non stop holes
I celebrate my own strength because nobody knows how I’ve far I’ve come better than me. My path to happiness did not come without hiccups, but at least it was my choice. I am happy to finally live a life that is my choice.
Many things are.
this is mostly about arses
Vukari is the smoothest, mellowest "black metal" I think I've heard to date.
Happy goddamned Saturday to one and all. I’m in the middle of a mini-vacation with family and friends, which means I’ve spent more time over the last 24 hours making lists of new music to check out than actually listening or writing. But I hate to let a day go by without posting something at NCS (that’s happened on a grand total of 3 days since we started this site in November 2009), so here are a few quick things I’d like to recommend. With luck, I’ll have a few more to bring your way tomorrow.
BLOOD OF KINGU
As previously reported here, the Ukrainian black metal band Blood of Kingu (started by Roman Sayenko of Drudkh) will be releasing their third album via Season of Mist on September 2 in North America (and August 29 everywhere else). The title is Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon. Last month Terrorizer premiered the first advance track from the album — “Enshrined in the Nethermost Lairs Beneath the Oceans” — and a few days ago Metal Underground premiered a second track.
The new song is “The Bringer of Pestilence”. Like the first advance track, this one kicks open the door immediately and storms through it like a ravening beast. Swarming, corrosive riffs; blasting, thundering percussion; hollow bestial vocals; and extraterrestrial tremolo-picked guitar leads — together they unleash a black/death monstrosity that may surprise you, because you may find its slithering melody hanging around your head after the song ends.
TOURISM: GIGAN, PYRRHON, ARTIFICIAL BRAIN
Two days ago Metal Sucks announced a North American tour by three out-of-the-ordinary death metal bands — Gigan (Chicago), Pyrrhon (NYC), and Artificial Brain (NY). Not surprisingly, the tour is named The Interstellar Intellect North American Tour 2014. Thankfully, the tour incorporates a West Coast swing that will include Seattle. I know this will make you happy because it makes me happy.
9/11 – Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class
9/12 – Toronto, ON @ Rancho Relaxo
9/13 – Montreal, QU @ L’alizé
9/14 – Quebec City, QU @ Salle Unisson
9/15 – TBA
9/16 – Providence, RI @ Dusk
9/17 – Albany, NY @ Bogies w/ Fit For An Autopsy
9/18 – Holyoke, MA @ The Waterfront Tavern
9/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus Bar
9/20 – Clementon, NJ @ Harper’s
9/21 – Baltimore, MD @ The Sidebar (Psychodeathia Fest)
9/22 – Raleigh, NC @ The Maywood
9/24 – Covington, KY T@ he Backstage
9/25 – Atlanta, GA @ Swayze’s
9/26 – Pensacola, FL @ The Handle Bar
9/27 – Austin, TX @ The Lost Well
9/28 – Fort Worth,TX @ Tomcats West
9/30 – Denver, CO @ 3 Kings
10/3 – Glendale, CA @ The Complex
10/4 – San Diego, CA @ Til Two Club
10/6 – San Francisco, CA @ Elbo Room
10/8 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon Lounge
10/9 – Vancouver, BC @ Funky Winkerbeans
10/11 – Bozeman, MT @ The Complex
Yesterday, Panopticon posted a Facebook link to a new EP (En To Pan) by this Chicago band, along with some enthusiastic words of recommendation. I needed no further motivation to check it out. I’m sorry to say that at this writing (because of my vacation) I haven’t made my way through the EP as a whole, even once. But the first two songs are captivating.
“Din of Consciousness” is a shimmering aurora borealis of atmospheric black metal and post rock, with a beautiful central melody, beautiful rippling lead guitar accents, a beautiful interplay of bass and drums, and beautifully roaring vocals. Basically, it’s beautiful.
The second song, “Riddled With Fear and Doubt”, is quickly off to the races, yet although more hard-driving and headbanging than “Din”, it also shines with a similarly heart-swelling melody.
As soon as I finish pecking out these words, I’m going to give the whole EP a proper listen — and you should, too. It’s available on Bandcamp (as is the band’s debut album Matriarch), and I’m embedding the player below.
P.S. One of Vukari’s guitarists is Johan Becker, whose amazing violin playing can be heard on the new Panopticon album, as well as Kentucky and Social Disservices.
octopus4 is a pretty fun record, and "Fearful Shepherds" is interesting, though I feel a desire for bellowing on it.
(We’re veering off our usual beaten paths in this post, as DGR reviews the latest releases from The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence.)
We don’t generally cover techno/electronica/dj acts here at No Clean Singing, and I know that my presence has largely been the reason we might have in the past. You’ll likely never see the more straightforward of such acts here, but I will wholly admit to being drawn to the hybrid monsters — the ones that have combined their music with heavy metal and over time have morphed into some strange creatures. Those have been a huge draw for me, and when it comes to artists who I think are doing it particularly well, then you’ll see that I’ll make some continuing attempts to cover them. However, I understand that taking up the front page when there is so much more traditional metal news out there might irk some folks, so I’ve combined two of the more recent works into one huge mega-review article.
Both of these names, The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence, should be familiar to a bunch of you more regular readers, as I have made efforts in the past to share their work, which I’ve quite enjoyed over the years. It just so happens that both artists managed to have new albums, Octopus4 and Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep respectively, hit around the same time. And thus we find ourselves in a huge review where you can witness me talk out of my ass about electronica music — of which I know between fuck-all and absolute zero — and heavy metal, about which I’ve made writing a huge hobby. Below, you can watch me thrash about between the two moods while I try my best to articulate why exactly I’ve found myself enjoying the hell out of both The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence releases in recent months.
In all honesty, I don’t think we’ve gotten the chance to cover The Algorithm too much in my time here at NCS. I know, from time to time, Islander has highlighted some of the band’s more recent activities since he knows that I love this project — but as far as a full in-depth review, I can’t remember if we’ve done one or not on this site, outside of a small shout-out to Polymorphic Code in one of my first year-ender bibles. A quick introduction is probably required then; because even though this project is popular, I imagine that the Venn Diagram for those who read NCS and those who regularly listen to The Algorithm probably consists of about ten people. We cater to the heavier side of the metal spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that on occasion we won’t reach beyond our usual sphere and cover something we think you’ll enjoy.
photo by Ben Davies
The Algorithm is a project belonging to French musician Rémi Gallego that is currently signed to Basick Records. It is in large part an electronica project that has sought to hybridize a bunch of heavy metal influences — including a pretty undeniable helping of djent/tech-metal/whatever-label-it-goes-by these days — to create a pretty intense style of music. It is at times very aggressive, but also includes a bunch of moments where it is entirely electronic, with Rémi using whatever tools he has at his disposal to create music that could actually be heavy metal were it played entirely on instruments and not through a series of drum programs and various dj loops. He’s also kept a bunch of guitars in the mix as well, to interchange between the two at the drop of a hat. One of the things The Algorithm has done especially well is creating analogues between instruments and the various drum programmings and synth work heard in the music.
I stumbled onto this project via Last.fm, which decided to play pretty much all of his Critical. Error, Identity, and Doppler Effect releases to me over the span of a week or so. Naturally, it spoke to me and I’ve been following the project ever since, including his Basick Records debut Polymorphic Code – a disc so absolutely willing to throw everything and the kitchen sink into one song that it became joyous in its excess. I have a lot of love for Polymorphic Code, especially the madness that is “Access Granted”, though that album as a whole has gotten a tremendous number of spins on this end. Which means, of course I was watching for the new release, Octopus4, like a hawk. Some time has passed since the disc hit, but I’ve had the album since day one; like Polymorphic Code, there’s a lot to take in, but in a different sense. Octopus4 is a very different album, one that sees The Algorithm going more toward the electronica side of its musical spectrum, as well as attempting tell a story.
For a significant portion of its runtime, Octopus4 consists of music that is in sharp contrast to the sounds that made up Polymorphic Code. It’s actually pretty conservative in its musical aspirations for much of the album, up until the last few tracks where things get more familiar to those who embrace the joyous excess and ‘fuck everything’ sensibility of the electronica that made up the last album. Up until the song sensibly titled “Will_Smith”, Octopus4 is an exercise in the varying degrees of techno and electronica, including the song “_MOS”, which is a fun, catchy tune that sounds like it is made up of SNES-era samples of various squid-like creatures and fauna from games. It has that bouncy, inky sound that seemed to be the motif for that sort of character or enemy in that era of videogames. However, Octopus4 progresses from the more conservative and electronica side of music to the one with which fans are more familiar, toward the end of the album. It’s all part of the story, though I have no idea what that story is.
[Editor's Intrusion: Per a press release lodged in my in-box, "The album is named after a Commodore 64 computer virus with a vicious love of Will Smith and tells the story of OCTOPUS4 escaping in an alternate universe and changing the face of the world forever."]
The turn starts around the aforementioned “Will_Smith”, but really kicks into gear ‘long about the time you hit “Synthesiz3r” and its polyrhythmic-flavored breakdowns and beats. It’s also one of the first where the synth really starts to step into place as an analogue for the guitar, although the prior track “Pythagoras” has a legitimate guitar throughout much of the music. After those songs, the album lines up more for people who loved Polymorphic Code and it bounces all over the place — including a real strange tangent into what I believe is French rap (it’s on the inoffensive side, providing an interesting color to the section afterward, which is one of my favorite moments on the disc). It’s a super-heavy descent into an almost metal-core esque breakdown, though there are no instruments — just a wall of bass, some intense drum programming, and heavy synth work.
Octopus4 has its merits, for sure. It will probably turn off a bunch of the people who may be inclined to the dent-via-electronica sound that has made up a huge body of The Algorithm’s work — but it is still an enjoyable disc. Since it is an album that feels distinctly bi-polar in its movements, it speaks to two different sides of my own musical enjoyment. There’s the side that willingly and frequently submits itself to the more brainless and less challenging electronica, techno, edm, and various other shades of computer-powered music out there, the side that finds itself really enjoying the first half of Octopus4; and then, as the sound blends, my mind switches to the side that was drawn to this project in the first place, the side that enjoyed the heavy metal by way of differing dj techniques and sounds, the approach that really defined The Algorithm’s earlier work. It’s a different disc than Polymorphic Code for sure, an album that really sees the two ends of The Algorithm’s formula pulling at each other in a brutal tug of war, but that still has a lot of playability to it. Also, the way this album ends is just grand.
THE LUNA SEQUENCE
The Luna Sequence is another project — like The Algorithm above — that I came to because, although the music that makes up the majority of it is electronically based throughout its varied genres and spectra, it too uses rock and metal as its foundations. However, The Luna Sequence has seemingly gone in the opposite direction from the last band because it has only gotten heavier on the metal side, including an increased focus on adding hammering guitar and thrash to death-metal-influenced drumming to break things up.
The Luna Sequence belongs to musician Kaia Young, who has had an eventful year, including a pretty big relocation to the best goddamn State in this wonderful union known as California, and more specifically to the Bay Area. It has seen The Luna Sequence working super-hard to get music going in the midst of the usual rigamarole that a big move may involve. Unlike The Algorithm, though, I know we’ve covered this project many times before, which is why the name may seem more familiar to the more constant NCS readers. It’s also why I couldn’t pass up the chance to do another review when The Luna Sequence returned with its newest album in June, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep. You’d never know guess that anything had happened with this project other than time spent between The Day The Curse Grew Stronger and this disc listening to a bunch of heavy metal, because for a pretty good chunk of its runtime, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep contains some of the most consistently and authentically heavy music that The Luna Sequence has put out yet.
The core of The Luna Sequence still remains the same as it has been over the last few discs, which means that the closest you’ll come to any sort of vocalist the use of keyboards to provide some sort of lead or orchestral backing to the more epic sections of the music. Usually, you’ll find that these leads tend to be sustained notes, which could as easily be sung as played on a guitar, but it’s as close to a vocal melody amidst this hybrid of electronica and rock/metal that you’ll find. Alongside that, The Luna Sequence has gotten really good at taking the differing varieties of electronica, from its more bass-heavy leanings to the DnB varieties, and making them into analogues for metal tunes.
A few of the songs flip everything on their heads and are just full-blown metal songs that feel like an electronica artist is trying to invade them, and what you essentially get as the final product is the war between the two. The switch is often flipped flawlessly, meaning that when the two aren’t combining into what makes The Luna Sequence what it is, then the trip to the opposite hemispheres often happens without any sort of jarring, ‘Oh, now we’re in the synth heavy section…’ transitions. Case in point: the closing track “From Unrest To Atrophy”, while at its core being a heavy as hell metal tune, shifts from the thunderous drumming and guitar chord desecration to the more calming and ambient piano with about the same effort it takes most folks to breathe.
Unlike The Day The Curse Grew Stronger, which was probably the most metrically heavy album this project has produced, with songs like “Visions” and “Lacerate” for instance, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep spreads it out through the whole CD, with the result that the album is a more consistent experience rather than one in which these awesome, concentrated blasts of heavy metal have been packed into a smattering of really good electronica/rock hybrids. That doesn’t mean that Fearful Shepherds doesn’t have its moments of blasting fury though; it’s just that it is more blended into the overall sound now, which means that the heavier songs on the disc are backed by just-as-angry electronics works as well. Even the more synth-and-drum-loop-focused songs find themselves taking on a sinister air at lends itself well to headbanging.
Of course, The Luna Sequence is still filling a very difficult niche; combining the two genres can often lead to people becoming opposed to them like polarized magnets. It seems that the people who embrace this project have a very special and odd bit of musical combination going on in their minds, myself included, with a heavy history of industrial music alongside my requisite Satan worship and circle head banging. Yet it’s hard to deny that The Luna Sequence has a serious draw if you meet those requirements. Every release so far has been enjoyable, and the current tangent into the heavy metal side of this, from This Is Bloodlust to The Day The Curse Grew Stronger, to the current Fearful Shepherds release, has been a lot of fun to hear. It’s music that loans itself well not only to deep listening, but also to just providing a good background, especially to a marathon video game session.
So yes, Fearful Shepherds appeals to an odd Venn diagram of listeners, but if you manage to fall right into that intersection, then the experiences it offers are fantastic. The album’s potential crossover appeal is also tremendous, and I hope people have found themselves traveling from one side of the aisle to the other as they find different elements of each song that they may like. The project may be an odd bridge, but it is one built to be incredibly solid and one that is currently getting really, really good at writing heavy as hell metal songs.
The authors use of "Post-Constitutional America" is a bit much, but otherwise interesting piece.
"bagged" should be a thing.
Two days in a car and my Grand Uncle, Grand Aunt, cousin and myself made it to Cape Breton.
Three of four sisters are here and a cousin and it’s hard to tell the scribbles apart
Some people will try to fit any and every thing into a gender essentialist framework.
Imagine you walked down the street and asked random people what autism is. What would they say? My guess: They’d talk about social skills, and the rising prevalence, and probably the vaccine nonsense. And they’d almost certainly mention that it happens to boys.
The idea that autism is a mostly male disorder is pervasive in the news, pop culture, and scientific circles. And it’s not just an academic curiosity. Last year a popular fertility clinic in Sydney, Australia, reported that about five percent of couples went through in vitro fertilization just so they could select a female embryo and thus lower the kid’s risk of developing autism.
The sex skew in autism is real: A diagnosis of autism is almost five times more common in 8-year-old boys than in 8-year-old girls, according to the latest statistics from the CDC.
But it’s not that simple. Most people don’t realize, for example, that autism’s sex bias changes dramatically depending on the severity of the disorder, with so-called high-functioning autism (a problematic term that usually means having an IQ above 70 or 80) showing a ratio more skewed towards boys. The ratio also varies wildly depending on who’s calculating it.
Two quick examples: A 2008 study of children in South Carolina found that among kids with IQs above 70, boys outnumbered girls 4.9 to 1. But among kids with IQs less than 70, the ratio was 2.4 to 1. And in the group of kids with the most intellectual impairments — IQs less than 34 — there were just as many girls as boys.
A 2010 study of children in the U.K. found the same trend but very different numbers. Among all children with autism, the male-female ratio was about 7 to 1, whereas among those with Asperger syndrome — characterized by high verbal and cognitive ability — it was 12 to 1.
I’ve just rattled off a bunch of numbers, and you might be wondering why you should care. But these numbers, as I learned this week, are powerfully charged.
Asking the question of why there’s a sex bias in autism brings up a host of messy social issues. Talking about autism’s sex ratio means talking about the challenges involved in diagnosing brain disorders, and the differences in the way we raise boys and girls, and possible differences between “male” and “female” brains, and the gender disparity in math and science fields.
It’s all so…uncomfortable. But I’m going to wade into the muck, anyway, with the hope of generating a meaningful and provocative discussion.
I’m thinking about all this now thanks to a paper published this week in the journal BioSocieties. In it, science historian Sarah Richardson of Harvard University and her colleague Eva Gillis-Buck argue that autism’s male bias has been greatly exaggerated. What’s more, they say, autism’s purported sex differences are often exploited by scientists outside of the autism field who want to take advantage of the recent influx of funding directed specifically at autism research.
And this whole situation, Richardson and Gillis-Buck worry, is not only bad for our understanding of autism, but is fueling unfounded cultural stereotypes. “Giving the gloss of scientific integrity to claims that autism is a disorder of gender I think contributes, mostly unintentionally, to negative stereotypes about women’s innate capacity for math and science,” Richardson says.
Some autism researchers take great umbrage at these claims. I’ll get to their rebuttal, but first I think it’s worth describing some of the intriguing historical context outlined in the new paper.
Boys took center stage in the first scientific reports of autism. Child psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s first description of the disorder, published in 1943, included 11 cases, 8 boys and 3 girls. In a later paper of 100 children Kanner reported a 4:1 male-female ratio.
Hans Asperger, who first described Asperger disorder in 1944, noticed it, too. “It is fascinating to note that the autistic children we have seen are almost exclusively boys,” he wrote. The reason, he explained, was in the difference between male and female intelligence:
“In general, girls are the better learners. They are more gifted for the concrete and the practical, and for tidy, methodical work. Boys, on the other hand, tend to have a gift for logical ability, abstraction, precise thinking and formulating, and for independent scientific investigation.
…In general, abstraction is congenial to the male thought processes, while female thought processes draw more strongly on feelings and instincts. In the autistic person abstraction is so highly developed that the relationship to the concrete, to objects and to people has been largely lost.”
There was (and is) little evidence for this inherent distinction in male versus female thinking. (And as a side note, Asperger’s reasoning there assumes a very narrow conception of autism — you could say, after all, that many people with autism thrive on “tidy, methodical work”.)
Asperger was writing in a different era, of course, when these gender bifurcations were commonly accepted. But these ideas haven’t disappeared with modernity, thanks in large part to the work of psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, one of today’s most famous autism scientists.
More than a decade ago, Baron-Cohen debuted a theory to explain the sex bias in autism. The so-called ‘extreme male brain’ theory says that autism’s primary characteristics are just an exaggeration of typical differences between men and women, and that they’re caused by excessive exposure to male sex hormones in the womb.
Baron-Cohen’s theory, as well as the methods of his studies that bolster it, have many scientific critics. (Cordelia Fine’s book, Delusions of Gender, gives a great overview.) And yet it has received an enormous amount of public attention. That’s partly because of how Baron-Cohen has trumpeted what he sees as its real-world implications.
The theory, he contends, explains many of the gender disparities between men and women. Take what he wrote in his 2003 book, The Essential Difference: “People with the female brain make the most wonderful counsellors, primary-school teachers, nurses, carers, therapists, social workers, mediators, group facilitators or personnel staff.”
Or this snippet from a column he wrote for the BBC in 2009:
“Males, maths and autism. On the face of it, these three things don’t appear to be linked. And yet they are.
Males are much more likely to apply to university to study maths, for example.
In 2007, three quarters of applicants to read maths at Cambridge were male, as were 90% of applicants for the computer sciences degree.
Cambridge is not unique in this way. So why are males so attracted to studying maths?
And why, in over 100 years of the existence of the Fields Medal, maths’ Nobel Prize, have none of the winners have ever been a woman?”
Why, indeed. Baron-Cohen’s column goes on to cite genetics and hormones. Unfortunately he makes no mention of the well-known social drivers of these gender differences.
There are many holes in the extreme male brain theory. To mention just one: Many studies have shown that people with Asperger’s aren’t particularly good at math and tend to have better verbal skills (a supposedly “female” trait). Based on my autism reporting over the past seven years I’d say the theory is not, by any stretch, a mainstream view among autism researchers. “On the other hand,” Richardson points out, “you see it cited everywhere.”
Funding for autism has skyrocketed over the last decade or so. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health spent $196 million on autism, compared with $186 million on Parkinson’s disease and $22 million on Down syndrome. In her new paper, Richardson takes a close look at hundreds of grant applications and published studies related to autism and sex differences. Many grant applications cite autism’s rising prevalence as prime motivation. But they also frequently site the sex bias and Baron-Cohen’s theory. Richardson describes grant proposals investigating autism’s sex bias through the lens of genetics, epigenetics, gene-hormone interactions, brain anatomy, chemical exposures, rat brain cells, and even the nervous system of worms.
She also found 442 studies related to autism and sex differences that have been published since 1980. Of these, 86 percent came out after 2001, and 10 percent were authored by Baron-Cohen. The rest came from laboratories in a variety of fields, including endocrinology, genetics, brain imaging, and molecular biology. Since 2001, animal research on this topic has exploded.
This is all evidence, Richardson says, that autism has become a “biomedical platform” for scientists of all stripes who are looking for funding, particularly in this era of shrinking science budgets.
“We show how, over time, researchers have begun to link their very basic research — even if it’s on nematodes — to frame it as a contribution to autism,” she says. “In the funding and publication structure, there’s been a real shift toward opportunistically using extreme-male-brain-type theories to gain research funding.”
But is this a bad thing? I asked Richardson. Our society has evidently decided that autism is a pressing public health problem, and most of basic medical research is publicly funded. So isn’t it a good thing that all of these labs doing sex research are suddenly turning their attention to autism?
Richardson stresses that she is not arguing that sex difference research shouldn’t be done. But she does think it needs to be looked at with a more critical eye, particularly at the funding stage.
What’s more, she says, the growing obsession with autism’s sex bias is ultimately bad for our understanding of the disorder. “With this focus on the extreme-male-brain model,” she says, “you’re contributing to a kind of archetypal thinking about autism that obscures autism’s reality for many people.” It leads researchers to neglect boys with autism who don’t fit the math-geek stereotype, as well as girls with autism.
She makes a valid point there. Many autism researchers have decried the dearth of research on girls with autism, who tend to have a different symptomatic profile than boys do. That’s almost certainly due, at least in part, to differences in the way adults treat girls and boys. (One study, for example, found that mothers tend to talk more to young daughters than to their sons.) These gender differences in autism symptoms mean that many girls are missed by standard diagnostic tests. Even when symptoms are the same in boys and girls, it could be that parents, teachers and doctors don’t notice them in girls with a mild version of the disorder, but are primed to seek them out in boys.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the autism scientists I contacted about this paper were not too happy about its claims.
They pointed out that many people studying sex differences in autism don’t accept the premises of the extreme male brain theory, and say it’s not relevant to the growing scientific interest in the disorder.
“The primary reason for funding in autism has nothing to do with sex differences in prevalence,” says Thomas Frazier of the Cleveland Clinic, who studies sex differences in children with autism. “It has to do with the massive functional impairment that most individuals experience, regardless of their sex or measured IQ.”
Lauren Weiss, a geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, whole-heartedly agrees that autism scientists need to bring more girls into their research — she wrote a commentary about it for SFARI.org a few years back. But Weiss also says that Richardson puts too much emphasis on the extreme male brain theory, and doesn’t give enough credit to other studies suggesting that autism’s sex bias might indeed have biological underpinnings.
For instance, a genetic theory known as the ‘female protective effect’ says that girls carry some kind of (as yet mysterious) genetic variant that protects them from autism. In 2011, two studies found that among kids with autism, girls are more likely to carry genetic variants dubbed CNVs than boys are, and that the girls’ CNVs tend to be larger. This might mean that girls only get autism when their genomes take a major “hit”.
A study Weiss published earlier this year offers a different kind of genetic lead. She and her colleagues analyzed autism traits in people with four different genetic syndromes related to autism. These syndromes are all caused by a single gene, and none of them show a sex bias—girls are just as likely to have them as boys are. Intriguingly, though, Weiss found that for some of the syndromes, autism traits showed up differently in boys and girls, suggesting some kind of gene-sex interaction.
All that said, Weiss agrees that diagnostic bias may also play a role in autism’s sex skew. But the only way to tease apart cultural and biological factors, she says, is with more research on animal models and human patients.
“Just as evidence of biological genetic underpinnings helped to divert public opinion from the ‘refrigerator mother’ theory of autism etiology,” Weiss says, “scientists should encourage and not discourage biological understanding of sex differences that might be relevant to autism in order to refute any unfounded and damaging stereotypes about sex differences and in order to ensure that females as well as males with autism get appropriate care.”
A lot of the issues raised by Richardson’s paper may be obvious to autism researchers. But I do wonder about the general public. My sense is that when people hear (over and over again) about a sex bias in autism, their first thought is not about differences in the way the disorder presents itself in boys and girls, or about diagnostic biases. They think it means there must be an innate difference between boy brains and girls brains.
And perhaps there is. But the point is that nobody quite knows. If you come away with anything from this (very long!) post, I hope it’s this: Autism isn’t just a boy thing.
This text has been changed from the original to reflect that Leo Kanner’s first description of autism had 11 cases, not 10, and 3 girls, not 2. Thanks to Michelle Dawson for alerting me of the error.
Kind of like this pen. The Safari I used to have on my bag got stolen (or lost), but I never got another.
Still true, though.
Oddly this is one of the LEAST dire panels in this week’s page of Family Man.
Via Cap'n Bunker
The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range, adjacent to Hood Canal. These solitary cephalopods reach an average size (measured from arm-tip to mantle-tip,) of 30-33 cm. Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment. Because of the moistness of the rainforests and specialized skin adaptations, they are able to keep from becoming desiccated for prolonged periods of time, but given the chance they would prefer resting in pooled water.
An intelligent and inquisitive being (it has the largest brain-to-body ratio for any mollusk), the tree octopus explores its arboreal world by both touch and sight. Adaptations its ancestors originally evolved in the three dimensional environment of the sea have been put to good use in the spatially complex maze of the coniferous Olympic rainforests. The challenges and richness of this environment (and the intimate way in which it interacts with it,) may account for the tree octopus's advanced behavioral development. (Some evolutionary theorists suppose that "arboreal adaptation" is what laid the groundwork in primates for the evolution of the human mind.)
Reaching out with one of her eight arms, each covered in sensitive suckers, a tree octopus might grab a branch to pull herself along in a form of locomotion called tentaculation; or she might be preparing to strike at an insect or small vertebrate, such as a frog or rodent, or steal an egg from a bird's nest; or she might even be examining some object that caught her fancy, instinctively desiring to manipulate it with her dexterous limbs (really deserving the title "sensory organs" more than mere "limbs",) in order to better know it.
Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans. Besides allowing them to see their prey and environment, it helps them in inter-octopus relations. Although they are not social animals like us, they display to one-another their emotions through their ability to change the color of their skin: red indicates anger, white fear, while they normally maintain a mottled brown tone to blend in with the background.
The reproductive cycle of the tree octopus is still linked to its roots in the waters of the Puget Sound from where it is thought to have originated. Every year, in Spring, tree octopuses leave their homes in the Olympic National Forest and migrate towards the shore and, eventually, their spawning grounds in Hood Canal. There, they congregate (the only real social time in their lives,) and find mates. After the male has deposited his sperm, he returns to the forests, leaving the female to find an aquatic lair in which to attach her strands of egg-clusters. The female will guard and care for her eggs until they hatch, refusing even to eat, and usually dying from her selflessness. The young will spend the first month or so floating through Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet, and as far as North Puget Sound before eventually moving out of the water and beginning their adult lives.
Although the tree octopus is not officially listed on the Endangered Species List, we feel that it should be added since its numbers are at a critically low level for its breeding needs. The reasons for this dire situation include: decimation of habitat by logging and suburban encroachment; building of roads that cut off access to the water which it needs for spawning; predation by foreign species such as house cats; and booming populations of its natural predators, including the bald eagle and sasquatch. What few that make it to the Canal are further hampered in their reproduction by the growing problem of pollution from farming and residential run-off. Unless immediate action is taken to protect this species and its habitat, the Pacific Northwest tree octopus will be but a memory.
The possibility of Pacific Northwest tree octopus extinction is not an unwarranted fear. Other tree octopus species -- including the Douglas octopus and the red-ringed madrona sucker -- were once abundant throughout the Cascadia region, but have since gone extinct because of threats similar to those faced by paxarbolis, as well as overharvesting by the now-illegal tree octopus trade.
The history of the tree octopus trade is a sad one. Their voracious appetite for bird plumes having exhausted all the worthy species of that family, the fashionistas moved on to cephalopodic accoutrements during the early 20th Century. Tree octopuses became prized by the fashion industry as ornamental decorations for hats, leading greedy trappers to wipe out whole populations to feed the vanity of the fashionable rich. While fortunately this practice has been outlawed, its effects still reverberate today as these millinery deprivations brought tree octopus numbers below the critical point where even minor environmental change could cause disaster.
Here are a few things that you can do to help save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus:
Spread awareness with our Tree Octopus Activities.
The author of this article and its subsections is Lyle Zapato.
This site is not associated with any school or educational organization,
other than the Kelvinic University branch of the Wild Haggis Conservation Society. Not to be confused with the Pacific Northwest Octopus Tree.
Things have just taken a solid turn towards "really fucking bad" for Luther Levy.
The video here is def. worth watching.
The great Kate Beaton did her version of Kickass Annie!
Indeed! Koyama Press prints amazing comics by the newest and best talents out there! Kickass Annie is their mascot. Go look them up and you’ll see all the comics you want to buy ever. Honest to God.
On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school, as well as 6 school staffers, his mother, and himself. Within two weeks, the Connecticut Medical Examiner commissioned a group of geneticists to screen Lanza’s DNA.
And for what, exactly? Who knows. There are any number of genetic variants the scientists could zero in on — variants that have been linked to a propensity for violence, aggression, psychopathy, or psychiatric disorders. One thing I’d bet on: The screen will find something. Each of us carries genetic mutations somewhere along our 3-billion-letter DNA code. Some mutations are benign, some are not; some have huge effects, others tiny. But there’s no way to know how (or whether) any of them affects behavior.
Another thing I’d bet on: The media (and the public) will use the results of that genetic screen to explain what Lanza did. We all want answers, and a genetic test seemingly provides a long string of them. Answers from science, no less. But, as was pointed out by many scientists and commentators at the time, searching for answers in Lanza’s DNA is futile. “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence,” read an editorial in Nature. “Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”
The Connecticut Medical Examiner is apparently the first to ever request a genetic screen of a dead murderer. It’s an odd move, and perhaps one that can be blamed on intense public scrutiny in the wake of the tragedy. But using genetics to inform criminal cases is not new or even all that rare. As I learned in a fascinating commentary published in today’s issue of Neuron, behavioral genetics has a long history in the American justice system.
The “feeble minded” Carrie Buck, who was forcibly sterilized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Photo from Wikipedia.
The author of the commentary, Paul Appelbaum of Columbia University, cites, for example, the Buck v. Bell Supreme Court case from 1927. The court upheld a Virginia law authorizing mandatory sterilization of people who are intellectually disabled, or “feeble minded”, because they threaten the gene pool. I’m not exaggerating. “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind,” wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the majority opinion. (If you want to be depressed all day, go read the Wikipedia entry about the case.)
Explicit genetic testing entered the courts in the late 1960s, but this time it was on behalf of the accused. Lawyers representing men carrying an extra Y chromosome — known today as ‘XYY syndrome’ — argued that because this genetic condition was overrepresented in prisons, it must drive violent behaviors. But most courts, according to Appelbaum, weren’t sympathetic to this logic, and refused to allow the genetic information into evidence.
Most cases calling on behavioral genetics, like the XYY example, do so in an attempt to lessen the culpability of a defendant who committed a crime. This isn’t usually relevant when deciding the verdict of the case (except for the very rare instances in which a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity). But mitigating factors — such as child abuse, drug use, abnormal brain activity, or genetic disposition — can matter a great deal during sentencing proceedings, particularly if the death penalty is on the table. “Judges tend to be fairly permissive at death penalty hearings,” Appelbaum writes.
In 2011 Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, reported 33 recorded* instances of neuropsychiatric genetic evidence in criminal courts between 2007 and 2011. She had previously reported 44 instances between 1994 and 2007, suggesting that it’s becoming slightly more common. In almost every instance, genetic evidence was used as a mitigating factor in a death penalty case.
The genetic evidence in Denno’s reports tended to be fairly crude: a family history of a condition. But specific genetic tests are beginning to seep into court, too. In 2007, several psychiatrists and geneticists described their experiences presenting evidence at criminal trials related to two gene variants: a variant of monoamine oxidase A, which when mixed with child maltreatment increases the risk of violent behavior, and a variant of the serotonin transporter gene, which when mixed with multiple stressful life events ups the risk of serious depression and suicide. A couple of cases used these scientific links to argue that defendants didn’t have the mental ability to plan their crime in advance. But most of the time genetic evidence was used to mitigate sentences. In 2011, for example, an Italian court reduced a female defendant’s sentence from life in prison to 20 years based on genetic evidence and brain scans that supposedly proved “partial mental illness.”
None of these examples trouble me too much. The U.S. court allows “any aspect of character or record” to be used as a mitigating factor during sentencing, including a defendant’s age, stress level, childhood experiences, criminal history, employment history, and even military service. So why not genetic predisposition, too? It also seems that, so far at least, judges and juries are showing an adequate level of skepticism about this kind of evidence. In 2010, I wrote a story about serial killer Brian Dugan, whose lawyers tried to use brain scans to show that he was a psychopath and didn’t deserve the death penalty. The jury wasn’t swayed.
Most shocking, to me, is how genetic evidence might be used in the civil court system, at least according to Appelbaum. Last year in Canada, a tenant sued her landlord for a fire that, she claimed, caused several injuries that will prevent her from ever working again. The plaintiff had a family history of Huntington’s disease, and the court ordered her to have a blood test to screen for the mutant gene to help determine whether her injuries were the result of the fire or her DNA. She didn’t want to take the test, but if she didn’t she’d have to drop the lawsuit. Appelbaum envisions other possible scenarios in future civil cases:
Employers contesting work-related mental disability claims might… want to compel claimants to undergo genetic testing to prove that an underlying disorder was not responsible for their impairment. Divorcing couples in child-custody disputes, in which court-ordered psychological evaluations are routine, may want to add genetic testing for behavioral traits or neuropsychiatric disorders to the list of procedures that their estranged spouses must undergo to assess their fitness to parent a child. Plaintiffs seeking to establish that a defendant acted recklessly (e.g., in precipitating an auto accident) might attempt to seek data regarding the defendant’s genetic predisposition to impulsive behavior. With increasing utilization of next-generation sequencing in medical settings, and arguments being made for sequencing newborns at birth, adverse parties in civil litigation may not need to compel genetic testing but merely to seek access to existing data.
In these civil cases, which are not usually matters of life and death, I would imagine that the bar for scientific scrutiny would be set lower than in criminal cases. That’s troubling, and all the more reason that we need to better educate the public about what genes can and cannot tell us. As genetic testing continues to infiltrate our medical system, and now our justice system, too, perhaps this education will happen naturally. One can hope.
The Nature editorial regarding the Lanza testing was titled “No easy answer”, and that’s really the crux of all of this. When a person does something awful, we want to know why. But it may be an impossible question.
*Most of Denno’s cases came from appellate courts because usually lower courts don’t have written opinions. So that means her numbers are almost certainly underestimates.
Some of these associations are not what I would have expected.
The first time I got drunk I was 15. It was in a hotel room in Paris, on a trip with my high school French Club, drinking vodka and Orangina from a plastic bottle. I remember looking at my blurry reflection in the bathroom mirror and thinking, So this is what being drunk is. I didn’t hate it. I drank a few more times that year, and then pretty steadily for the next two. I had one blackout night in a friend’s basement. Then came college, where everything escalated. It honestly makes me queasy right now to think about what I put my body through.
But it was fun. And it didn’t lead to anything horrible. I did well academically, went to grad school, found (mostly) gainful employment. I’m 30 now and, knock on wood, don’t have any health problems.
My story is typical. “We tend not to want to say this out loud to teenagers, but most people who tried drugs don’t get addicted,” says Hugh Garavan, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Vermont. “Most kids have tried alcohol by age 14, and most kids don’t develop a problem. Same with cigarettes and same with cocaine. But there’s a certain subset who do, and we don’t have a clue what it is about them.”
Scientists have pinpointed lots of factors that increase the risk of alcohol misuse — a bit. Adolescents who are anxious or impulsive, for example, tend to be at higher risk. Same for those who carry certain genetic variants (dubbed ‘SNPs’) in their genome, and for kids who are abused or neglected. But most studies haven’t looked at enough factors, or at enough kids, to make predictions with much oomph. “It’s hard to look at all of it, but we have this luxury,” Garavan says.
In today’s issue of Nature, Garavan and his colleagues present a new predictive model based on an enormous amount of data—brain scans, genetic screens, personality trait tests, and family and medical histories—from 2,400 teenagers in Europe. The model isn’t by any means a crystal ball, but it can guess which 14-year-olds will become binge drinkers by age 16 with odds far better than chance.
Garavan is one of the leaders of the IMAGEN Consortium, a €10 million-plus study following teenagers at eight different sites in Europe with the aim of pinpointing biological and environmental factors that influence adolescent mental health. The Consortium has published several dozen papers related to various relationships between brain activity, genetics, and behavior at age 14. This paper is the first to look at whether data collected from the volunteers at age 14 could predict their behaviors at age 16. Turns out, it can.
Part of the reason this study is powerful is because of its math. The researchers’ task was retrospective prediction: Knowing what happened to a kid at age 16 and looking back at a massive pool of data from age 14 to see what could have predicted it. In this case, though, the massive pool of data posed a problem. “With a gazillion variables that could potentially predict, there’s a real risk that you’ll find associations just by chance,” Garavan says.
To get around this, researchers used a machine-learning method that separated the data into many subgroups of participants. They’d develop a predictive model for one subgroup, then test it on another subgroup to see if the relationships held. And then they repeated the process on another group, and another and another. In the end, the best model relied on several dozen variables, as shown in this chart:
Whelan et al., Nature 2014 (Click to enlarge)
The variables listed on the left hand side refer to what participants scored at age 14. (For this analysis, the researchers only looked at 14-year-olds who were not drinkers, reporting two or fewer alcoholic drinks in their lifetime.) The factors with the most negative correlation coefficients (that is, the ones with lines furthest to the left) are those that, on their own, most strongly predict alcohol misuse at age 16. The variables with the most positive correlation coefficients (with lines furthest to the right) are most protective against alcohol misuse.
So, according to the model, if a 14-year-old non-drinker has an “extravagant” personality, which is characterized by grandiosity, exuberance and impulsivity, he or she will have a higher risk of becoming a binge drinker by age 16. (The researchers defined binge drinking as having at least three binge-drinking episodes leading to drunkenness.) In contrast, a 14-year-old non-drinker with “conscientious” personality scores will be at a lower risk of becoming a binger.
Under the “Brain” heading, you’ll see “Parenchymal volume,” which is the volume of the whole brain. In other words, kids who have larger brains at age 14 are at a higher risk of binging at age 16. This is intriguing, Garavan says, because the brain typically gets smaller in adolescence, when connections that aren’t used get pruned away. “So their brains seem to be less mature.”
By weighing these several dozen factors together, the mathematical model could correctly classify 66 percent of the binge drinkers and 73 percent of the non-binge drinkers, which is significantly better than chance. (About 45 percent of the 14-year-olds in this model went on to become binge drinkers at age 16.)
“It is a great example of how machine learning can provide novel insight in ways that have big potential for clinical impact,” says Dennis Wall of Stanford University, who was not involved in the study but is using similar techniques to diagnose autism. The new model’s predictive power is somewhat modest, Wall adds, “but even this could have meaningful impact.”
To me, what’s most interesting about the study is that the variables most difficult and expensive to obtain — the genetic markers and brain signatures — are far less important to the model’s predictive power than things like personal history and personality traits. Garavan says his team created a version of the model with only the history and personality measures, and “on their own they do a pretty good job.” That’s good news because it means that doctors, parents or educators might be able to spot high-risk teens without much more than a survey or two.
One big caveat with this particular study is that it stops at age 16. For most teens, drinking does not. So the IMAGEN team brought many of the same teens back into the lab at age 18 and is now working on comparisons of all of this data at age 14, 16, and 18. If the researchers get funding, they’ll look again at age 23.
As I do with most people I interview, I asked Garavan what message he would most like to get across to the general public about this study. He answered with what he doesn’t want to communicate.
“What I don’t want to get across is that we have figured out some secret formula: Give us your kids and we’ll tell you what to do,” he says. Teenage drinking “is not just evil kids choosing to do bad things. There are these preexisting risk factors of vulnerabilities, and we can measure them.”
I like myself, and I am a pedant.
|Ads by Project Wonderful! Your ad could be here, right now.|
It's true, nobody likes a pedant.
In Famous Stolen Wangs
I’m on vacation this week, so here’s a fun story from my archives about Napoleon’s genes. It was originally published in 2010 on The Last Word on Nothing.
In perhaps the same way that Americans prattle on about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the French never tire of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In fairness, the circumstances surrounding the Little Corporal’s later years, death and burial are…unusual. At age 46, he was exiled to the island of St. Helena. He was still under English custody when he died, five years later, of stomach cancer, and the Brits refused his final wish: to be buried on the banks of the Seine. So the body of Europe’s most famous emperor was buried, sans pomp, underneath three stone slabs and two droopy willow trees.
He was there for nearly two decades before the British changed their minds. On July 7, 1840, British and French representatives boarded La Belle Poule frigate — painted black for the occasion — to begin the journey that would later be called le retour des cendres, the return of the ashes. On December 15, the day after Napoleon’s body arrived in Paris, a formal funeral procession carried it from l’Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, and finally, to St. Jerome’s Chapel at Les Invalides. Twenty-one years later, he was moved one last time, to a new sarcophagus under the dome at Les Invalides.
Those are the facts. Now for some legends.
When the sailors reached St. Helena and dug up Napoleon, they were shocked to find his body in pristine condition. This fueled the rumors — still rampant today — that the British had slowly poisoned him with arsenic, which is apparently a fantastic preservative. (Scientists rejuvenated this theory with a chemical analysis published in Nature in 1961.)
An abbot, while delivering last rites, lopped off Napoleon’s penis (which was last bought at auction in 1969, for $38,000, by American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer, maybe).
On the two-month trip from St. Helena to Paris, the body was transferred twice to different boats, giving plenty of opportunities for a switcheroo. Some claim that the corpse lying in Les Invalides is not Napoleon, but one of his St. Helena caretakers.
Most historians dismiss the poisoning, penectomy and body-switching stories as false — conspiracy theories that just won’t die. Studies in 2007 and 2008 knocked down the poisoning story by showing that Napoleon (like many of his contemporaries) had been exposed to high levels of arsenic since childhood.
A new study in Investigative Genetics offers a way to dispel the other two myths.
Molecular anthropologist Gérard Lucotte sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (which lives inside the energy powerhouses of each of our cells and is passed on only through mothers) of authentic Napoleonic hairs. He found a variant — a T nucleotide in the spot where a C normally goes — that crops up in just 0.00008% of people of European descent. Lucotte found exactly the same oddity in hair samples from Napoleon’s mother, Letizia, and youngest sister, Caroline, and did not find it in hair from his lab technician, which means the results are almost certainly not spurious.
So, to prove that Napoleon really is buried in Napoleon’s tomb, all someone would have to do is exhume the body, pluck a hair from its scalp, and screen for this rare variant in the mitochondrial DNA. Pulling up the body would also reveal whether Napoleon is missing his, uh, bonaparte. If so, then Dr. Lattimer could opt for a genetic authentication of his favorite objet trouvé.
This article may have converted me, honestly.
Though I have to say, is there anything that Japanese won't attempt to improve by putting teenage girls in cute outfits in front of?
Vince loves Babymetal, and so should you.
The post Twelve Reasons Babymetal are the Single Best Thing to Happen to Metal in the Past Decade appeared first on MetalSucks.
Lotsa good stuff here.
Look what’s here, it’s comics! Click and go read em. From the news post:
Hello my friends!
It’s been a while. I’m trying to stretch these comic making muscles again, so here are a load of sketchy sillies. In the past year, I’ve been doing some work in books and tv, as I’ve mentioned, some of it working out and some of it not. But I’m very excited to tell you that I just finished this book with Scholastic, which should be out next fall! It’s a lot of fun and I hope you will like it!
I’m working on the sequel to the Hark A Vagrant book next with Drawn and Quarterly, so good news, you’ll be seeing comics more frequently! And I miss making them.
"Gronk" seems like an odd way of spelling Wookie sounds.
Prequels… OR TERROR?
Nice Bucky related drawing.
In this infuriating video, Colin Nederkoorn records his computer streaming Netflix's test video over his Verizon FiOS connection. Then, via a VPN on the same home network, he receives a nearly ten-times faster stream.
Get out of town. Forcing your internet traffic through a VPN should slow your connection, not speed it up. But here, something (presumably Verizon) is preventing Colin from getting normal speeds without hiding his traffic usage from his provider. So much so that he's installing a router to run all his traffic at home through the VPN.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service — if this is your content and you're reading it on someone else's site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.