#FamilyLawReform: 10 Most Surprising Things About #FosterCare!

The 10 Most Surprising Things About Foster Care ~ Foster Children’s Rights Coalition – FosteringRights.org, HUFFPOST BLOG,  04/15/2015.

1. Foster care is all around us.

I saw a tweet once from a radio personality that asked, “When I go to a foster parent training, why am I the only one who doesn’t look like he’s going to a monster truck rally?”

When my husband and I got licensed for foster care so that we could adopt a child who was waiting for a family, we thought we would be alone on this journey within our social circles. After all, foster parents have a certain reputation. Now, I realize it’s not a reputation as much as it’s a stereotype.

Trust me when I tell you that there are foster families all around you. Foster families go to your church. Foster children go to school with your children. Foster children are on your children’s sports teams. Your children are friends with them, but they don’t know they are foster children. Foster children don’t like to talk about it. Speaking of not liking to talk about it…

2. Asking for a foster child’s backstory story is hurtful.

If someone dear to your heart was struggling with drug addiction or mental illness, how much detail would you want to share with a stranger? What if your loved one had just overdosed and died? What if your spouse ran off with one of your parents? What if your mother was hooking in the next room over? How much of this story would you want to tell to anyone?

Random people, even strangers, ask foster children questions like, “Why are you in foster care?” or “Are you going to be adopted?” or “Where are your parents?” These questions bring the deepest pain and darkest fears to the surface.

Most foster children feel uncomfortable with the questions, but don’t want to be rude by not answering. Many foster children do not have healthy boundaries. Some foster children will want to talk too much. For some, talking with strangers about deeply personal matters feeds a desperate need for connection in a very unhealthy way.

3. Foster children must leave everyone and everything behind.

These children are grieving everything. Imagine waking up one day in a new home with a new family in a new neighborhood and being sent to a new school where you know no one and no one knows you. You have no one to talk to. You don’t have any of your things. You don’t know where anything is organized or stored in the house. Imagine, you’ve heard the worst foster care horror stories on the news, and now you’ve been dropped into a foster home — alone.

Remember the last time you stayed in someone’s house as a guest. Every interaction in a new home feels like an intrusion. Now, imagine that you stayed there after losing your entire family, all of your friends, and everyone else you know. Imagine coming as a guest in someone’s home with none of your belongings — no extra underwear, no toiletries, none of the things you’d pack on a trip. Imagine how long it would take for you to truly feel at home in this new environment.

No matter how hard foster families work to make foster children feel loved and accepted, these adjustments take time.

4. Many of these kids have lived without water or electricity.

My adopted son did not have running water or electricity before he came into foster care at 5 years old. The swish and sound of a toilet flushing scared him. He didn’t know how to use toilet paper. Some foster children have not understood that toilet paper goes into the toilet. My son did not know how to wash himself.

Without electricity, food options are also limited. Many children coming into foster care have a limited palate because they simply have not been exposed to many foods. They’ve usually eaten very few fresh vegetables and fruit because they don’t have refrigeration. They have eaten lots of canned foods, “instant” foods, and dry cereal (without milk). After nearly two years, my son still does not like hot foods. Speaking of food…

5. Food is a major issue in a way we could not have imagined.

I cannot count how many new foster parents accuse foster children of “stealing” food. Some foster parents become so frustrated that they lock up their pantries. Sometimes, there are valid fears about health issues — especially for kids with diabetes and kids who gorge on very unhealthy food items. For example, my son will down an entire spice packet if given the chance. Other foster parents worry about their food bills when they see small children eating two or three times the amount a grown man should eat.

These children are not stealing food. They are stocking up in case the food runs out. This was their experience for too many years. My oldest child who spent a decade in foster care eats as if she is in prison — one arm casually placed around the perimeter of her place setting, two watchful eyes, waiting for someone to take her food. My youngest talks about life with his birth mother — crying all night, unable to sleep because being hungry hurt so much.

These kids often spend years hoarding food because they “know” the food will eventually run out. They “know” that someday they will once again have to go days without food. If you find one hiding place, they have five more backup places. Once, we found an entire loaf of bread and two jars of peanut butter hidden in the most ingenious place in a closet. We found a pyramid of Doritos carefully stacked under a bed. We found a trove of food treasures carefully hidden behind a headboard. There are therapists who specialize in food hoarding caused by neglect.

6. There is little you can do about a bad social worker.

We’ve had more good caseworkers than bad caseworkers, but the bad ones will make life a living hell. One caseworker got so angry about a child not wanting to speak to her that she told us we had to remove the girl’s bedroom and bathroom doors. She told us she would not leave our house until we followed her orders. Luckily, the law in Arizona was on our side, and foster homes are required to have a door on any bedroom belonging to a foster child.

When social workers have engaged in behavior that is clearly unethical, they are rarely held accountable even when complaints are made through the proper channels. The grievance process is basically this: (1) Talk to a supervisor, (2) Talk to the supervisor’s supervisor, (3) Talk to a bureau chief, (4) Call the governor’s ombudsman. Over five years of foster care support groups, we’ve seen and done all of the above. Each time, foster parents have been reassured that the behavior is unacceptable, but nothing changes with the caseworker or the case. The closest thing to accountability is usually just lip service.

7. Some social workers are way past jaded and cynical. They are desperate and dispirited.

Some social workers manage to keep the optimism that brought them into this field of work. Most, though, have seen the underbelly of the system, and they know there is only so much they can do. They focus on putting out fires and stabilizing where they can.

Because the focus is on putting out fires and stabilizing unstable situations, foster children who are seen as relatively stable can be put on the back burner. Simple requests and questions, even important ones, will sometimes not get a response for weeks — sometimes months.

Things have gotten worse over the years, not better. One social worker said this morning, “In 1999, I had 18 kids. In 2012, I had 51. I could only put out the fire of the day. I was always one who knew all my kids and families, but with 51 kids, I couldn’t keep thing straight. It was too hard to even make a dent or be effective.”

8. Foster children often sleep in offices or cubicles.

Social workers place children in homes out of desperation because otherwise, the children on their caseloads will sleep in the child welfare office in a sleeping bag or on a cot. Even worse, some kids end up in shelters or group homes (i.e., modern day orphanages) for the long haul.

To get a child placed into a foster family, some caseworkers will often say anything to get a child placed and will neglect to share important information. For example, we had a child placed in our home once who had stabbed someone repeatedly and had been arrested for multiple assaults on different people. The caseworker, who had picked up this child from jail 4 days earlier, told us that the child had no behaviors. We later learned that this child had been sleeping in the office, and the caseworker was required to stay there with her. The caseworker was desperate to get home to her own family. She placed this child out of desperation because the Arizona foster care system does not have mental health treatment in place for children with these types of mental health challenges.

Over five years of foster parent support groups, we have seen this happen to families with absolute consistency. When we ask the caseworker why they did not disclose, they are clear, “Because you would not have taken this child.” I have personally heard these words from four different caseworkers, and many foster parents in our support groups have heard the same words.

When we go up the chain to hold the workers accountable, they don’t even bother to find out what happened. The response is always, “They probably just did not know that information.” This, above all, makes foster parents want to run screaming for the hills, because the caseworkers don’t even deny it. Yet, the administration denies it because they understand the legal liability of recognizing this problem. After all, the courts have indicated that foster families have a Fourteenth Amendment right to disclosure of known risks. And that’s not even getting into the civil rights of the foster children who deserve to have their mental health needs met.

9. Social workers are stereotyped as much as foster parents.

Based on the last two points above, you’ve probably already got a distaste for social workers, but let me reassure you, again, that most social workers are good people doing their best in a system that constrains them.

They work long hours. They drudge through endless paperwork. They drive and drive and drive, trying to see each kid in their current residence each month. Imagine having 50 kids on your caseload, spread across more than 9,000 square miles with a population of nearly four million. Imagine having to visit each of those children in their place of residence every 30 days and visit their birth parents, too, all while coordinating services for the children and their parents.

Social workers also have to write a monthly report for each kid, write frequent court reports, compile evidence and information for the Attorney General’s office, and send reports to the judges.

When a child has a mental health crisis, the caseworker can spend hours or days just setting up supports and services to stabilize the situation. When a child needs to be moved, the caseworker has to find the child a bed, and did we mention that there is such a shortage of foster parents that children are sleeping in offices…

All of these things cover only part of a social worker’s job.

10. Parental rights are often considered before the best interest of the child.

The courts have ruled that parenting is a Constitutional right. The state can only intervene in parenting matters when the well-being of a child is endangered, and once the state intervenes, the state must make its best attempt to help the family heal and reunify through services, supports and visitation. In order to stop working toward reunification, the state must prove that parents cannot engage in “minimally adequate parenting.”

This is both good and bad. In many cases, the birth parents are repeating the cycle of abuse and neglect that they learned as children. Many of these parents can and do learn to be better parents. Sometimes, poverty brings children into foster care, and love drives those parents to improve their situation for their kids. Family reunification efforts were meant for these families.

Then, there are the children who have suffered from severe, chronic abuse and neglect. Federal law says that egregious cases with “aggravating circumstances” (i.e., abandonment, chronic abuse, torture) can be expedited to protect children from being returned to unsafe homes and from staying in foster care for too long. However, loopholes and exceptions can be the norm for these cases, and children are routinely subjected to extensive reunification procedures that are unnecessary, harmful and risky. They, too, get an automatic case plan of “family reunification,” including visitation between terrified, traumatized children and their abusers. Even when children express their fears and try to refuse visits, they are told, “Visits cannot be stopped.”


Israel “directly targeted” children in drone strikes on Gaza, says rights group

truthaholics:

The world must rise up and stop indiscriminate child slaughter – antisemitism at its worst.

Originally posted on Stop Making Sense:

Rania Khalek reports for Electronic Intifada:

Israel deliberately targeted children in Gaza last summer, according to a new report by Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine).

Of the 2,220 Palestinians killed during Israel’s 51-day bombing campaign, at least 1,492 were civilians, including at least 547 children.

A total of 535 of those children were killed as a direct result of Israeli attacks. Moreover, 68 percent of children Israel killed in Gaza were under the age of twelve, according to the report.

An additional 3,374 children were injured, including over 1,000 who have been left with lifelong disabilities, many of which require medical care that is inaccessible in Gaza due to a crushing Israeli siege that has yet to be lifted. Another 373,000 children are suffering from deep trauma and require desperately needed psychosocial support that is severely lacking in the Gaza Strip.

As a matter of policy, Israel deliberately and indiscriminately targeted the very spaces where children are supposed…

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#DarkEnergySurvey (DES) Scientists Map #DarkMatter Around Millions of Galaxies!

Scientists Map the Dark Matter Around Millions of Galaxies ~ 

The first Dark Energy Survey map to trace the dark matter distribution across a large area of sky. The colors indicate projected mass density. (Image: Dark Energy Survey)

This week, scientists with the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration released the first in a series of detailed maps charting the distribution of dark matter inferred from its gravitational effects. The new maps confirm current theories that suggest galaxies will form where large concentrations of dark matter exist. The new data show large filaments of dark matter where visible galaxies and galaxy clusters lie and cosmic voids where very few galaxies reside.

“Our analysis so far is in line with what the current picture of the universe predicts,” said Chihway Chang from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, a co-leader of the analysis. “Zooming into the maps, we have measured how dark matter envelops galaxies of different types and how together they evolve over cosmic time.”

The research and maps, which span a large area of the sky, are the product of a massive effort of an international team from the US, UK, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil. They announced their new results at the American Physical Society (APS) meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to cosmologists, dark matter particles stream and clump together over time in particular regions of the cosmos, often in the same places where galaxies form and cluster. Over time, a “cosmic web” develops across the universe. Though dark matter is invisible, it expands with the universe and feels the pull of gravity. Astrophysicists then can reconstruct maps of it by surveying millions of galaxies, much like one might infer the shifting orientation of a flock of birds from its shadow moving along the ground.

DES scientists created the maps with one of the world’s most powerful digital cameras, the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera (DECam), which is particularly sensitive to the light from distant galaxies. It is mounted on the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco Telescope, located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in northern Chile. Each of its images records data from an area 20 times the size of the moon as seen from earth.

In addition, DECam collects data nearly ten times faster than previous machines. According to David Bacon, at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, “This allows us to stare deeper into space and see the effects of dark matter and dark energy with greater clarity. Ironically, although these dark entities make up 96% of our universe, seeing them is hard and requires vast amounts of data.”

The silvered dome of the Blanco 4-meter telescope holds the DECam at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. (Photo credit: T. Abbott and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

The telescope and its instruments enable precise measurements utilizing a technique known as “gravitational lensing.” Astrophysicists study the small distortions and shear of images of galaxies due to the gravitational pull of dark matter around them, similar to warped images of objects in a magnifying glass, except that the lensed galaxies observed by the DES scientists are at least 6 billion light-years away.

Chang and Vinu Vikram (Argonne National Laboratory) led the analysis, with which they traced the web of dark matter in unprecedented detail across 139 square degrees of the southern hemisphere. “We measured the barely perceptible distortions in the shapes of about 2 million galaxies to construct these new maps,” Vikram said. This amounts to less then 0.4% of the whole sky, but the completed DES survey will map out more than 30 times this area over the next few years.

They submitted their research paper for publication in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the DES team publicly released it as part of a set of papers on the arXiv.org server on Tuesday.

The precision and detail of these large contiguous maps being produced by DES scientists will allow for tests of other cosmological models. “I’m really excited about what these maps will tell us about dark matter in galaxy clusters especially with respect to theories of modified gravity,” says Robert Nichol (University of Portsmouth). Einstein’s model of gravity, general relativity, could be incorrect on large cosmological scales or in the densest regions of the universe, and ongoing research with the Dark Energy Survey will facilitate investigations of this.

Related

Twenty Years Later: Unreported Facts About the OKC Bombing

Originally posted on Stop Making Sense:

Kevin Ryan writes for Dig Within:

OKC Murrah[April 19th] will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people including 19 children. The mainstream media will undoubtedly focus its attention on Timothy McVeigh, who was put to death in June 2001 for his part in the crime. They might also mention Terry Nichols, who was convicted of helping McVeigh plan the bombing and is serving a life sentence without parole.

There will be less discussion about how the FBI spent years hunting for a man who witnesses say accompanied McVeigh on the day of the bombing. They called this accomplice John Doe #2 and theories about his identity range from an Iraqi named Hussain Al-Hussaini, to a German national described below, to a neo-nazi bank robber named Richard Guthrie. The Justice Department finally gave up its search and said…

View original 303 more words

The Real Boss of ISIS, Iraqi Gen. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Killed In Tikrit

Originally posted on ThereAreNoSunglasses:

Gen. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri

[Iraqi General al-Douri, right-hand of Saddam Hussein, is the one element that can explain both Al-Q In Iraq and Al-Q In Arabian Peninsula.  His spy network in Iraq automatically reported to him the names of those released from US prisoner of war camps, like Camp Bucca, as well as the names of Saudis released from Guantanamo into Saudi rehabilitation programs, the alma mater of all Al-Q in Yemen leaders.  (SEE: What is the truth about ISIS?Yemen–al-Munasaha , Saudi Re-Education)]

Hussein deputy, insurgent leader al-Douri killed, Iraqi TV reports

Iraq: Understanding the coup in Mosul and its consequences

[PART ONE published previously (SEE: The Very Real Conspiracy Between Al Douri’s Baathists and ISIS In Mosul).]

All the cards are in Bashar al-Assad’s hands

alakhbar

A woman holds a picture of re-elected Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as she celebrates in Damascus after he was announced as the winner of the country’s…

View original 1,169 more words

#ROAR: 70 people were injured while filming this movie with 100 untamed lions!

70 people were injured while filming this movie with 100 untamed lions ~ Business Insider.

Warning: This video contains blood and gore. 

Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren and their family lived with 140 untrained animals, including 100 untamed lions in what is called “the most dangerous movie ever made”. The idea for “Roar” was conceived after the couple toured several safari wildlife preserves and were struck by the scene of an abandoned plantation house overrun by lions.

The entire Marshall family moved along with their pride of 100 lions to a ranch property 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and began shooting.  They were forced to film documentary style after they realized that they could rarely get through a scene without the lions attacking.

The cast suffered serious injuries over the 11 years the movie was filmed. Tippi Hedren endured a fractured leg and deep scalp wounds. Noel Marshall was gored so many times that he was eventually hospitalized with gangrene. And their daughter Melanie Griffith was mauled by a lion, resulting in over 100 stitches and reconstructive surgery. Her real-life mauling is on display in the final cut of the film.

The film was originally released in 1981 and will have a limited theatrical release this spring, and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand platforms later this summer.

Video courtesy of Drafthouse Films

http://www.businessinsider.com/roar-filmed-with-100-untamed-lions-movie-injured-2015-4#ooid=Nzc3hmdDr4a5heo3T-j-WFkV1wYM_fEN

Visit drafthousefilms.com for more information on the film


ALSO SEE:

Utterly Terrifying ROAR, Starring Tippi Hedren And Melanie Griffith, Joins Pride Of Drafthouse Films ~ , BADASS DIGEST, February 19, 2015.

The infamous, rarely seen ’80s cult classic starring Hedren, Griffith and over 150 lions, tigers, and other untamed animals is slated for a theatrical release starting April 2015.

Utterly Terrifying ROAR, Starring Tippi Hedren And Melanie Griffith, Joins Pride Of Drafthouse Films

Updated:

Drafthouse Films has partnered with Olive Films to release Noel Marshall’s sole – and career-derailing – directoral effort, the notorious 1981 family affair with big cats, Roar.The film will have a limited theatrical release across the US this spring, and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand platforms later this summer.

An unprecedented and wholly unpredictable action-adventure, Roar follows wildlife preservationist Hank (Marshall), who lives harmoniously alongside a menagerie of untamed animals, including cheetahs, elephants, lions and tigers on a preservation in the African plains. When his wife and children arrive for a visit, a long-brewing battle for dominance between two lions erupts and threatens their very lives.

“Traditionally, press releases give you a single press quote to sell you on a movie,” says Drafthouse Films CEO and founder Tim League. “Roar is so singular, so breathtaking, I have decided instead to deliver an essay that better contextualizes the incredible awesomeness of this film. You’ve never seen a movie like Roar and there will never, ever be a movie like Roar again.”

The Grandeur of Roar
by Tim League

At LA’s legendary Cinefile Video, my favorite shelf is labeled “Holy F***ing S***.” There you’ll find rare discoveries that are beyond comprehension, movies so outlandish and surreal that you cannot fathom the divine providence that allowed such mind-bogglingly singular films to exist. One of our primary missions at Drafthouse Films is to source and rediscover forgotten classics that are worthy of this shelf. Miami Connection resides here, as does The Visitor. I am proud to share that we are partnering with Olive Films to unleash what I consider the next Holy F***ing S*** masterpiece: Tippi Hedren (The Birds) and Noel Marshall’s (The Exorcist) Roar.

Roar began while Tippi Hedren and her husband/manager Noel Marshall were shooting in Africa. After wrapping production they toured several safari wildlife preserves and were struck by the scene of an abandoned plantation house overrun by a large pride of lions. The image took root and inspired the epic eleven-year journey to create Roar.

Hedren and Marshall quickly became devoted to raising awareness about the overhunting of wild lions, tigers and jaguars, as well as the inhumane treatment of big cats in captivity. They were convinced Roar would raise awareness about what was fast becoming their purpose in life. Upon approaching animal trainers for support, they were told their idea was a suicide mission and were dismissed as “brainsick” and “completely and utterly insane.”

Undaunted, Hedren and Marshall soon learned that big cats were extremely territorial and would never coalesce unless they were raised together. In response, they began covertly adopting and breeding lions in their lush Beverly Glenn home. For six years, Hedren and her daughter—the emerging young actress, Melanie Griffith—along with Marshall and his three sons lived, slept and ate with a growing pride of lions inside their home.

As their big cat collection rose to over 100 animals, the shadow of Beverly Hills became too restrictive. The entire Marshall family moved their pride to a ranch property 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and began shooting.

Due to their familiarity with the animals, the entire cast was comprised of Marshall, Hedren, their four children and a few seasoned animal trainers. Emerging European cinematographer Jan de Bont (Speed) was recruited to shoot the film, his first American production. What followed was five years of the most terrifying and dangerous filmmaking ever committed to celluloid.

The cast and crew endured countless injuries, with over 70 bloody attacks documented. While nobody was killed, there were several close calls, most notably de Bont being scalped by a lion resulting in 220 stitches on his head. Hedren endured a fractured leg and deep scalp wounds. Griffith was mauled by a lion, resulting in over 100 stitches and reconstructive surgery. Noel was gored so many times that he was eventually hospitalized with gangrene. Maintaining a consistent crew became virtually impossible as injuries and safety risks kept them from returning to set. The production also endured multiple floods—including one that wiped out the entire set—wildfires, a feline illness that decimated their cat population and non-stop financing woes.


Jan de Bont after stitches.

Financiers pulled out two years into production, forcing Hedren and Marshall to sell virtually everything they owned to personally finance what would become a massive $5 million dollar production. Prior to producing, directing, writing and starring in Roar, Marshall was an executive producer on The Exoricst, the proceeds of which partially funded the production. As disaster after disaster plagued the set, crew began to believe that Roar had fallen prey to the legendary “curse of The Exorcist” by its financial association.

Refusing to yield to the intense adversity, de Bont, Hedren, Marshall and their family continued to heal wounds, rebuild sets, and hire crew after crew to wrap the production. The infamously disastrous production stories of Apocalypse Now and The Island Of Doctor Moreau pale in comparison to the danger and chaos that was overcome on the set of Roar.

When the movie finally debuted in 1981, Roar was deemed by Variety as the “most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood.” It was also a financial disaster. Fortunately, the passage of time affords us the perspective to view Roar for what it truly is: the most epic and amazing animal thriller ever made. It plays out like a fever-dream Disney movie. The lighthearted slapstick of the surface masks one of the most intense, white-knuckle, nail-biting thrillers ever seen. The cast is in constant mortal danger as dozens of adult lions “improvise” around them. At numerous times Marshall drips blood as he fends off ferocious advances from jaguars and tigers alike. Melanie Griffith’s real-life mauling is on display in the final cut. A jaguar licking honey off Tippi Hedren’s face was an untested idea that could have easily ended very, very badly. Knowing the backstory of the production, you can see perpetual terror in the eyes of the cast as an army of lethal predators close in around them.

Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren pulled off the impossible: For 11 years they crafted a movie that everybody said couldn’t be made. And in so doing, they managed to contribute significantly to the methodology for humane treatment of big cats in captivity.

You’ve never seen a movie like Roar and there will never, ever be a movie like Roaragain.

We are extremely proud to expose Roar to a whole new audience and salute its esteemed place on the “Holy F***ing S***” shelf for all the right reasons.

Tim League, founder Drafthouse Films


#Intelligence #HigherThought: Strange afterlife of #Einstein’s brain!

The strange afterlife of Einstein’s brain 18 April 2015, Magazine.

Einstein’s death 60 years ago was just the start of a strange journey for the most prized part of his anatomy, his brain. Stored in jars and on slides, it is still inspiring awe and scholarly research.

At 01:15 in the morning of 18 April 1955, Albert Einstein – theoretical physicist, peace campaigner and undisputed genius – mumbled a few words in German, took two breaths, and died. The nurse on duty at Princeton Hospital did not speak German and the meaning of Einstein’s final words was lost forever.

Einstein’s cremation took place later that day in Trenton, New Jersey, but the following day his son, Hans Albert, learned that the body in the coffin had not been intact. A front-page article in the New York Times reported that “the brain that worked out the theory of relativity and made possible the development of nuclear fission” had been removed “for scientific study”.

The pathologist who conducted the autopsy, Dr Thomas Harvey, had gone further than simply identifying the cause of death – a burst aorta. He had sawed open Einstein’s cranium and removed its celebrated contents.

“He had some big professional hopes pinned on that brain,” says Carolyn Abraham, who met Harvey while researching her book Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain. “I think he had hoped to make a name for himself in medicine in a way that he had been unable to do. And then he comes to work one morning and finds Albert Einstein on his autopsy table.”

Hans Albert was furious. His father had been a modest man who had been cremated without ceremony, and had asked for his ashes be scattered in secret to prevent the site becoming a place of pilgrimage.

But Einstein had also, at some point, given people to believe he was happy for scientists to use his body for research. Harvey convinced Hans Albert to grant permission for a study of Einstein’s brain in the hope it would, as the New York Times put it later, “shed light on one of nature’s greatest mysteries – the secret of genius”.

Harvey, controversially, took possession of the brain. “Whether he took it for himself, or took it for science – it was hard for people to know which, and that’s what put him in the crosshairs for a lot of people,” says the journalist Michael Paterniti, who met Harvey near the end of his life. Harvey was not a neurologist, but he promised to marshal the country’s greatest specialists to study the brain, and to publish their findings soon.

Thomas Harvey

Years passed, however, and no scientific paper emerged. After a while, Einstein’s brain was forgotten.

Then, in 1978 a young reporter, Steven Levy, was dispatched by his editor to find the illustrious organ. The brain was nowhere to be seen at Princeton Medical Center, as Princeton Hospital was then called, and neither was Thomas Harvey. Levy eventually tracked him down to Wichita, Kansas.

“I told him, ‘I’m writing a story about Einstein’s brain.’ The first thing he said was: ‘I really can’t help you with that,'” Levy remembers. “He wasn’t eager to talk.”

In the end, though, Harvey agreed to meet the reporter in his office in the small medical lab where he was working and it quickly became apparent, to Levy’s surprise, that Harvey still aspired to publish a scientific report.

“He was a somewhat introverted guy, a polite guy,” Levy recalls. “But as the conversation went on, he had a pride that he was doing this study, but he didn’t really have good answers as to why, after almost 25 years, nothing had been published.”

When Levy pressed Harvey to see some pictures of the brain, a strange look came over the doctor’s face. Grinning sheepishly, he stood up, walked behind Levy to the corner of the room, and removed a beer cooler from a stack of cardboard boxes. The bottom box was labelled Costa Cider.

“He reaches in, pulls out these big mason jars,” says Levy. “And there was Einstein’s brain. It was amazing.”

In Levy’s article, published in the New Jersey Monthly, he described the contents of one of the jars. “A conch shell-shaped mass of wrinkly material the colour of clay after firing. A fist-sized chunk of greyish, lined substance, the apparent consistency of sponge. And in a separate pouch, a mass of pinkish-white strings resembling bloated dental floss.”

A second, larger jar contained “dozens of rectangular translucent blocks, the size of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews”.

A jar containing Einstein's brain
The brain in a jar reminded Steven Levy of confectionary

The missing 23 years have now been filled in.

Back in 1955, armed with Hans Albert Einstein’s permission to conduct an investigation, Harvey had measured and photographed the brain and even commissioned a painting of it from an artist who had done portraits of his children.

In those early days, he was not acting alone, but had the support of Einstein’s executor, Otto Nathan, and the physicist’s friend, the neuropathologist Harry Zimmerman.

Harvey had overseen the division of the brain into 240 blocks, and created 12 sets of 200 slides containing tissue samples indexed to the blocks. These were delivered, as promised, to the great and the good of 1950s neuropathology.

But Harvey heard very little back from these august men. Those who did reply found it to be no different from normal, non-genius brains. This mirrored the result Harvey had received when he first weighed the brain, and found it to be – at 1,230g – towards the low end of the normal range for men of Einstein’s age.

All the time, as he energetically ferried small samples of Einstein’s brain across the US, he doggedly hung on to the bulk of it.

Among those who tried to take it from him was the US Army. “They felt that having it would put them on a par with the Russians, who were collecting their own brains at that time,” says Abraham. “People were collecting brains – it was a thing.”

Slides of Einstein's brain on display at London's Wellcome Collection, 2012
Slides of Einstein’s brain on display at London’s Wellcome Collection, 2012

But taking possession the brain set in motion a painful chain of events for Harvey.

“This was supposed to have been his great good luck charm but in fact it was much more like a relic cursed,” says Abraham. “He lost everything after he took that brain. He lost his job, he lost his marriage, he lost his career at Princeton. After the controversy over having taking the brain, he never regained his footing at the hospital.”

That explains why Harvey was in Wichita when Steven Levy caught up with him.

When the article appeared in summer 1978, Harvey was suddenly the centre of much attention. The journal Science interviewed him and reporters camped out on his lawn. He was approached for samples, by, among others, the neuro-anatomist Marian Diamond at the University of California, Berkeley. With the package that Harvey sent to Diamond by post, of four sugar cube-sized pieces of brain in a jar previously used for Kraft Miracle Whip mayonnaise, the era of Einstein brain studies finally took off.

What have these studies told us about Einstein’s brain and the nature of intelligence?

Diamond’s 1985 paper in Experimental Neurology identified one of the four brain samples as having more so-called glial cells for every neuron, compared to a control group of brains. Glial cells – which get their name from the Greek for “glue” – fix neurons into place and keep them supplied with oxygen and nutrients. In previous research on rats, Diamond had shown that a stimulating environment can lead to an increase in glial cell count. Perhaps the low ratio of neurons to glial cells in Einstein’s brain sample reflected a life devoted to the biggest and most stimulating scientific puzzles?

More studies followed.

In 1996, Britt Anderson at the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a study on Einstein’s prefrontal cortex. He found that the number of neurons was equivalent to brains in a control group, but they were more tightly packed, allowing, perhaps, for faster processing of information.

In a 1999 Lancet paper, Sandra Witelson from McMaster University in Canada studied Harvey’s original photographs of Einstein’s brain. She said that Einstein’s inferior parietal lobule – the part of the brain responsible for spatial cognition and mathematical thought – was wider than normal, and seemed better integrated. Perhaps, Witelson speculated, the shape of the brain may relate to Einstein’s own descriptions of his thinking in which “words do not seem to play any role”, but there is an “associative play” of “more or less clear images”?

In 2012, the eminent anthropologist Dean Falk worked with a set of previously unseen photographs of Einstein’s brain that Harvey had taken with an Exacta camera. She did a complete audit of the brain, naming every convolution and crevice, and found a number of unusual features.

Diagrams and pictures of Einstein's brain
Based on Falk, Lepore & Noe, 2013, The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs, Brain 136(4):1304-27. Photographs of the brain reproduced with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, MD

Perhaps the most striking is that Einstein had an extra ridge on his mid-frontal lobe, the part used for making plans and working memory. Most people have three ridges but Einstein had four. She also found Einstein’s parietal lobes were dramatically asymmetric, and he had a knob on his right motor strip. This latter feature is called the “sign of omega” and it is thought to be correlated to musicians who use their left hands. Einstein played the violin.

Falk was also named on a 2013 study that looked at Einstein’s unusual corpus callosum, the bundle of fibres connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The researchers found Einstein’s was thicker than in control groups, suggesting enhanced co-operation between brain hemispheres.

pictures of Einstein's brain
Based on Falk, Lepore & Noe, 2013, The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs, Brain 136(4):1304-27. Photographs of the brain reproduced with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, MD

The question arises: Are these features that Einstein developed throughout a life devoted to higher thought, or was he born with them? People are born with the basic pattern of convolutions in their brains, but the extent to which these are reshaped by experience is unknown. The sign of omega may have developed as Einstein practised the violin as a boy, Falk says, but she thinks it is more difficult to assess the contribution of life’s experiences to other parts of the brain.

With each of these papers, starting with Marian Diamond in 1985, the press splashed the story with headlines suggesting that scientists had discovered the special neural wiring responsible for E=mc². The truth is that the links with Einstein’s genius have never been anything more than speculative.

“You can’t take just one brain of someone who is different from everyone else – and we pretty much all are – and say, ‘Ah-ha! I have found the thing that makes T Hines a stamp collector!” says Terence Hines, a psychologist and stamp collector at Pace University who has been very critical of all the Einstein brain studies. “If you have this notion that stamp collecting was caused by something different in the brain, and you looked at my brain and compared my brain to 100 other brains, you could find something different and say ‘Ah-ha! I have found the centre of stamp-collecting.’ And it’s bull.”

A screenshot from the Einstein brain app
An app showing Harvey’s slides of Einstein’s brain is available for iPad

Hines has accused the scientists involved in the Einstein brain studies of being caught up in what he calls the “neuromythology” of Einstein’s brain.

The first victim of this tendency was arguably Harvey himself. He told Steven Levy in 1978 that all the research so far conducted on the brain “showed it to be within normal limits for a man his age”. But rather than publishing these results, Harvey waited for exceptional differences to turn up, differences worthy of an exceptional man.

This “selection bias” was also evident in the first of the studies to find a possibly significant difference – Marian Diamond’s. She subjected the four brain samples to seven different tests, Hines says, but Einstein’s brain only came back as unusual in one of the measures – the glial cells – and only in one of the samples.

In what has become a bitter spat about the body of a famously mild-mannered man, Falk and her co-writers insist that Einstein’s brain is exceptional. There is a natural variation in our brain anatomy, true, but Einstein possessed unusual features in every cerebral lobe, some very unusual.

But they are willing to accept that it’s impossible to map these anatomical differences on to Einstein’s genius with any certainty. “I don’t know if Einstein was a genius because his parietal lobes were different,” says say Dr Frederick Lepore, a neurologist who worked with Dean Falk on the 2012 paper. “If you put my feet to the fire and you say, ‘Where’s special relativity? Where did general relativity come from?’ – we have no idea.”

Einstein was, of course, lots of things besides being a genius. He was bilingual, musical and even – it has been suggested – autistic.

Einstein playing the violin

Hines makes the point that to correlate an unusual feature of the brain to a characteristic you need lots of brains with those unusual features. The easiest way to do it, he says, would be to put a lot of geniuses through the flashiest neural imaging scanner you can afford – perhaps by taking the scanner to the Large Hadron Collider and get the scientists there to form a queue. “They may not find anything, but that would be far more productive than slicing and dicing one or two brains of geniuses,” he says.

Recent published research on Einstein’s brain has used Harvey’s photographs, as it’s no longer easy to get access to brain samples themselves. In 1998, Thomas Harvey handed the 170 chunks of brain still in his possession to Dr Elliot Kraus, chief pathologist at the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, the current name for the institution where Einstein himself was sliced and diced in April 1955.

“If you say, where’s the brain? It’s about five miles from my office in Plainsboro, New Jersey, and you can’t get access to it,” says Frederick Lepore. “At least Tom Harvey would send pieces out. Krauss is not allowing access to this brain.”

Elliot Krauss denies this. He says he sent some samples for DNA analysis, and although they were too damaged to be useful, in the future the technology may be sophisticated enough to examine them by this method. “I think I am waiting till someone comes with a really good proposal on the material, but I would have to be comfortable that they’re not looking at it just to have some, and the notoriety of possessing some,” says Krauss. “There has to be a real good scientific reason for having it.”

Keeping the brain, Krauss says, is an honour and a burden – one that Thomas Harvey shouldered for more than 40 years. Krauss has said in the past that Harvey did “a great service”, but no-one would say he didn’t sometimes make bad mistakes. In a 1994 BBC documentary, the octogenarian is seen wandering into his kitchen with one of his mason jars and slicing off a piece of Einstein’s brain on a cheeseboard for a visitor to take home as a memento.

Media caption“Relics: Einstein’s Brain”, directed by Kevin Hull, appeared in the BBC’s Arena strand in 1994

It’s an interesting moment. The visitor, Kenji Sugimoto, has been on a pilgrimage to find the brain of his idol and the possibility that he might be about to receive an actual relic of this nuclear-age saint is almost too much for him. But one senses that Harvey gives Sugimoto a piece of Einstein not out of charitable fellow-feeling, but a profound lack of sentimentality about his prized possession.

Shortly after this sequence, the Yale-educated doctor is shown working in a plastics factory to pay the bills. Notwithstanding money troubles, Harvey never sold any of his troublesome cargo.

“Really I do think that his were sins of omission rather than commission,” says Carolyn Abraham. “If he was really serious about wanting the brain to be studied I think at some point he should have turned it over to people who could have properly studied it.”

Thomas Harvey working in a factory
Harvey working in a factory in 1994, in the BBC documentary film

She believes there are probably slivers of Einstein in attics across America – the samples distributed by Harvey to scientists who then kept them as interesting curios.

In 1997, Michael Paterniti went on a road trip with Harvey across the US with Einstein’s brain in a plastic container in the boot, an experience he described in his book Driving Mr Albert. He describes Harvey as “a very nice, quiet person” who evaded difficult questions about his actions. “Sometimes his response was just to fall into a deep silence. And sometimes these silences could last the length of an entire state.”

Although the brain’s scientific significance remains debatable, its story has been culturally productive, spawning a novel, a comic book and even a play by Nick Payne, inspired by Harvey’s story, which will open in New York next month.

Whether one sees all this as a sad addendum to Einstein’s truly world-changing life or a touching sign of how deeply revered he was by the normal-brained majority is a matter of opinion. But according to Carolyn Abrahams on thing is certain: “As long as Einstein’s tongue adorns t-shirts, we’ll be talking about his brain.”

Michael Paterniti and Dr Frederick Lepore spoke to Health Check on the BBC World Service. Listen to the programme on iPlayer or get the Health Check podcast. Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine’s email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.

A famous photograph of Einstein sticking his tongue out

Original photos of Einstein's brain

State Paedophilia, Identity Politics and the Rule of Law

Originally posted on CoolnessofHind:

grevillejannerLeonbrittan

Since I last touched on the topic of child abuse, there have been many further reports on this despicable, sickening crime. From doctors to priests, and more (to which I will come to later), all have been notably white, and non-Muslim, yet the press and the media gurus have not sought it fit to feed hatred, xenophobia and racism by highlighting these attributes and insinuating an intrinsic link between race/religion and the crime in such cases. Identity politics is a fantastic way to beat down minorities, not so much when it starts affecting the establishment.

And indeed the establishment connection to paedophilia has become a scandal.

Signs of a Paedophilic MP?

There have been a couple of reports which demonstrate differing methods of dealing with child abuse.  On the one hand there are calls being made for children to be taught how to avoid child abuse. The other involves…

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Weakening and Discrediting the UN: The Mission of Israeli QGOs

truthaholics:

The remedy for the undue influence of the Israel lobby tantamount to distorting the operation of global rule of law and replacing it with brazen impunity and exceptionalism can only come from grassroots level up, from law-abiding world civic society. Enough – no more wag the dog!

Originally posted on Global Justice in the 21st Century:

Weakening and Discrediting the UN: The Mission of Israeli QGOs

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is the full text of my presentation at an excellent conference “The Israeli Lobby: Is it good for US? Is it Good for Israel?” National Press Club, Washington, D.C., April 10, 2015; the conference was sponsored and organized by the editorial leadership of the magazine Washington Report, which brings together some of the best writing on the Israel/Palestine struggle. I encourage readers of this blog to look at the full conference either at the YouTube website or the audio recording at http://www.israellobbyus.org Although there were many illuminating presentations during the day, and I would call particular attention to the memorable remarks of two highly informed Israelis, Gideon Levy and Miko Peled.]

 

 

There are no better texts for assessing the damage done to the role and reputation of the UN by the…

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