes his head. “I don’t know but she says you have to listen to her. I think… I think she called you Skyguy.”

What?!” Anakin snarls, anger flaring and dying before he looks down at her. The edges of her vision are going grey and then black and for a moment she quails and thinks those dearly-missed blue eyes have burnt away to gold but then it’s gone and Anakin is holding her hand and it’s Skyguy and Master and everything is warm and all right again.

For a moment she is Snips again and she did not realize how much she missed being Snips.

For a moment she is sixteen and Anakin will make everything better.

“Master…,” Ahsoka whispers, trying to squeeze his hand. “I… I have to tell you… about Darth Sidious… and v-Vader. I… have to… tell you… I won’t… leave you…”

“Kix?” Anakin’s voice is harsh and demanding as her vision turns to black and she starts to fade away. “Kix, get her back! Snips! Talk to me! Ahsoka! AHSOKA!”

Ahsoka closes her eyes and her last thought is I’m sorry I can’t keep my promise, Skyguy.




There is a convoree outside the window of the hospital room, hopping from branch to branch, fluttering its wings and tilting its head to the side as it watches the inhabitants of the room through the transparisteel.

“All biological markers are identical. How is that possible?”

“The Force works in mysterious ways, Anakin. Especially around you.”

“Ha ha. Very funny, Obi-Wan. I’m serious. That’s Ahsoka. This… this… this woman is my Padawan!”

Neither of them say Former Padawan even though they both think it.

“We shall simply have to wait and see when she…”

“She’s waking up! Ahsoka? Ahsoka, it’s me. It’s your ma… It’s Anakin.”

Ahsoka’s vision slowly comes into focus as her montrals tell her that she is in a private room, several monitors cheerfully cataloguing her biorhythms and her continued existence. The light is too bright for a moment and then it’s softer, darker, a shadow falls over her vision and when she finally opens her eyes, Anakin is smiling down at her, worried, terrified and cautiously happy.

The Force sings with his presence. Master! Master! Your master is here! He’s here and he’s safe and you are back home where you belong!

Ahsoka takes a shallow, watery breath. “Anakin?”

He touches her cheek and smiles, squeezing her hand with his gloved hand. “Yeah… Hey Snips, you uh… you got taller.”

“How are you feeling, Ahsoka?” Obi-Wan seems to simply appear in her vision, hovering behind Anakin, his anxiety barely hidden behind his Negotiator’s mask and a gloved hand nervously combing his beard. “Should we get a healer?”

Ahsoka shakes her head and squeezes Anakin’s hand back and give him the best smile she’s capable of. “No. The healers can wait. I have so much to tell you.”

“Snips…” Anakin’s tone is familiar, the rumbling warning of his displeasure at her self-neglect and brings tears to her eyes.

To be Snips again meant to be cared for, cared about.

To be Snips again meant that someone loved her.

Ahsoka takes a breath.

“Skyguy… I’ve missed you so much but… I have to tell you about Darth Vader.”

Apparently I haven’t been clear enough.
  • “Heritage”, “bloodline”, “ancestry” or any other biological markers do not make someone more “worthy” or “accessible to the gods” than any other Heathen. 
  • If you trot over on your high horse to ask for my time and resources with your mouth running like a bull’s ass, you will be blocked. 
  • No one is more special to the gods than another. Delusions aren’t bragging rights.
  • Its bad form to claim to be channeling/phoning a deity you don’t know anything about. Especially in front of an experienced practitioner you’re trying to get resources from. If you’re “so close”, ask them. 
  • Don’t be fucking rude. 

anonymous asked:

I don't understand your anti-psychiatry standpoint tbh. I looked through the entire tag and I just don't understand it. I have OCD, and all I feel coming from you is that my mental illness is simply just a product of society or something???? i hate my OCD, i want it gone, it's ruined my life, it's ruined my grades and honestly without my psychologist and without antidepressants i'd be in a much worse state. i dont understand, all i feel is that youre saying mental illnesses are fake or somethin

Honestly I don’t have much to tell you that isn’t somewhere in that tag. If your idea of whether they’re real relies on a doctor’s stamp of biological causation then they’re “fake” but I don’t buy the terms of the establishment to begin with and want to have a conversation using those terms. That is, I don’t think the question of whether mental illnesses are “real” or “fake” is useful- human pain is real whether it is recognized by the medical establishment or not. But the people who’ve built this establishment will tell you that they lack completely the things doctors need in other kinds of medicine in order to justify their existence: useful categories of diagnosis that are likely to be diagnosed the same by different physicians, chemical or measurable ways to distinguish between disorders, diagnoses which say something about causation (you have diabetes because of this relationship to insulin), etc etc. My problem is not even that psychiatry is ideological (all medicine, hell all science is ideological) but that it claims ardently not to be, even though we know historically that psychiatry has always hit the most marginalized the hardest and labelled them sick for reacting like healthy human beings put under disgusting, inhumane conditions created by capital and social situations: women, the poor, black people and other people of color, reacting to the stress of their lives, personal trauma, misogyny, people who are reacting to being put in inhumane conditions have always been the first to be labelled sick because it allows the society at large to ignore the problems which definitely exacerbate any issues a person may already have. How many people have mental illnesses that make their lives nearly unbearable which might be more bearable if they didn’t have to strain themselves at work every day to feed themselves? How many black people are looking for ways to deal with intergenerational trauma and a world in which their friends and family can be killed for nothing while walking down the street and the cop can get away with it?


My point is not that mental illnesses are not real- obviously people feel pain that can be helped by things like medication, and I usually leave psychologists off the table and focus on psychiatry as an institution because they can be separated, though not completely. My point is that the increasing medicalization of human pain and emotional pain is the result of a social and political set of trends which have made that a priority, not sort of untouchable scientific fact. If more people are diagnosed with mental disorders per year, that can tell us one of three things: either more people are sick, or we are including more people as sick, or both. It is not the result of science. When asked, in the face of evidence strongly suggesting that DSM III categories needed at the very least some cleaning up to make them more stable, reliable, etc to more accurately diagnose patients, why they didn’t cut diagnoses they didn’t find useful, DSM IV creators shrugged and said, “Well they were in the 3rd and it was easier to leave them.” When DSM III collaborators were asked the same thing, they gave the same answer and said their decisions around updating their manual were mostly based around a few debates between a very few members of the establishment. These categories have existed for years without much public debate/actual patient input as to their relevance, social implications (how many kleptomaniacs of color do you know of?), or origins. Frankly, most psychiatrists who are not very high up in their field have no say in its terminology. So at the very least it is an establishment controlled by a small group of very powerful doctors, often paid off by pharmaceutical companies which only have to show 2 positive trials to the FDA (regardless of the number of negative studies, the structure of those studies, etc) in order to get drugs onto the market and onto the scrip pads of overworked, stretched out psychiatrists who see their patients for 30 minutes perhaps every two weeks.


The question is not “is mental illness real” at all, because obviously people have symptoms which can be grouped into diagnositc labels. That’s not something I think should be up for debate at all. The question is, how useful is the medicalization of those symptoms, and how useful is the psychiatric establishment’s presumption that those symptoms arise specifically from the disorder itself (which conveniently cannot be measured or tested for in most cases) rather than that these symptoms often occur naturally in groupings? I’ve read the process of medicalization described as how constellations are formed- they do not exist in and of themselves (they are just stars) but get grouped by our perceptions, politics, histories, and mythologies into patterns which we can then see on the sky, even though we wrote them their ourselves. For example, depression has a fairly well-defined set of diagnostic criteria. But causation is left completely unaccounted for by the diagnostic model, something that would be unthinkable in any other medical field. If one of my best friends dies tomorrow, it makes sense that I would be extremely depressed for weeks, perhaps months. This is clinical depression, as much as clinical depression that seems to pop up from nowhere is clinical depression. But they do not describe the same phenomenon. Likewise, I know a ton of people with OCD actually. Many have it running in the family- most disorders seem to have at least biological components. But many have no other family members with OCD (that they know of) and instead developed OCD as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma, wherein they were able to control how many times the light switch got flicked before bed even if they could not control their beatings at the hands of abusive parents. The end result is the same, but these are fundamentally different situations and psychiatry has no way to account for this yet because en masse it is disinterested in listening to actual patient narratives and talking about pain, trauma, social factors like how terrible it feels to be poor, etc etc. If I went to a doctor with low sodium levels, they would ask me things to make sure that this was not the result of something like a low sodium diet, or exercising to exhaustion too often, and make a diagnosis based on other biological markers. Psychiatrists don’t have this, and are more interested in treating disorders in the form of walking bodies than in helping people deal with their pain.


I think when an establishment has the power to medicate, imprison, discredit the experiences of, and abuse its own patients it legitimacy must be critiqued and its power must be called into question. I actually had rather neutral/only mildly negative experiences with the psychiatric establishment, and I still consider them traumatizing- I don’t discuss my life and feelings in terms of them anymore, but I have diagnoses listed on the books somewhere that take pain that resulted from a lot of things (including, yeah, family history and a likely genetic predisposition but also years and years of intense emotional and sometimes physical abuse and trauma resulting from that) and list them as a diagnostic code. I am not even particularly anti-medication itself: I took meds for a few years to help me function on a daily basis when my pain was at its worst, and there’s no shame in taking medication for any period of time if it helps you live your life. The question is not “do people have mental illnesses” at all but “How can psychiatry actually respond to patient needs and desires and histories and experiences organically rather than stuffing them into boxes and THEN dealing with them as patients?” I have friends with BPD who’ve had to lie about receiving manipulative treatment from doctors to get out of psych wards for fear that they’d be seen as manipulating their doctors, I have friends who’ve almost died from eating disorders that weren’t recognized because they weren’t thin enough for doctors to care yet (more likely to happen to women and that is DEFINITELY ideological- make yourself even smaller or we don’t care), and on and on and on. My premise is not that psychiatry is never useful (of course it is, and any time that it is and people decide to interact with it to make their lives easier I’m 500000000000% in favor of that), and frankly my views have moderated a bit since I updated that tag regularly, but I do think that we need to be having conversations about why people are asked to hand over total control of their life stories to doctors who don’t trust them to know themselves.

Avenging Angel: Part 11

Summary: You’ve spent the last five years on a dangerous mission to solve the crime that wrongly imprisoned your father. When the Winchesters find you half-frozen on the side of a mountain, they make it their own mission to save your life and make sure you stay alive. But after five years of uncovering horribly dark secrets, you’ve learned not to trust anyone. Especially people who seem like they have good intentions.

Word Count: 1568

Warnings: None

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 – Part 10


“You must be Celeste.”

“And of course you’re the lovely Y/N!” The older woman jumped out of her chair and swallowed you in a surprising hug. “You look just like your mother. I just cannot believe how beautiful and mature you look. Why, the last time I saw you, you were just a wee one!”

You patted Celeste’s back awkwardly. “Thank you. And thank you for meeting with me.”

“Well, when Quentin called and told me that Victoria and Kemuny’s daughter wanted to talk to me, I couldn’t rightly say no, now could I? Please, please have a seat.” Celeste swept her arm toward the diner table she had been sitting at. The tassels on her shawl flew out dramatically.

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anonymous asked:

I remember you mentioning in one of your posts that if we were to start over again as a society, that we would have completely different gender roles because gender is a social construct. I'm trying to come up with some creative ideas for a society with completely different gender roles without using the "females took over the world" trope; I've come up with quite a few ideas but I'd love your input.

(anon is referencing this post on the social construction of gender)

i feel u, because while i love hypothetical matriarchal societies as much as the next person, i feel like a lot of time they’re based on the same concept of “visible genitalia as gender” which is not really all that out of the box. i think it’s important to note that for actual, real life examples of variants on gender, we need look no further than wikipedia (tw for cissexist language at the link)(you may also find this nb wiki page helpful). a lot of cultures historically haven’t followed the strict sex/gender binary that western culture uses. however, in case you are looking for other ideas for gender systems, i present to you:

  • “gender” based on height. no one is assigned a gender until their late teens, when they have finished growing. short people are hunters, because they can most easily dart underneath the stomachs of large fauna to stab at their hearts. tall people become gatherers cuz they can easily pick stuff off of tall trees. medium height people are given the option to choose one camp over the other, or stay at their village encampments to raise the children. sometimes short people defect to the tall or medium height groups, because they lack the athletic ability needed to spear mammoths, and that’s A-Okay.
  • “gender” based on occupation. there are no strict biological markers for gender. differences in genitalia and/or reproduction are treated much like differences in hair color. instead, gender roles are largely based on your occupation–which you choose yourself, based on your skills and interests. hunters are expected to be athletic, obviously, to better catch stuff, but also value stuff like the ability to set good rabbit traps and be quiet for long periods of time. occupations also heavily influence dress, obviously. in the future, all doctors will ask for your occupation early on medical forms, as everyone knows that occupation correlates highly with risk for certain diseases/conditions. as society becomes more specialized and new jobs functions are created, the number of genders increases a thousandfold. at some point along the line, people start talking about how inefficient this whole gender thing is. “that’s ridiculous!” says michael from your bio 101 class. “your gender is based on biology! people can’t just choose to be good mechanical engineers, pamela! they’re born that way.”
  • “gender” based on vocal range. you are either a soprano, an alto, a tenor, or a bass. in such a society, music would be ubiquitous and quasi-religious in nature. the traditional family structure would include four parents, one of each vocal range. “you can’t just marry three other tenors!” your grand-soprano says, shocked and horrified. “how will you participate in family choir time? what if you have a soprano? who will teach sopranoself how to sing? think of your children, darryl!”  entire tumblr accounts are created to support the liberation of tone deaf people, and everyone calls them social justice warriors.
  • no gender. no one gives a crap what your genitalia looks like. no one tells you that you should stay home and raise the children because of x, or that you must like monster trucks because of y. everyone wears dresses sometimes, because let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier than matching a top with a pair of pants when you’re already running 10 minutes late to your 8:00am lecture.
  • because in each of these situations, there is less focus on biological reproductive mechanisms, it is totally normal for people with similar genitalia to get hitched. as such, there are considerably fewer barriers to adoption. surrogacy is a well respected occupation. monogamy is not necessarily the norm. the nuclear family as we know it doesn’t exist.
  • so yeah, speculative fiction writers out there, please give me some cool fictional societies. especially you, sci fi, i am fucking tired of all these alien cultures adhering to the western gender system.
  • anyways, i hope this post has impressed upon you the ultimate arbitrariness of the male/female gender dichotomy. it was not handed down to humankind on a stone tablet engraved by charles darwin. so you might as well fucking respect people’s gender identities, whatever they may be. (this is a general you, not directed at anon, btw)

I’m watching at last this season and thinking aloud:

1

-Why despite finding out in the end of the last season that Wally is actually better speedster than Barry everybody still think Barry is the best? Including writers, apparently. Stop giving something and then take it back like you never said it.

-So Quark Sphere is tricking the Cage that Barry is still there because biological markers? Hm… Strange. When Barry disintegrated and went into SpeedForce he was not biological - he re-materialized only upon coming into real world. So SpeedForce is more about mind and not matter. You can’t trick it with biology, only with energy - of the mind. Like.. SpeedForce is not material itself, it’s pure energy. So I call big fat BS on this. Also it doesn’t matter who is in the Cage so if it requires only biology (and not, you know, the mind of the speedster) why just not give it a sheep or something? No, you have to give it a speedster. The thinking speedster. I have my own theory that the Cage is not the Prison (and Tracy didn't invent it, she discovered it) but the Wheel that turns the world around so it requires the speedster’s (or viber’s) mind to work. That’s why Savitar - the Mover. It’s actually the title and not because he’s speedster but because he is a mind of the machine that moves the world. But of course I’m too clever for this show…

-Is that Earth gate chevron on the monitor? It’s not exactly like that so I’m asking.

-Miraculous mental recovery. Gees… I want one.

Dear useless diary,

Is the ability to irritate genetic? Are there biological markers that predict when someone will insert herself where she’s least wanted? I may once have taken a chance on GI Lane, mostly with the goal of irritating her (much) older sister, but to have little Lucy strongarm my assistant into giving her ten minutes this afternoon was just too much.

Apparently I’m lucky - lucky! - that she’s the one who dropped by for this little talk, and not Kara’s big sister Alex. She seems to think I would not enjoy that experience at all. As if anyone related to Kara, by adoption or otherwise, could possibly intimidate me… well, really.

The girl who let James Olsen go for no good reason claims not to be after Kara for herself, but did have the cheek to criticize my dating skills. Apparently good romance involves a clear and detailed itinerary. I think Lucy Lane has confused ‘romance’ with ‘an Expedia reservation’. 

I could speak to Kara, but I don’t want to appear desperate at this stage. How hard can it be to dress for an art show, and a light dinner after? It’s possible I didn’t mention that part, but surely it’s implied? I’m not going to starve the girl in the name of a bit of painting.

If Kara is confused, she can damn well ask me. I’ve made more than enough moves for one week.

-C

Scientists Outline How Brain Separates Relevant & Irrelevant Information

Imagine yourself sitting in a noisy café trying to read. To focus on the book at hand, you need to ignore the surrounding chatter and clattering of cups, with your brain filtering out the irrelevant stimuli coming through your ears and “gating” in the relevant ones in your vision—words on a page.

In a new paper in the journal Nature Communications, New York University researchers offer a new theory, based on a computational model, on how the brain separates relevant from irrelevant information in these and other circumstances.

“It is critical to our everyday life that our brain processes the most important information out of everything presented to us,” explains Xiao-Jing Wang, Global Professor of Neural Science at NYU and NYU Shanghai and the paper’s senior author. “Within an extremely complicated neural circuit in the brain, there must be a gating mechanism to route relevant information to the right place at the right time.”

The analysis focuses on inhibitory neurons—the brain’s traffic cops that help ensure proper neurological responses to incoming stimuli by suppressing other neurons and working to balance excitatory neurons, which aim to stimulate neuronal activity.

“Our model uses a fundamental element of the brain circuit, involving multiple types of inhibitory neurons, to achieve this goal,” Wang adds. “Our computational model shows that inhibitory neurons can enable a neural circuit to gate in specific pathways of information while filtering out the rest.”

In their analysis, led by Guangyu Robert Yang, a doctoral candidate in Wang’s lab, the researchers devised a model that maps out a more complicated role for inhibitory neurons than had previously been suggested.

Of particular interest to the team was a specific subtype of inhibitory neurons that targets the excitatory neurons’ dendrites—components of a neuron where inputs from other neurons are located. These dendrite-targeting inhibitory neurons are labeled by a biological marker called somatostatin and can be studied selectively by experimentalists. The researchers proposed that they not only control the overall inputs to a neuron, but also the inputs from individual pathways—for example, the visual or auditory pathways converging onto a neuron.

“This was thought to be difficult because the connections from inhibitory neurons to excitatory neurons appeared dense and unstructured,” observes Yang. “Thus a surprising finding from our study is that the precision required for pathway-specific gating can be realized by inhibitory neurons.”

The study’s authors used computational models to show that even with the seemingly random connections, these dendrite-targeting neurons can gate individual pathways by aligning with excitatory inputs through different pathways. They showed that this alignment can be realized through synaptic plasticity—a brain mechanism for learning through experience.

Small DNA modifications predict brain's threat response

The tiny addition of a chemical mark atop a gene that is well known for its involvement in clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder can affect the way a person’s brain responds to threats, according to a new study by Duke University researchers.

The results, which appear online August 3 in Nature Neuroscience, go beyond genetics to help explain why some individuals may be more vulnerable than others to stress and stress-related psychiatric disorders.

The study focused on the serotonin transporter, a molecule that regulates the amount of serotonin signaling between brain cells and is a major target for treatment of depression and mood disorders. In the 1990s, scientists discovered that differences in the DNA sequence of the serotonin transporter gene seemed to give some individuals exaggerated responses to stress, including the development of depression.

(Image caption: An artist’s conception shows how molecules called methyl groups attach to a specific stretch of DNA, changing expression of the serotonin transporter gene in a way that ultimately shapes individual differences in the brain’s reactivity to threat. The methyl groups in this diagram are overlaid on the amygdala of the brain, where threat perception occurs. Credit: Annchen Knodt, Duke University)

Sitting on top of the serotonin transporter’s DNA (and studding the entire genome), are chemical marks called methyl groups that help regulate where and when a gene is active, or expressed. DNA methylation is one form of epigenetic modification being studied by scientists trying to understand how the same genetic code can produce so many different cells and tissues as well as differences between individuals as closely related as twins.

In looking for methylation differences, “we decided to start with the serotonin transporter because we know a lot about it biologically, pharmacologically, behaviorally, and it’s one of the best characterized genes in neuroscience,” said senior author Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

“If we’re going to make claims about the importance of epigenetics in the human brain, we wanted to start with a gene that we have a fairly good understanding of,” Hariri said.

This work is part of the ongoing Duke Neurogenetics Study (DNS), a comprehensive study linking genes, brain activity and other biological markers to risk for mental illness in young adults.

The group performed non-invasive brain imaging in the first 80 college-aged participants of the DNS, showing them pictures of angry or fearful faces and watching the responses of a deep brain region called the amygdala, which helps shape our behavioral and biological responses to threat and stress.

The team also measured the amount of methylation on serotonin transporter DNA isolated from the participants’ saliva, in collaboration with Karestan Koenen at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.

The greater the methylation of an individual’s serotonin transporter gene, the greater the reactivity of the amygdala, the study found. Increased amygdala reactivity may in turn contribute to an exaggerated stress response and vulnerability to stress-related disorders.

To the group’s surprise, even small methylation variations between individuals were sufficient to create differences between individuals’ amygdala reactivity, said lead author Yuliya Nikolova, a graduate student in Hariri’s group. The amount of methylation was a better predictor of amygdala activity than DNA sequence variation, which had previously been associated with risk for depression and anxiety.

The team was excited about the discovery but also cautious, Hariri said, because there have been many findings in genetics that were never replicated.

That’s why they jumped at the chance to look for the same pattern in a different set of participants, this time in the Teen Alcohol Outcomes Study (TAOS) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Working with TAOS director, Douglas Williamson, the group again measured amygdala reactivity to angry and fearful faces as well as methylation of the serotonin transporter gene isolated from blood in 96 adolescents between 11 and 15 years old. The analyses revealed an even stronger link between methylation and amygdala reactivity.

“Now over 10 percent of the differences in amygdala function mapped onto these small differences in methylation,” Hariri said. The DNS study had found just under 7 percent.

Taking the study one step further, the group also analyzed patterns of methylation in the brains of dead people in collaboration with Etienne Sibille at the University of Pittsburgh, now at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Once again, they saw that methylation of a single spot in the serotonin transporter gene was associated with lower levels of serotonin transporter expression in the amygdala.

“That’s when we thought, ‘Alright, this is pretty awesome,’” Hariri said.

Hariri said the work reveals a compelling mechanistic link: Higher methylation is generally associated with less reading of the gene, and that’s what they saw. He said methylation dampens expression of the gene, which then affects amygdala reactivity, presumably by altering serotonin signaling.

The researchers would now like to see how methylation of this specific bit of DNA affects the brain. In particular, this region of the gene might serve as a landing place for cellular machinery that binds to the DNA and reads it, Nikolova said.

The group also plans to look at methylation patterns of other genes in the serotonin system that may contribute to the brain’s response to threatening stimuli.

The fact that serotonin transporter methylation patterns were similar in saliva, blood and brain also suggests that these patterns may be passed down through generations rather than acquired by individuals based on their own experiences.

Hariri said he hopes that other researchers looking for biomarkers of mental illness will begin to consider methylation above and beyond DNA sequence-based variation and across different tissues.

In my GWS class today we were talking about how transgender bodies are so strictly policed and we came upon the subject of Olympic biological testing. From the late 60’s up through I think the mid 2000’s there was an actual Olympic committee that was in charge of putting Olympians through certain tests to find biological markers to determine if the Olympians were really truly male/female. Like that was something I literally never heard of before and it is so fucked up its beyond belief.