— Jesus Shuttlesworth (@AlmighDee_) July 11, 2016
“Now remember — you’re special, just like everyone else!”
It seems that classic punch line (for all the jokes on useless self-esteem boosters) was never truer. At the ever-entertaining NeuroLogica Blog, Steven Novella explains recent findings that everyone is a mutant.
Given my numerous neurological quirks, I had long assumed my mutant status to be true, and when finally diagnosed with prosopagnosia (which can result from a single point mutation), I then took it to be a given.
As Novella, points out, not all mutations give one super-powers; in fact, most of mutations are neither beneficial nor detrimental. There’s certainly nothing exciting about hyperacussis, as I’d previously described in Can you sue your Fairy Godmother for malpractice? Some things like the are just annoying; were I graceful, the hypermobility might have enabled me to be a dancer or gymnast. Instead, I’m just arthritic and bruised, for all it’s handy to always be able to reach that itchy spot.
100 – 200 mutations per person may be trivial in the genomic sense, but is far from trivial when considering human diversity. Mutation is normal. It’s ubiquitous. Not only are there no “perfectly average” people, but we’re all mutants. Now, can we finally lay disablism, transphobia, and the rest of the xenophobic rot to rest?
Now ‘scuse me while I go for a soak in the tub; maybe I can distract meself from this silly jingle that’s gotten stuck in my head:
I’m a mutant, you’re a mutant, xe’s a mutant, too.
We’re all alike in our differences, so whatcha gonna do?
Check out this small meeting room (one of a number of diverse, really cool nooks) at the Google offices in Zurich. Unseen in the first shot is the firefighter’s pole to slide down from the floor above! It sure beats the hell outta the industrial-grey cube-farm where I did tech writing. But what’s fabulous about these offices (and other Google buildings) is not just the physical environment, but also the social and business culture that values play and creativity, rather than viewing them as frivolous distractions from “real” work.
There is a world of creative people out there actually making living wages in different businesses, using their knowledge in imaginative, useful and positive ways, and I want in. I feel like a moth beating against the window pane … it’s enough to make one cry.
(But what kind of job does a worker bee with degrees in science, a teaching/special education background — but not a secondary-school teaching certification, and skills in art and communication do?)
In the field of medicine, there’s a saying that, “If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” This means that although medical students will learn of a great many odd diseases, some of them are quite exotic (“zebras”), but that most patients’ complaints will resolve to common causes (“horses”).
Which of course does not mean that one won’t encounter “zebras”. Once a very great while there will be someone with the rare genetic disorder or unusual psychological glitch. Mayhap even someone with several rare genetic disorders and unusual psychological glitches! This insect profile post is dedicated to all you readers out there who are “zebras”. (Wave to the crowd folks; let them know that “rare” is not synonymous with “you’ll never meet them”.)
Like medical zebras, Zebra Swallowtails (Papilionidae: Eurytides marcellus) are rare amongst butterflies. They are not endangered, but unlike Monarchs, Cabbage Whites or Painted Ladies, you don’t see these zebras very often. This is a big butterfly, about 6-9 cm (2.5-3.5″) wide. They live in the eastern half of North America, and can be found wafting around the borders between fields and woods or streams. The reason such a large and striking butterfly lives in such obscurity is not for limitations in ecotone; it will live most anywhere but montane and alpine zones. It’s not even limited by breeding season; there are two broods in northern populations, and four broods in southern.
Rather, they are rare because the larvae are monophagous (a fancy word for “only eats one kind of thing” — a parent might lament, “My child is seemingly monophagous upon Goldfish crackers”). Well, plenty of catepillars out there are picky. But Zebra Swallowtail ‘pillars will only eat the leaves of pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) and other species of the genus. Unlike the ubiquitous callery flowering pear trees or purple barberry shrubs, homeowners and parks managers do not go around planting pawpaws. Unacommodated by the lack of host plants, the butterflies spend their lives beyond the outskirts of the developed world. Only butterfly enthusiasts and rare fruit fanciers who go around planting pawpaws Just Because, or residents of diversified country wilds will have much hope of seeing zebras.
It’s not that medical or butterfly zebras don’t exist, but that you have to know where to find them. You also have to be willing to support their particular needs to have the opportunity to get to know them. But either one of those conditions requires understanding that zebras even exist. Yes, you might even (gasp!) have one in Your Back Yard! It’s true. And now that you have a better search image, I guarantee that you will be much more likely to meet them.
Here in the States, today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, a “bank holiday” honoring the civil rights leader. This means that as a school employee, I get the day off, which in turn means that I have the opportunity to not only contemplate civil rights, but also run errands to places I can’t go because my work hours are the same as their business hours. The exceptions of course are my bank where I need to visit my safe box, and a couple of colleges where I need to visit with people about getting teaching certification. Holy conundrums, Batman!
Anyway, reading through the news brought several things to my attention, and helped clarify some of my own dream for humanity, especially with regards to both diversity in academia and the rest of the work world, the academic responsibility for preparing our students, and the social and political valuation of real science.
Firstly there is the need Read the rest of this entry »