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"Born in the caul" is a phrase that's connected with a lot of cross-cultural myths and superstitions — babies born in the caul are supposed to be destined for lives of fame and fortune (or, possibly, misfortune and grisly death, depending on which legends you're listening to). Biologically, though, it refers to a baby that's born with part of the amniotic sac — the bubble of fluid a fetus grows in inside the uterus — still attached. Usually, a piece of the sac is draped over the baby's head or face. These are called caul births, and they're rare. But, about once in every 80,000 births, you'll get something truly extraordinary — "en-caul", a baby born inside a completely intact amniotic sac, fluid and all.
There's a photo of a recent en-caul birth making the rounds online. The photo is being attributed to Greek obstetrician Aris Tsigris. It's fascinating. But it's also pretty graphic, so fair warning on that. (If the sight of newborn infants and blood gives you the vapors, you might also want to avoid most of the links in this post, as well.)
Read the rest
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is a non-profit that gets its funding from private donors, foundations, and news organizations. But it's also operated out of offices on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and students from the school have had access to paid internships and other perks of the University and the WCIJ working together. Early Wednesday morning, the Wisconsin legislature's Joint Finance Committee put a stop to that nonsense — kicking the WCIJ off campus and prohibiting professors from working with the center.
No explanation has been given. Although, as Inside Higher Ed points out, the co-chair of that committee (and the person who introduced the bill) is State Rep. John Nygren — who was a key figure in a 2011 WCIJ story about how the auto insurance industry was influencing legislation through donations to representatives, including Nygren.
If you've ever felt bad about your moves, this should provide some comfort. One of the coolest men on the planet (and the Moon) doesn't have much of a sense of rhythm, either.
The performance was part of a one-day Smithsonian conference on the future of technology and innovation. It's worth bookmarking the page for the conference because, over the next several days, organizers will be posting video of presentations made by Aldrin, Dolby, and a host of other great tech thinkers — including neuroscientist André Fenton; Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; and mathematician Maria Klawe.
I have never killed anyone, but I have certainly wanted to. I may have a disorder, but I am not crazy. In a world filled with gloomy, mediocre nothings populating a go-nowhere rat race, people are attracted to my exceptionalism like moths to a flame. This is my story.
That's the beginning of an essay about sociopathy written from the perspective of a sociopath. The author, M.E. Thomas, recently published a book about her experience being a sociopath. The name is a pseudonym and it's not totally clear how much of this story you can trust. For instance, whether Thomas' sociopathy is actually professionally diagnosed or not seemed unclear to me. Another example: At one point in the essay, she says she wasn't an abused child — then goes on to describe a childhood with a father who once beat apart a bathroom door to get at her and a mother who nearly let her die from appendicitis to avoid the medical bills ... and then blamed Thomas for her own illness. It's all a little weird.
That said, there's value in the "interesting, if true" sort of read that this is. At the very least, I've never seen an actual sociopath describe their own condition before. So, if that's what's actually going on here, it's a tour of a very different way of thinking. I'm not sure whether the fact that it all comes across as very manipulative is evidence in favor of, or against, the purported origins of the narrative.
Read the full essay "Confessions of a Sociopath"
Read a review of M.E. Thomas' book by Boston Globe writer Julia Klein, who has some of the same reservations that I do.
On a train from Portland to Oakland last week, my husband and I were startled to pass the rotting carcasses of dozens of battleships, moored together in clusters in a still, reedy bay north of San Francisco.
Turns out, our Navy stockpiles warships the same way we stockpile nuclear weapons. These boats were, originally, meant to be waiting in reserve, ready to go fight when needed. At the peak, there were 400 of them in Suisun Bay. But that was a long time ago. Today, the ships rusted hulks that leech heavy metals and other contaminants into the surrounding water. Their numbers have been shrinking in the last few years as ships were moved and dismantled for recycling. Fewer than 55 remain today. By 2017, they should all be gone.
In 2011, photographer Scott Haefner published a series of photos taken over the course of two years as he and two other photographers managed to slip past the ships' security detail and document the ruins, inside and out. At his site, you can see the photos (obviously much better than mine, above) and read the story of how the shots were taken (it involves reconnaissance missions and the purchase of an inflatable raft — not to mention whole weekends spent living aboard the ghost ships). The results are fantastic.
Thanks to Graham Coop for the link to Scott Haefner's photos!
The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine has a really interesting essay they've published in full online. It's written by Anna Petroni, a 77-year-old California woman who recently decided against undergoing surgery on her ankles and knees to correct recurrent foot abscesses and arthritis. It's a short, simple piece — just Petroni recounting the story about why she made the decision she made — but serves as a jumping-off point, I think, for several different important discussions about the way we do medicine and the way we make medical decisions.
A couple of things particularly stood out to me. First is the relationships we have with doctors, especially specialists whom we see once or twice and who don't know us very well. Petroni's story suggests that bedside manner is about more than just making somebody feel nice — it can also affect their overall health if the doctor makes decisions related only to their specialty without taking into account the patient's whole story. The second thing I think is really important here is the idea of there often not really being one right answer when it comes to medical decisions. Doctors can say, "we can do this" or "we can fix that", but there's a responsibility on the patient (one we're not usually prepared for or coached through) to decide whether the trade-offs of intervention outweigh the side-effects. And those decisions can vary widely from patient to patient.
I guess I was so shocked when the orthopedist told me I needed to have 4 surgical procedures, I didn't even think about the fact that he did not ask about my cardiac history. But I sure did afterward. I only went in to have my tendons checked. He did not ask how I felt about anything. He just told me what needed to be done.
About a month later, I received a call from the receptionist who asked if I had decided on a date for surgery. I said that I had decided not to go ahead with it. When I feel I can no longer tolerate walking without tendon surgery, I will reconsider my options. Until then, I want to live the best I can with what mobility I have.
Image: 20090312 - Clint - foot x-ray - left ("good" foot), a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from clintjcl's photostream