Do We “Own” Our DNA?

Candice eetimesIn some parts of the world today, such as present day Alabama, a man may rape a woman, then claim parental rights to the resulting fetus and possibly a resulting child.  If the latest attempt at outlawing reproductive choice (outlawing abortion, even in the event of rape), a man could legally rape women to have to as many children as he physically can before he is rightfully incarcerated… and then to every one of those women’s deep horror they would be forced to carry the child to term and watch as their rapist demands and is granted equal parental rights to the child.

Sounds like something out of a bad historical novel or a dystopian made for internet video series.  But, this tableau is real, and historically, has deep connections to a concept that I will argue should be abandoned.

First, the concept actually starts with a seemingly valid moral position from our prescientific and pre-modern-medical reality.  Once upon a time, most pregnancies could not be reliably prevented nor safely aborted.  If a couple had sex, it could and often did result in pregnancy.  So, given that it took the two of them to create the pregnancy, they both could and “should” be held responsible for the upbringing of the child, at least in decent societies.  This lead to the notion that with responsibilities also came privileges, on both sides, the parents and the child.  Such notions included parental authority and rights of inheritance.  All well and good for a pre-industrial society.

But there were ugly downsides as well.  When men had power and privilege not shared with women, men could deny paternity, either through lies, or through law.  Then… ah… then came paternity suits.

Another problem occured with adoption.  This one hit me personally, as I adopted a child.  But my family failed to acknowledge her.  They all coo, dote on, and brag about their other grandchildren, but my daughter doesn’t count, ’cause she’s not their “blood”.  And how many times do adopted mothers get asked about the child’s “real” mother?

These old social rules are based on a mystical concept called “blood” relation.  In modern times, we might call this “genetic” relatedness.  However, with our modern understanding of genetics this may not make scientific sense as a moral or legal guide.

How related are you to any other human?  If we look at the full genetic code… all humans are related to any other random human by 99.9%.  Yes, that’s right, we share 99.9% of our genome with the rest of humanity.  Further, almost every single gene you have in your body is found in thousands to millions, even billions, of other people unless you have a brand new, never before seen mutation, in which case that single mutation isn’t shared.  Lucky you, big deal.  So, do you “own” your DNA?  Or is it a shared resource with all of humanity?

How can it be said that we “own” our DNA if we share it with all of humanity.  How can it be said that we “own” a child just because some of that shared human inheritance came through us?  What does it matter that there may be an infinitely small percentage of the total that is more similar between two people than with the rest of humanity?  Not much.  Seen in this light the concept of “blood” relation is nearly meaningless.

There has been some concern that our present laws have not treated men fairly given the changes in custom and medical technology.  After all, if a woman has the full right to choose not to carry a child to term or not while a man has no right to demand termination, why should he be responsible if she chooses to carry the child.  Indeed, justice would be on their side, as this asymmetrical power of choice and responsibility is inequitable.  However, that does NOT warrant giving men equal say over a woman’s body, to deny her the right to choose, nor the right to her child, as some patriarchal men’s rights activists demand.  It says that we need a new form of measurement of parental rights and responsibility, one that is not dependent upon genetic relatedness or “blood”.

Parental Equity

Rather than using genetic relatedness as a measurement of parental rights and responsibility, we can and should use a measure of how much responsibility a given individual, whether genetically related or not, has provided in the past.

Consider that having chosen to carry a child to term using her own financial and social capital, a woman giving birth has risked her health and put in nine months of “sweat equity” into providing for the life of a newborn infant.  She has a great deal of parental equity.  Now compare that to the few minutes of sexual intercourse and the pleasure of orgasm that the man who impregnated her provided before disappearing from her and the child’s life.  Should these two people have the same parental rights?  Under the old “blood” view, yes.  With our new understanding, absolutely not.  Nor does he shoulder any responsibility.  After all, she chose to carry the child to term where she could have chosen not to.  Modern access to multiple methods of birth control, up to and including abortion, give a woman nearly full control of her body independent of a man’s choice.  Men also have a choice.  They may choose voluntary sterilization or use condoms.  Under the old rules, if a condom failed, he was on the hook so to speak.  But not under the new rules as she had equal responsibility for choosing to use effective birth control.

Let’s add a twist to the above situation.  The man wants nothing to do with the child, not having chosen to be a parent and she agrees.  But years later his parents find out about the child and want to be grandparents, demanding parental rights as such.  The mother, having no social or emotional ties to these older strangers, no desire to know or acknowledge these grandparents, contests.  She loses in court, because “blood”.  This situation has actually happened.  Under this new concept of parental equity, there are no rights granted by “blood”.  These grandparents have no parental equity and thus no rights to establish a relationship with the child against the mother’s wishes.

Now consider a married heterosexual couple who have both dreamed of being parents, they have children.  Both have provided financial and social capital during the woman’s pregnancy and subsequently.  Clearly she has earned parental equity.  But so has he.  Further, the children have rights of access to the parents, both emotionally and financially.

Consider yet another real world situation created with modern reproductive medical technology.  A married gay male couple decide to have a child together using surrogacy.  They don’t want to have any arguments about whose sperm to use so they direct the clinic to use, mix, both men’s sperm so that random chance decides.  They two contract with an an anonymous egg donor.  The gestational surrogate is paid a handsome sum and all of her medical and living expenses are paid during the pregnancy.  Under the old rule, she has no genetic (“blood”) connection with the resulting child.  The child is delivered into the arms of the waiting men.  They raise the child as their own… until disaster strikes and one is killed in an accident.  The homophobic parents of the dead man demand a paternity test to prove that they have genetic “blood” rights to the child and the other dad does not.  Who wins?  Under the old patriarchy, it all comes down to the result of the paternity (grandpaternity?) test.  Under the new rule, no test is undertaken, as it would be meaningless.  Both dads are equally their child’s parents and the grandparents, having contributed NOTHING to the wellbeing of the child in the past have no hold on that child.  The surviving man has full parental rights with none shared with the grandparents.

Now let’s look a VERY real world situation created with modern reproductive medical technology.  A married gay male couple, one a native born US citizen, the other a new green card holder, decide to have a child together using surrogacy.  They don’t want to have any arguments about whose sperm to use so they direct the clinic to use, mix, both men’s sperm so that random chance decides.  They two contract with an an anonymous egg donor.  The gestational surrogate in Canada is paid a handsome sum and all of her medical and living expenses are paid during the pregnancy.  Under the old rule, she has no genetic (“blood”) connection with the resulting child.  The child is delivered into the arms of the waiting men.  The couple takes the child to the US embassy which then demands a paternity test, because the child was “born out of wedlock” and only if the child is the “blood” relation of the US citizen will they grant the child US citizenship and a passport.  The law is both homophobically discriminating against a gay couple but also using the old “blood” superstition as a marker of parental connection.

Now let’s consider the case of a lesbian couple who meet and marry.  One of the partners has an infant when they meet.  Together, they raise the child for several years until disaster strikes with the birth mother killed.  The birth mother’s parents, the child’s grandparents, who have been close and have provided both financial and emotional support to the family, including childcare on numerous occasions, now want full custody and claim “blood” parental rights.  Who wins?  In the old days, these women’s relationship would have been ignored and the grandparents given full and sole custody.  In this case, everyone has some parental equity.  But the married partner has more, having been the day to day co-mom, genetic relations or no.  Everyone has a right to continued connections with the child and the child has rights to them.

We do not “own” our DNA.  We jointly share temporary custody of it with all of humanity.  We do not “own” our children and grandchildren, we earn our rights to be caring parents and grandparents.  And that goes double for those that we adopt !

And finally, NO, men do NOT get to force women to carry a rapists child, or any child for that matter.  NO, a rapist does NOT have parental rights under any circumstances!

Further External Reading:

When Your Rapist Demands Custody


Pondering: A Guest Essay by Phillip Alvelda

Today I am publishing an essay by Phillip Alvelda.  He was the CEO of MicroDisplay Corp. a start-up that I joined as employee #13 in 1997.

Pondering by Phillip Alvelda

Pondering how to close what seems to be a rapidly widening empathy gap here in the U.S. and globally.

I used to just be resigned to the fact that many of my white friends who had never felt, or experienced discrimination directed at themselves seem incapable of seeing or recognizing implicit, or even explicit, bias directed at others. I didn’t used to think of these people as mean or racist…just oblivious through lack of direct experience.

But now, with a nation inflamed by our own government inciting and validating hatred and bigotry, with brown asylum seekers and children dying in mass US internment camps, and LGBTQ and women’s’ rights under mounting assault, the discrimination has literally turned lethal. And the empathy gap is enabling these crimes against humanity to continue and grow in the US now, just like the silent majority in Weimar Germany allowed the Jewish genocide to advance.

I’ve come to see supporters of this corrupt and criminal administration as increasingly complicit in the ongoing crimes. It is no longer just a matter of not seeing discrimination that doesn’t impact your family directly.

Trump supporters and anyone who supports any of his Republican enablers must now find some way to look past the growing reports of discrimination, minority voter suppression and gerrymandering, hate crimes, repression, the roll back of women’s and LGBTQ rights, a measurable biased justice system, mass internment camps, and now even the murder of the weak and vulnerable kidnapped children that commit no crime other than to follow our own ancestors to seek freedom and opportunity in the US….. This growing mass of willfully blind conservatives have abandoned fair morality, and are direct enablers of evil.

We are now in an era I never thought to see in the US, when government manufactured propaganda is purposely driving the dehumanization of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. The US empathy gap is widening rapidly. How can we fight these dark divisive forces and narrow the gap, when our polarized society can’t even agree on measurable objective realities like the climate crisis?

Otherwise, I fear the U.S. is on a path to dissolve into at least two countries, divided along a border between those states who value empathy and seek an inclusive and pluralistic future society, and those who seek to retreat to tribal protectionism of historical rights for a shrinking privileged majority.

That this struggle rises now really baffles me. Consider the world’s obviously increasing wealth and abundance, with declining poverty and starvation and increasing access to virtually unlimited renewable energy. The need for tribal dominance to horde resources is dissapearing. The need for borders to protect resources that are no longer scarce, is vanishing.

Just imagine if all of our military and arms spending, all of the money we spend enforcing borders and limiting access to food and medicine and energy and education were instead directed towards sharing this abundance!

Pluralism and empathy are clearly the answer. How can we get more people to realize this despite the onslaught of vitriol and tribal Incitement from the likes of Fox News?

Ugliness of Intergenerational Hate

Candice eetimesFor generations, we’ve seen snarky attitudes and unwarranted over generalizations expressed about different birth cohorts.   One can hear comments in film from the 1930’s about, “kids now days” and the young adults of the ’50’s talking about “squares”.  But lately, I’ve seen it boil over to the point where one sees calumny openly published in what many would consider main stream publications as regular fare.  The ugliness has gotten to the point where insouciant youth use the term “boomer” as a slur amongst themselves.

In one example written by Vrabel, he tells us that Baby Boomers were responsible for the McCarthy Era.  Never mind that the oldest ‘boomers were in elementary school at the time!  Then goes on to blame ‘boomers for ruining the economy.  Never mind that they too were badly hurt by economic downturns.  And it’s not like such downturns were invented by ‘boomers, as though they had never occured before.  This is followed by a list of “advice” the author attributes to ‘boomers that can only be described as deliberate strawmen, as it was the boomer generation that decried some of them first decades ago, and at least one of them is a distortion of ‘boomers pointing out that parents might want to go back to the “free range” childhood that we (yes I’m a ‘boomer) had the privilege of experiencing and that cutting edge millennials are once again adopting.

How many times have we heard lately that ‘boomers should make way younger people.  As though we have hung onto jobs too long.  Never mind that far too many ‘boomers don’t have enough to retire on.  We hear complaints about how ‘boomer politicians are holding onto political power and not making way for younger people.  Never mind that WWII vets held political power from just after the war until very recently.  In fact, even now, twenty-three of the one hundred senators currently serving are OLDER than the oldest ‘boomers.  If young people want to blame anyone for our political troubles that we have ALL suffered under, blame them, not us.  But even then, that’s not a fair indictment.  Politics is complicated.

How many times have we heard that millennials are lazy, entitled, and spend all of their money on stuff they don’t need?  While, in truth, some of this generation carries a student debt load that crushes all their dreams of home and family, while cheerfully working low wage jobs?

I have a very simple test I use to determine if something is ugly and hateful.  If the group being commented upon are substituted with another group to which we would recognize the unfair characterizations, we can see it for the hateful lies they are.  For example, if we were to replace “baby boomers” with “Jews”… or “millennials” with “blacks” would we then recognize how ugly and hatefully false these statements are?  Try it out on the linked essays.

If these same essays had actually been written about Jews or Blacks, there would have those who would rightly point out the unwarranted hate and push to have them censured (if not censored).  We would point out how such hate has led to discrimination and tragedy.  So why do we tolerate it between generations?

Examples of Hateful Articles & Books:

“The Terrible Parenting Advice Baby Boomers Need to Stop Telling Us” by Jeff Vrabel, Fatherly (2019)

The Modern Armchair Tourist

Candice eetimesTravelogs, in print and film, have for over a century provided the armchair tourist opportunities to vicariously visit famous or out of the way places around the world.  But the internet, and especially Google Street View offer the opportunity to explore the world in greater detail and at one’s own choosing.  It has opened my eyes to insights I don’t think I would have had in any other way.

My husband and I both love old house architecture.  We both love “old house porn”, looking at online real estate listing of Victorian and Edwardian houses, sometimes in house envy, sometimes in bleak dismay at the run down condition or worse, the misguided “renovations” of previous owners.

Along with looking at the houses, I like looking at the gardens.  Some of these houses, like those in Portland, OR, have magnificent ones.  But, amazingly, some, especially those in the mid-west and south, have no gardens to speak of, just crab-grass and weeds.

Taking virtual ‘drives’ around old neighborhoods in various parts of the country, I’ve noticed that there are entire towns and counties that have that same run down look.  No gardens, not even flower pots on the porches.  Interestingly, these places seem to be those that are economically depressed and ‘blowing away’.  Just as I’ve used the sight of bars on the windows of urban houses as a sign of urban distress, the total lack of gardens in a town tell me that this town is failing.

Gardening is NOT expensive.  One can grow a lot of flowers from inexpensive seed or bulk bulbs.  One can grow roses from cuttings from neighbors.  There are entire books on how to landscape on the cheap.  Many of these gardenless towns clearly used to have lovely gardens and tree lined streets.  It isn’t just a matter of money.  No, it’s as if they have no pride of place, no plans for a better tomorrow.  These are places where anyone with any “get up and go… got up and left”; Places where every June, the best and brightest of the young people graduating from high school head off to college and never come back, leaving the less ambitious behind.

These are the places where we find the diseases of despair, alcoholism, meth, and opioid addiction.  The places where “Make America Great Again” actually has meaning, ’cause they used to be great places, but no more.

A lovely garden is a sign that the people who live there believe in a future.  The lack says the opposite.  Take a virtual tour of these towns… and see the death of hope.

Officially Retiring…

Candice eetimesI’m officially retiring from a long career in technology, primarily the electronic display and semiconductor industries.  But that doesn’t mean that I will stop working.  Like my father, Jerry, who officially retired from his career in polymer chemistry only to reinvent himself as an expert on recreational deep sea fishing and as an entrepreneur establishing a brand of high end fishing line.  I won’t be sitting at home.  I will be pursuing two post-retirement careers, one as a writer the other as a flight instructor.

I will of course, continue as an advisor to those I have have already committed, Belle Capital, Springboard Fund, and Vital Vio.  I will remain as a board member of Positive Images, a local non-profit mental health resource / drop-in center for LGBT youth.

I’ve had a long career in technology, starting in 1976 as a 19 year old administrative assistant / secretary at CMX Systems, which made computer video editing suites back when that meant a DEC PDP-11 controlling video tape recorders.  I became an electronics assembler, then a technician.  I worked for MCA DiscoVision mastering the very first video laser discs to go to market.  I worked for Conrac Video on their assembly line testing and repairing CRT monitors (remember those?).

In the ’80s, I worked at Fairchild Semiconductor in their digital test systems division designing hybrid microelectronics and supervising a prototyping fab, then worked for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in their then new packaging R&D lab.  In the late ’80s, I founded Triskon to develop a MEMS based flatpanel display technology.  We failed to get past the seed stage, though I did build a very crude operating prototype.

Starting in 1990, I worked at Planar Systems in R&D developing manufacturing technology to enable color displays.  While there, I began independent research into subpixel rendering and novel color subpixel arrangements.  In the mid-90s I worked at Photonic Packaging Technologies improving their laser diode packaging design and manufacturing line.  In the late ’90s I worked at The MicroDisplay Corp. bringing up their LCOS pilot line.

In 2000 I founded Clairvoyante to develop and license PenTile subpixel rendering technology.  Clairvoyante was acquired by Samsung in 2008.  I then founded Nouvoyance to support further development of the technology in partnership with Samsung.  In 2014, I was awarded the Otto Schade Prize by the Society for Information Display, my proudest moment, even as it coincided with shutting down most of the co-work with Samsung having successfully supported PenTile technology introduction and shipping in millions of smartphones, notebooks, tablets, laptops, etc., per year.

The past five years I’ve been consulting with various display companies, both in the US and overseas.  But that is now officially done.

I’ve worked with some amazing people over the past four decades, too many to list here.  (And if I forgot to mention a few, I would feel bad for having unintentially slighted them.)  I learned a lot from them and am grateful for their support.  Thank you.

The Cool War

Candice eetimesIn his 1981 science fiction novel, The Cool War, Frederik Pohl described a global conflict in which active economic sabotage up to and including biological warfare, not to kill or permanently maim, but to put pressure on the economies of their enemies by pulling workers out sick and to raise their health care expenditures.  In the story, children were deliberately infected with an engineered viral illness and sent on “good-will” tours of the enemy nations.

Today, we find ourselves in an actual, real life cool war with Russia.  However, they have figured out a very clever and inexpensive way to create the desired epidemics – and they don’t even have to bioengineer a new virus.  All they have to do is amplify and spread anti-vaccine propaganda and disinformation via the internet.  Get even a small number of people in the West to refuse or delay vaccination of their children and/or themselves and latent illnesses such as measles and influenza will do the job for them, and its working.    For each child that is sick, a parent stays home from work to tend that child.

Today, we see an epidemic of measles, once thought to be eradicated in the industrialized nations, showing up in pockets of distrustful communities influenced by anti-vaxxer propaganda.  Which disease will be next?

Further External Reading:

The Most Boring Subject In School

Candice eetimesWhen I was a Senior in high school, I took the last class one was required to take to graduate, U.S. History.  After the instructor passed out our ponderously thick, heavy textbooks, I flipped through the pages… “yep” I though to myself.  The same old mix of shallow knowledge of dates, “important people”, wars, hagiography, and lies.  Yes, lies.  Worst of all, even the truly important stuff was written in the most boring dry prose, drained of both context and drama.  I was convinced that it was deliberate so that we wouldn’t become curious about our history, so that we would be unable to question authority.  Yes, I was that cynical.  When I closed the book that first day of class, it was the last time the book was opened until another student was to be in possession.  Of course, I got an “A” in the class.

High school history textbooks are the worst places from which to learn our nation’s history.  It’s no wonder that so many people are so mislead.  History is also the only subject in college where the first task of the professors is to disabuse their students of misinformation and even disinformation that they learned in highschool.  Every other subject the profs may build upon an earlier foundation.  But in history, it is not possible.

So, unless you were a history major in college, you, my dear reader, likely have all sorts of junk “history” rattling around in your memory.  What to do?  Read some real history.

First, read Lies My Teacher Told Me:

Then, read a more honest book like A People’s History of the United States:

But don’t stop there.  Keep reading, keep looking for more and better texts.  In addition to reading about history, take advantage of films and documentaries.  But avoid like the plague, the “History Channel”.  The material there has not only been watered down, but is repetitively boring!

I have this daydream of historians creating a curated list of good dramatizations of historical events so as to put some meat on those dry bones… and allowing high school students to watch those films followed by classroom discussions.  Maybe then history won’t be the most boring class in high school.

What would be your recommendations on books, documentaries, and historical drama films and why?

America Revised by Frances FitzGerald (1979) is a history of American history text books.

Historical Military Drama & Propaganda Films:
The Crossing shows the famous crossing of the Deleware which bolstered the struggling Continental Army during the early phase of the American War for Independence.

The Scarlet Coat depicts the humanity of both sides of the American War for Independence, the unmasking of Benedict Arnold as a traitor to the American side, and the cruel treatment that was meted out to “spies” by both sides.  A few liberties are taken with the history, but the drama, politics, and emotion itself are accurate.

The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell is a classic Hollywood style film dramatizing the career of Col. Billy Mitchell.  Mitchell was an advocate for air power for both land and sea operations.  He strongly advocated the development of aircraft carriers and deprecated the utility of battleships, having demonstrated that they were extremely vulnerable to air attack.  Mitchell prophetically predicted that the Empire of Japan would one day attack Pearl Harbor by air.

Tora, Tora, Tora is reasonably accurate account of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan using carrier based aircraft.  The key element of the film is that the US intelligence services had already cracked the Japanese diplomatic and military codes but failed to warn US forces of then known attack plans against on Hawaii and the Philippines

30 Seconds Over Tokyo may be a bit of Hollywood over dramatization and war propaganda, but it tells the story of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo using B-25 “Mitchell” bombers which demonstrated to the Empire of Japan that the US Navy could respond to the Pearl Harbor attack and bring the war back to their territory by using the same carrier based aircraft tactic and how the Chinese and Americans were allies during the war.

Midway is an accurate dramatization of the Battle of Midway Island in which US Naval forces took the initiative to engage the Japanese navel forces using aircraft from aircraft carriers, using intelligence gathered from having previously cracked the Japanese military codes.  This is believed to be the turning point of the war and the first naval engagement in which the ships never came in direct sight of each other.  The decision to attack Midway Island was made soon after and likely a response to the Doolittle raids.

Victory Through Air Power is a combination of propaganda and educational film produced by the Disney Studios during the war.  It documents the rationale for the massive “total war” bombing of both military and civilian economic targets in Japan and Germany.  It’s actual utility has been questioned, but one can’t understand the bombing campaigns in WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam without understanding it’s historical theoretical roots as a war strategy.  The film mixes animation and technicolor photography in a masterful and artfully beautiful film about a deeply troubling subject.

Fat Man and Little Boy is a hollywood drama about the development of the first atomic bombs.  Some dramatic license was taken, but it does convey the tenor and tone of mix of fear and sense of urgency felt by the various teams as they wondered if the NAZI regime in Germany would be first to build them.  One can not understand our modern world without understanding what drove these scientists and military planners to develop them.