Random ideas

Epigenetics and how that extra donut/cigarette/whiskey can adversely affect the lifespan of your children

One of the many perks of my job is that I receive all the daily newspapers and weekly magazines in the library. In order to better promote them in the school I work, I spend a few minutes each morning perusing them for interesting or relevant stories. I then send out an email to the whole school reporting on the new issues in the library and stories that I think would be relevant.

Yesterday the most recent issue of Time magazine came in, with this article on the cover. Here is how the author, Mr. Cloud, described the study of epigenetics:

At its most basic, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity
that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed
down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of
gene expression are governed by the cellular material — the epigenome
— that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix
epi-, which means above). It is these epigenetic “marks” that tell
your genes to switch on or off, to speak loudly or whisper. It is
through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like diet, stress
and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed
from one generation to the next.

So basically, you make some bad lifestyle choices, you’re offspring can suffer from it. And their offspring can suffer from the ill-effects as well. Let’s say you overeat or you are a smoker. Your children may have a lower life expectancy and be more at risk for things like heart disease because of it.

Fascinating, huh? Although these environmental factors affecting the epigenomes do not alter your basic DNA, meaning that actual mutation is still a very slow process, it looks like the choices you make in your life will biologically affect your children. Yay. Just another way we can ensure that Mr. Larkin’s poem comes true:

This be the verse

They fuck you up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-stylen hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Yep. Ain’t that the truth? (Except for maybe that last part…)

The Scary World of Digital Rights Management

In other random ideas and thoughts that have come across my line of thought these days is this wonderful speech by Cory Doctorow called How to destroy the book. Given at the National Reading Summit held at the ROM in November, Doctorow talks about how one of the joys of books is our ownership of them. For example, I take a book out of the library. I like it so much, I go out and buy it. Now it is sitting on my shelf in my house. A friend comes over for coffee, we get to talking and the book comes up.

“What? You haven’t read _____? Oh my god. You have to read it. Here. Borrow my copy.” And I go to the shelf, take it down and place it in the hands of my friend. No copyright has been broken as it was mine to lend. I owned that book.

With DRM, even though we “buy” something, we do not have the right to “lend” these books anymore. Doctorow makes the very good point that you are no longer an owner of your music, audio books, etc. but are now just a license holder, with an increasingly long license agreement written in painfully arcane legalese.

Another thing he mentions, which I had no idea of and really should know, being a librarian and all, was the new laws being negotiated at this very moment by our own government, ones like France’s new 3 strikes policy. This is how he describes it:

Three strikes works like this: if anyone you live with is accused of three acts of copyright infringement, without any proof, without any evidence, without a judge, without a jury, without a lawyer, without due process, your Internet connection is taken away and your name is added to a register of people for whom it is illegal to provide Internet access for a period of time. In France, where this law was just passed, it’s a year.

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