Barbara J. King
Some of the people who will read this blog post are female, some are male, some are both and some are neither. To all, greetings of the season!
Of the many things I want to celebrate during this annual round of holiday joy, the beauty of human diversity and the pleasure we may take in recognizing it sit near the top of my list.
Yet here's something I've noticed: While the array of gorgeous human skin colors and ethnicities and sexualities is increasingly embraced as a matter of human rights, we are slower to celebrate multiple genders.
I would like to make clear right at the start that breaking out of a male-female gender dichotomy isn't some 21st century liberal-progressive agenda, as it is sometimes painted. Spending some time with this interactive map shows that fluidity in gender roles is and has been evident in societies around the world. A non-binary perspective is neither new nor Euro-American.
The existence of third genders is noted in quite a few entries on that map. Germany recently became the first country within modern Europe to move beyond official male-female gender status. The German rationale for doing so makes sense: The parents of intersex babies shouldn't have to force upon their child a gender identity at birth.
But are three genders enough?
I know it's challenging to break out of a binary mode, and for good reason. Most of us do identify as either male or female, after all. It's what most of us grew up with, and what feels safe and familiar. Like most people, I don't know what it feels like to identify, for instance, as both male and female or neither male or female.
But I know that others experience the world differently than I do. And because of this, I favor a broad approach that goes beyond three genders. People who are born male or born female may not — as older children, as young adults, as middle- or old-aged adults — identify as their birth gender. Their identities may shift over time.
The transgender community is rich and vital. The full slate of options within it isn't captured by just considering those who transition male-to-female or female-to-male.
We have (or should have) long ago left behind the simplistic division of biology versus culture in discussions of this sort.
It's not as if intersex babies are on some biological end of a continuum and people who embrace non-traditional gender roles are at some opposite cultural pole. Yes, intersex infants are born with (or develop) certain anatomical or physiological characteristics that aren't wholly either male or female. But the decision facing parents about how to raise these babies is a cultural one and often co-constructed by medical professionals and the surrounding community and later, the children themselves.
Similarly, adults who adopt non-traditional gender identities have biological bodies and brains and those bodies and brains are real. There's no leaving out biology or culture for anyone here.
Is my hoped-for celebration of diversity furthered when we expand our gender categories from two to three, and beyond? We humans are exquisitely attuned to thinking in categories, so I'd say yes, maybe it's a start, maybe it does help to expand the official options.
Within the Washington State Community and Technical College System, for instance, applicants now have multiple choices on offer when replying to questions about their sexuality or gender identifications. For gender identity, the offered possibilities are seven: feminine, masculine, androgynous, gender neutral, transgender, other and prefer not to answer.
It's a great thing when families of intersex babies are no longer shoe-horned into making premature choices, or when college students feel more comfortable being able to claim who they are, because more than "male" or "female" are finally available to them.
But we can do better. We can be unafraid to move not only beyond male-female dichotomies, but also beyond an insistence on any hard-and-fast fixed categories. What, after all, is there to fear? We are all human; we all live and love.
Barbara thanks her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Hogg, for her word-selection finesse and for sharing a very cool link.
He defied a military dictator, sacked a prime minister, and persistently sought to call generals and intelligence chiefs to account.
He became a symbol of hope for an impoverished multitude, seeking to assert their rights in a land where these are frequently ignored and abused.
He was one of his country's best-known figures who was seen — though not usually heard — on his nation's television screens as frequently as celebrity actors and cricket stars.
For any judge, in any land, this is an improbable record. In Pakistan, where for much of its history the judiciary was a puppet of the executive, it is remarkable.
Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has just retired after a tenure that is threaded through with contradictions, missteps and controversies — but that changed the balance of power in his turbulent nation.
He exited in thunderous style, delivering a farewell speech Wednesday before the Supreme Court, in which he urged his fellow judges to defend the judiciary's independence — and issued a somber warning to his 180 million fellow Pakistanis.
"It seems that the divide between the haves and have-nots is increasing day by day with the executive being unable to curb this growing disparity," said Chaudhry.
"Until we can tackle the ever-growing cancer of corruption the rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer," he said.
Chaudhry, 65, spent his final days on the bench delving into one of Pakistan's murkiest corners: the fate of "missing persons" who have been "disappeared" by the security agencies and are either being secretly held in prison, without trial, or are dead.
He ran into stubborn resistance from the authorities, but Pakistan's Defense Ministry eventually produced six men, who were led into the Supreme Court with their heads concealed by blankets. Pakistani activists say there are thousands more.
Chaudhry countered with a ruling explicitly forbidding the intelligence agencies from detaining people without sharing information about their whereabouts with their relatives.
History, however, will remember Chaudhry chiefly as the leading player in a bare-knuckle showdown that transfixed the outside world, and ultimately led to the downfall of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is now facing trial for treason.
The judge and the dictator got off to a good start. Chaudhry was among those who signed an oath that, in effect, legitimized the coup in which Musharraf, then chief of the army staff, seized power in 1999.
Their standoff began in 2007 when Musharraf suspended Chaudhry as chief justice, and later fired him. This triggered a rolling political crisis that the general could not contain, despite imposing a state of emergency.
Lawyers took to the streets to protest Musharraf's brazen interference with what was supposed to be a foundation stone of the state — an independent judiciary. Civil rights activists, opposition political parties and the media joined in.
Chaudhry became their figurehead, driving from city to city — accompanied by dozens of TV crews — at the head of large and angry convoys of chanting protesters who were determined to bring an end to military rule. Along the way, the Pakistani public turned out in large numbers to cheer and throw flowers at the passing judge.
In more stable countries, the retirement of a chief justice would merit a news story or two. But, though now under civilian rule, Pakistanis remain acutely aware of the fragility of their civil institutions, and of the far-reaching, behind-the-scenes influence of their military and intelligence services.
So, in the last few days, Chaudhry's retirement — and the energetic debate about his legacy — has filled Pakistan's airwaves, entirely outshining the ceremonies marking the death of Nelson Mandela.
Reviews of the chief justice's career range from ecstatic to disapproving.
The Daily News describes him as "a shining star" who "turned the country's tame and obedient judiciary into a pillar of strength and freedom for everyone but the corrupt and the incompetent — the undeserving elite that has ruled this country."
The common theme of the judge's many critics is that he over-stepped the mark. He set up a human rights cell in the Supreme Court, which received hundreds of petitions a day from the public to ensure, as he puts it, "the man in the street is also within reach of justice."
But Chaudhry's liberal use of suo moto powers (when a court initiates action of its own accord) to probe into a variety of issues led to accusations that he had strayed into political activism, and too often interfered with the running of government.
These complaints reached a crescendo last year when he ordered the removal of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, for failing to obey court orders relating to corruption allegations against the then-president, Asif Ali Zardari.
There are now calls for limits to be placed on the court's suo moto powers — raising the possibility of another shift in the balance of power in Pakistan, in favor of the government.
It is too soon to say to what extent the new chief justice, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, would fight against this. He has a reputation for being mild-mannered; he is also due to retire this summer. (He got the job because he was next in line.)
As for Chaudhry's future, the law says a retired chief justice cannot run for office for two years.
Yet few in Pakistan believe this battle-hardened, steel-nerved campaigner has permanently departed the limelight for a cozy retirement.
The judge will be back.
Godzilla is back in the news and there's word that a massive boring machine appears to have hit something it can't get through under Seattle.
But before we get carried away about creatures beneath our cities or hidden chambers holding eggs that will hatch monsters, let's focus on what we know about what's happening in the Northwest.
"Transportation crews still don't know what exactly is blocking the path of 'Bertha,' the giant boring machine that's drilling the new Highway 999 tunnel under Seattle. The machine was stopped on Friday after encountering an object 60 feet under South Main Street."
SeattlePI.com says "the latest trouble started ... when Bertha's five-story tall cutter head felt some resistance, then stopped."
As The Blaze notes, since Bertha "is designed to tunnel through rock and soil without issue, it's puzzling as to what could have stopped it."
Today, we're hearing from The Seattle Times that it will likely take about two weeks to figure out what's blocking Bertha. It adds that:
"The leading theory is that Bertha hit a boulder, but the soil around it is too soft to hold it snugly and allow the rotary cutter head to crack the rock apart."
What to do?
According to the Times:
— Either pull Bertha back to allow crews to get around it and then, using power drills and hammers, break up the boulder (assuming that's what the problem is).
— Or, "work from above ... to drill down and break up the object or to lift it out. That likely would require a protective wall or pit to be installed, holding back sand and groundwater."
But if the problem involves something more mysterious ... suggestions are welcome in the comments thread.
Bertha is cutting a nearly 2-mile tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — a double deck roadway along the city's waterfront on Highway 99. She's the world's largest tunneling machine, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Former "Price Is Right" host Bob Barker wants Florida voters to come on down to the polls for Republican David Jolly next month.
Barker, who retired from the popular daytime game show in 2007 after 35 years, appeared in a television ad Thursday on behalf of Jolly, a lobbyist running in a special election for a St. Petersburg-area congressional seat.
"Folks, when you get to be as young as I am, you call it like you see it. That's why I'm supporting David Jolly for Congress," Barker says in the ad. To close out the spot, Barker says, "with Jolly, the choice is right."
The Jolly campaign booked airtime in Florida's 13th District, which is home to a high proportion of senior citizens, during Thursday's edition of the "Price Is Right", according to Roll Call. Barker, whose long-running show was known for its signature catchphrase "Come on down!", also made a special cameo in the episode to celebrate his 90th birthday.
In the ad, Barker praises the work Jolly did as an aide to his "good friend" Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young, who Barker formally endorsed during the 2010 campaign. A special election was called after Young died in October at the age of 82.
Barker's endorsement comes just as a dispute between Young's widow and son, who are backing different candidates in the Jan. 14 GOP primary, is boiling over.
Beverly Young said her husband wanted Jolly to succeed him, and she made a brief appearance in one of his recent campaign ads. But Bill Young II has thrown his support behind one of Jolly's rivals, state GOP Rep. Kathleen Peters.
The family feud spilled into public view after a candidate luncheon last week, when Beverly Young told her son "you have hurt me beyond belief," according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The winner of the Republican primary will face the likely Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, in what is expected to be a tight March 11 general election contest.
Could you dig up the next antibiotic in your backyard? Two scientists would like you and, if they're lucky, millions of other people to give it a try.
The researchers hope that lots of do-it-yourself scientists around the world can come up with the next big idea for much-needed drugs.
There are plenty of precedents. Many blockbuster antibiotics were found in soil, where many bacteria produce chemicals to keep rivals out of their territory.
Terramycin, for instance, an old antibiotic from Pfizer, was developed from bacteria found in the soil outside a company factory in Terre Haute, Ind. Vancomycin, an Eli Lilly drug, has its roots in a soil sample from Borneo. Streptomycin, the first antibiotic used successfully against tuberculosis, also came from bacteria found in dirt. The discovery helped Rutgers' Selman Waksman win a Nobel Prize in 1952.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the U.S., at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 die.
As soon as doctors start prescribing an antibiotic, the germs fight back by evolving to become resistant. Agricultural use also contributes to the problem.
The world needs new antibiotics soon because so many of the existing drugs are losing their punch. Some people are already talking about a "post-antibiotic era," when bacteria can defeat all the drugs doctors have at their disposal.
But drug companies don't spend as much money looking for antibiotics as other types of medicines, such as cancer drugs.
"This is the one therapeutic area where when we design a brand new antibiotic, what will happen is the world will say, 'Thank you very much, that's a great contribution to human medicine, but I'm going to put it on the shelf and only use it when I really have to use it,' " says David Payne, a vice president overseeing antibacterial drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline.
He says that although this is how doctors should use new antibiotics, it's not a good way to make money.
The federal government is now pitching in. Earlier this year Glaxo and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agreed to work on new antibiotics. And the government could pay Glaxo as much as $200 million over the next five years, if things go well.
But crowdsourcing is another option. Josiah Zayner, who's about to take a job doing synthetic biology research at NASA, and Mark Opal, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, want to make the drug discovery process easier.
They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to send out simple test kits, so people can check plants, chemicals and other substances around them for substances that kill bacteria.
The kit would include test bacteria that don't cause disease, so there's something safe for do-it-yourselfers to experiment with. The kits, which would cost between $42 and $102 depending on the version people select, would include all the equipment necessary for amateur antibiotic hunters. Zayner and Opal plan to put the results in an online database, so others can independently verify discoveries.
"You look out your window and you see a tree and you think, 'Oh, I bet you somebody's looked at that tree bark and tried to see if there's some drug or antibiotic compound in there,' " says Opal, who also worked on drug development at the National Institutes of Health. "In reality, in most cases this is not the truth."
They say the more people working on the problem, the better. Having what seems like too much data or having people test the same plants would be good signs, says Zayner.
He points to the Human Genome Project. "When they first sequenced the human genome, they were like, "Oh my gosh I have so much data, what am I going to do with this?' " Zayner says. "A database like (the one they are trying to start), if it succeeds massively, would just be amazing not only for now but for the future, for scientists to look at, for people to look at, just to help us understand what compounds are in plants, insects and other organisms."
But, this massive crowdsourcing effort probably won't find the next antibiotic, says Dr. Brad Spellberg, an associate medical director at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and co-author of a recent journal article on antibiotic resistance.
"Over the course of a half-century, pharma pretty much dug in every soil they can get their hands on," Spellberg says. Drug companies have chemical libraries with millions of compounds, he says. If something is easy to find, they probably have it.
Glaxo's Payne agrees, and he wrote a journal article about his company's efforts to identify new drugs based on what's in their libraries. They didn't find much.
Spellberg says it's better to go to places that haven't been explored before, like the bottom of the ocean. He also points out that just because a substance kills bacteria it's not necessarily a good antibiotic. Drugs must be safe, and they have to be relatively easy to take.
Although this project may not uncover the next antibiotic, there may be another benefit, says Gregory Daniel, a fellow at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution. It's likely to get more people interested in antibiotic resistance.
"This isn't just talk," Daniel says. "This is actually engaging people into taking part in a potential solution. Advocacy organizations for antibiotics are really hard to come by."
Advocacy can lead to real changes, he says, citing HIV/AIDs as an example. Starting in the 1980s, HIV/AIDS patient advocates pushed for regulatory changes that sped up access to drugs and included activists and patients on advisory boards.
Campaign creators Zayner and Opal say even if they can't meet their fundraising goal, they have already heard from schools interested in using the kits as classroom tools.