Tag Archives: ThoughtsToPonder

Night of terror: Sacramento homeless lined up for shelter during storm. The doors never opened

Wow Sacramento, when you step in it, you really step in it: Night of terror: Sacramento homeless lined up for shelter during storm. The doors never opened – https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.sacbee.com/news/local/article248818310.html

The wind blew the rain sideways Tuesday night. Trees that had stood for decades collapsed into homes and streets. And Karen Hunter, a 57-year-old homeless woman and mother of three, lay alone on a mattress in a small green tent under the W-X freeway.

She wouldn’t make it through the night.

Hunter’s friend found her that night, face down in her ripped tent. That’s when Harold Carter got the call: his partner of 27 years had died.

On Thursday, as Sacramento continued to clean up from its most violent storm in years, Carter walked along 26th Street. He saw Karen’s empty tent and was reminded of the loss. He broke down. “She was a warm, loving person,” Carter said. “She was my everything.”

The storm was not a surprise. The vicious winds and torrential rain had been forecast for days. And yet city and county leaders chose not to open emergency warming shelters for the region’s most vulnerable residents. City Manager Howard Chan declined to open a warming center at a downtown library that had sheltered homeless just the night before – despite inquiries from Mayor Darrell Steinberg and at least four City Council members about doing so, The Sacramento Bee has learned.

If Sacramento leaders had acted, Hunter would have gone inside, Carter said.

We knew a major storm was coming. Why did we leave the homeless to suffer in the cold?

We knew a major storm was coming. Why did we leave the homeless to suffer in the cold?

City and county officials did not open warming centers Tuesday night to shelter the homeless. BY RENÉE C. BYER

Homeless communities across Sacramento were ravaged Tuesday night and Sacramento leaders left them out in the elements even though virtually everyone knew one of the worst storms in years was bearing down on our region.

Downtown warming centers couldn’t be used to protect people from 60 mph winds due to useless Sacramento County rules enforced by useless Sacramento County officials. Mayor Darrell Steinberg and his Sacramento City Council colleagues were either too polite or too afraid they would be scolded by their county colleagues. So a stupid rule was followed while the homeless spent a night of terror bordering on cruelty.

This was so Sacramento, where no politician wanted to say anything remotely impolitic and no one was moved or had the guts to break the rules to prevent human suffering. By the time Steinberg lost his temper during a council meeting Tuesday night, it was too late.

Talk was cheap and so was human life.

People died.

People in makeshift tents and lean-tos were left to huddle behind fragile tents that were no match for destructive elements that swamped encampments as if they were on the fringes of Third World capitals. But they weren’t. They were in the heart of the capital of the most prosperous state of the U.S.

“(They were) scared to death,” said homeless activist Crystal Sanchez told The Sacramento Bee. Sanchez spoke of groups of homeless people sending her frantic messages from Tuesday night to dawn on Wednesday.

“I don’t know even how we are going to help them all.”

Half-naked people reportedly shivered and trembled in the cold. Entire camps were blown away or inundated by water and falling debris as the wind howled like an animal seeking prey.

Thanks to Sacramento’s inaction and everlasting shame, Tuesday’s storms found easy prey, helpless prey, and no one did a damned thing until too late.

So let’s get it straight: Tuesday Jan. 26, 2021 should be remembered as a day of utter shame for our city and county. These two entities share a large portion of the blame for a comprehensive collapse in leadership. It resulted in the capital of California, the nerve center of state politics, proving it had no bloody clue how to protect the most vulnerable among us on the worst night in years.

But this was no one-off catastrophe. It didn’t happen by accident and responsibility does not rest solely with the with the city and county. It also belongs to every suburban city in the county. It belongs to us, the residents of Sacramento, who have proved time and again that we don’t care as much about homelessness as we say we do.

WE ALL SHOULDER BLAME

I can point fingers, and I will, but I must hold myself accountable first.

In years past, I wrote ignorant columns on homelessness because I was moved by a pervasive feeling shared widely by my Sacramento neighbors. It’s a feeling about homelessness that can be distilled down to simple phrases:

Get it out of my face. I don’t want to see it. Make the cops deal with it.

Those feelings lead Sacramento residents fiercely to oppose any and all shelters proposed by city leaders. It’s always a fight. It always takes longer than it should. The costs of shelters and supportive housing are obscene. And even when you get people housed, more homeless people proliferate.

Based on 30 years of living here and writing extensively about homelessness, I’m left with the sinking feeling that too many of us don’t really care about the issue until it becomes a nuisance for us or until we can point a finger at someone else for the problem.

Every NIMBY and ignorant bystander who simply wants the problem gone shares some blame for what happened. If we could have moved faster to build more shelters before the COVID-19 pandemic, when Sacramento was booming, fewer people would have suffered Tuesday night.

We should all be ashamed.

WHERE IS SACRAMENTO COUNTY’S HELP?

And the government entity that should feel the most shame is the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, along with the bureaucrats in Sacramento County. The county oversees the largest pots of money for housing and mental health funding and yet the discussion on homelessness always centers on the city.

The county badly handled how to spend $181 million federal COVID-19 relief money. The county is currently led by Supervisor Sue Frost, who is a champ at voting against relief for distressed renters whenever she can. The county government is the entity recently run by people such as CEO Nav Gill, who appeared to undermine the efforts of Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy when they tried to cooperate with the city on homelessness in 2017.

Serna and Kennedy excoriated Gill and his staff for seemingly slow-walking their efforts to forge a multi-million dollar partnership on homelessness. Yet despite this, when it came time to let Gill go, Kennedy was the decisive third vote to keep him around until he was placed on paid leave last November amid misconduct allegations levied against him by several leading women in county health departments.

All this has been evident and publicized. And yet only recently, after so much damage has been done, did advocates turn attention toward demanding more of Sacramento County officials who have so much more to say about homelessness, housing, mental health and drug treatment.

For example: Where is the scrutiny of county officials approving bloated budgets for Sheriff Scott Jones when health services don’t get enough? Where is the public in holding Frost and all the supervisors accountable for their role in creating conditions that led to Tuesday’s shameful abandonment of homeless people in such wretched conditions?

The city cannot be the only answer to homelessness in Sacramento.

And even then, with the exception of Sacramento City Councilmen Jay Schenirer, Jeff Harris and former Councilman Steve Hansen, not enough of the longtime council members have done enough before now. By Wednesday, everyone was scurrying around as if what happened on Tuesday was a terrible surprise. It couldn’t have been.

THIS IS NOT STEINBERG’S FAULT

Steinberg can be faulted for not declaring a state of emergency to open downtown warming centers as he did Wednesday, after the damage had been done. That’s on him and everyone else on the council.

To be fair, Steinberg has done more on homelessness than any other politician in Sacramento in recent years. He was never able to forge a regional effort on homelessness. He said he couldn’t find willing partners. Others said he was too hard to work with.

OK, but Steinberg’s predecessor, Kevin Johnson, wasn’t able to do it either. The urgency on homelessness is felt most acutely in the city and by people such as Steinberg. Leaders in other cities seem fine with having the City of Sacramento deal with it.

Steinberg also doesn’t have as much power as people think he does.

Steinberg tried to strengthen the power of his office last November via Measure A, the initiative that would have given him authority currently in the hands of City Manager Howard Chan. It was roundly defeated, including with the help of many progressives.

Ask yourself this: How did this old system of government work in Sacramento on Tuesday?

Chan, who is not elected, runs the city government and reports to all nine council members.

How did that work? It didn’t. Am I saying passing Measure A would have prevented Tuesday night? No. I’m saying, people in Sacramento don’t want anyone to have too much power. Getting things done takes time in Sacramento and people like that.

But that contributed to leaving homeless people exposed on Tuesday. It did. It was one element in an across-the-board failure.

“I haven’t stopped crying,” said newly elected City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, . “A woman died here last night and we knew for five days that this storm is coming.”

To her credit, and in a sign that Valenzuela could prove to be a heartfelt and welcome addition to the council, she held herself accountable.

“I don’t know if I can blame any one person, “ she said. “I wish I had pushed harder for a meeting before Tuesday. We have plenty of folks who could have helped us get in contact with people (on the streets).”

I’m with Valenzuela. I wish I had done more a lot sooner.

Steinberg says he hopes Tuesday will be a turning point, a shock that will change attitudes in our community.

“Maybe the fever is broken,” he said.

Maybe people will stop fighting shelters and realize we have to do more on permanent supportive housing, safe camping, safe parking lots. If they can’t open Golden 1 Center to the un-housed, maybe big Sacramento businesses such as the Kings can use their money and influence to help more people get housing.

Maybe citizens will start demanding that Sacramento County and other communities do much more on homelessness.

Maybe our community will act in order to prevent more suffering made possible by our inaction.

Puget Sound and West regions advance to Phase 2

Woot! Now this is how you reopen safely: Puget Sound and West regions advance to Phase 2 of Washington’s reopening plan on Monday

Seven counties in the Puget Sound and West regions can move to Phase 2 of the “Healthy Washington” plan. Counties need to meet three out of four metrics to qualify. Author: KING 5 Staff

SEATTLE — The criteria for regions in Washington state to move from Phase 1 to 2 of the COVID-19 reopening plan is becoming less stringent, allowing for two regions to move to Phase 2 on Monday, Feb. 1.

Counties in the West and Puget Sound regions will move to Phase 2 on Monday. That includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in Puget Sound and Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific and Thurston counties in the West region.https://1d52d4be94e98912817c230f2cad6cac.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

These counties represent about half of the state’s population, according to Gov. Jay Inslee.

In Phase 2, a maximum of five people from outside of a person’s household can gather indoors and indoor dining is available at 25% capacity until 11 p.m., among other changes. Indoor fitness centers can also open at 25% capacity.

RELATED: Don’t cross state lines for COVID-19 vaccine, Washington health officials say

Under the revised plan, regions will be required to meet three of four health metrics to progress, instead of all four.

The changes follow conversations with public health leaders and the state’s increasing vaccination rates

Homeless shelters

I’ve talked about this last year. Very sad. They deserve better.

https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article248819000.html

Sacramento must stop abandoning homeless people outdoors in storms and winter weather 

Justace Keylo said he was asleep when branches fell on his tent at homeless encampment near Basler Street in Sacramento on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. City and county officials did not open warming centers Tuesday night to shelter the homeless. BY RENÉE C. BYER

massive winter storm barreled through Sacramento on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, toppling trees, knocking out power and soaking the city in rain. But despite days of warning from weather forecasters about the “atmospheric river” storm headed our way, Sacramento city officials failed to open up indoor shelters for the homeless.

As a result, our city’s poorest and most vulnerable people were left to fend for themselves in the cold, harsh elements. The high winds and falling tree limbs ripped through tents, injuring multiple people and leaving them to struggle unprotected in the streets.

“Wednesday’s storm destroyed encampments across the city,” wrote The Sacramento Bee’s Theresa Clift. “Several tents along the riverfront were crushed by downed trees and branches, injuring people. Cold rain streamed through the flimsy roofs of tents, tarps and campers. Dogs, afraid of the storm, ran loose in the streets. At least one homeless person died, the coroner’s office said.”TOP ARTICLESIs it too late for Sacramento voters to mail in their ballot? No, but be aware of thisHe filmed arrest of man shouting ‘I can’t breathe.’ Minutes later, he was in handcuffsIn a unanimous vote, Sacramento City Council votes “Yes” on landmark public safety resolutionThese tiny homes were going to help solve Sacramento’s homeless crisis. So where are they?Gill’s gotta go: The Sacramento County CEO flouted  COVID rules everyone else has to followLodi City Council candidate arrested in money laundering, internet gambling operation case

Such an outcome was predictable, but a bureaucratic approach to providing winter shelter to the city’s large homeless population left thousands of people out in the cold. City and county rules dictate that the temperature must drop below 33 degrees for three nights in a row before warming centers can be opened. This rule has resulted in more than one unhoused person dying in our streets in the freezing cold over the years.

In December, Mayor Steinberg said the city would open the warming centers any time the temperature dropped below 33 degrees. This was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t help the people stuck outside in last night’s storm Shannon Dominguez-Stevens, director of Sacramento’s non-profit Maryhouse facility for homeless women, said it was “absolutely a disgrace” that city officials failed to open the shelters.

“It’s shameful that in 2021, a city the size of Sacramento can’t pull together and figure out a way to get people sheltered for a night that we anticipated was going to be disastrous,” Dominguez-Stevens told Clift.

Dominguez-Stevens said one woman arrived at Loaves & Fishes homeless center shivering, clad only in a bra and underwear after her tent blew away in the night.

“There’s a huge storm out here. People are gonna die tonight,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg during a City Council meeting on Tuesday night. “We can’t get a goddamn warming center open for more than one night because the county has rules? I’m sick of it.”

Sacramento emergency management officials have warned that sheltering the homeless indoors could expose them to COVID-19. Yet leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves in freezing temperatures and howling storms also risks lives. Two more homeless people died on Sacramento streets this week, though it’s not clear if the severe weather played a direct role in their deaths.

“Just confirmed that one unhoused person died last night in my district,” wrote District 4 councilmember Katie Valenzuela on Twitter. “I’m beyond grief-stricken… I’m angry. We can and MUST do better for our neighbors.”

The Sacramento City Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to address the situation in the face of a storm that was expected to last most of the week. The City Council declared an “extreme weather emergency” and, according to a press release from Steinberg’s office, the city plans to open several warming centers as soon as possible. The city opened one such center, at the Tsakopoulous Library Galleria, on Wednesday night.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it should have happened sooner. Responding after disaster strikes is not enough. The Sacramento area’s rigid rules for opening shelters have repeatedly failed to protect our most vulnerable citizens, leaving them to suffer and die in inhumane conditions. COVID certainly complicates the situation, but that’s no excuse for our leaders to throw up their hands and do nothing.

Mayor Steinberg has previously called for an end to the three-day rule, and Councilmembers Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang both called for the city to open shelters as the storm approached. City and county leaders must move with urgency to open up emergency shelters for homeless people struggling in these winter conditions. They must also discard any senseless rules that prevent them from acting quickly in the future.

Good night, sleep tight

I didn’t realize there was a movie made of Eureka Seven. Very good story about doing anything for the ones you love.

Fall in love all over again in this film set in an alternate timeline within the Eureka Seven universe! As mankind prepares to fire a weapon that will end a half-century war, the world’s fate rests in the hearts of two recently reunited childhood friends.

https://www.funimation.com/shows/eureka-seven/good-night-sleep-tight-young-lovers/

Are you lonely in your partnership or marriage? By Carol Bruess via TED

Most relationships in which loneliness has taken up residence can be shifted to a better reality, says marriage researcher Carol Bruess. All it takes some patience and effort.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

About my soaring, loving marriage of 28 years, people frequently say: “You’re soooo lucky!”

As I’ve written before, I don’t believe that luck is the key to a good marriage; hard work is. And such labor is, fortunately, among the most rewarding kind of work we do, of co-creating a relationship steeped in friendship, mutual adoration, and an unrelenting respect for our partner’s talents and quirks.

When it comes to that work, I have a bit of an advantage. I’m a social scientist who studies and ponders, day in and out, how our micro-choices can yield big outcomes toward strong and vibrant relationships.

But you don’t have to be a relationship expert to know when something isn’t quite right in your partnership or marriage. If your union isn’t one in which humor comes easily; isn’t one in which your partner’s idiosyncrasies are still (at least a little bit) endearing; or isn’t one in which your emotional needs are being met, perhaps you’re in a lonely marriage.

Sounds oxymoronic, right? A lonely marriage?

In fact, lonely marriages are real. And too common. Talk to someone who has experienced one and they’ll tell you it’s worse being lonely in a marriage than it is being lonely by yourself. According to surveys, some 40 percent of people know the pain of being lonely in relationship because they’ve been there at some point. Although no two happy marriages are identical, every lonely marriage has one thing in common: at least one spouse feels abandoned emotionally.

Emotional abandonment can be confusing, vague and hard to pinpoint because the person is, quite often, lying next to you in bed every night or co-raising kids. They might even be the person with whom you’re still having sex. But it’s also the person with whom — when you get honest with yourself — you know something is off. Something is missing.

Being in a lonely marriage doesn’t mean you’re physically excluding your partner from your life, but you’re emotionally excluding them from your thoughts. While you two may talk, you’re not communicating your hopes, fears and dreams. You might not be arguing or yelling or showing any obvious signs of disharmony; quite often, you’re not fighting at all, because you’ve found it’s just easier not to. Being in a lonely marriage also doesn’t mean you’re not being an attentive, loving parent. Many couples who feel disconnected from each other actually respond by throwing the majority of their energies toward their kids.

Let me be clear: Being in a lonely marriage doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner. However, the emotional distance between you has increased to the point that your love is lacking an essential intimacy — a tenderness of words, actions and thoughts. A type of gentleness you know is possible in your two-ness because it was that gentleness which attracted you to each other in the first place (remember?).

And here’s the good news: It’s with that sense of possibility you should remain hopeful, even if you’re reading this with a knowing dread that the emotionally-distant marriage I describe is your current marriage.

Why hopeful? Because most relationships in which loneliness has taken up residence can be shifted. They can be ushered back to a we-ness, replete with positive energy and renewed intimacy.

With a little work and a few tweaks in your behavior, you can come back to a better daily reality, one that looks more like this: a relationship in which you know your partner’s current worries; in which you can laugh together at life’s daily absurdities and annoyances; in which you want to create and anticipate with joy an evening when the kids are elsewhere and the two of you do whatever it is just the two of you find joy in doing.

Yes, you can get back to that.

As you make the decision to reclaim connection with your partner, resolve first and foremost to be patient. Not unlike the work of getting back in physical shape after an injury or illness — you wouldn’t just head out and run a 10K immediately after a three-year hiatus from exercising — re-building your relationship muscles after allowing them to atrophy will take a some time and definitely require a little effort. But little is the key word. Muscle memory is a powerful thing, and that goes for intimacy muscles too.

Here are three tips as you begin to flex those relationship-connection muscles:

Ask questions 

If you are feeling lonely, your partner is probably also feeling lonely—and hopeless and helpless, not sure where to begin. So, begin with you. Take the initiative by simply asking your partner at least one question a day about something not related to managing your lives. Questions like “Did you pay the electricity bill?” and “Can you grab the kids tomorrow after school?” do not count. Ask your partner what they’re currently worried about, excited about, stressed about, looking forward to. Then really listen to their answers.

Start small, and don’t be surprised if your partner is suspicious at first. Re-establishing emotional connection is a shift in energy — a shift in wanting to know what the other person is thinking and feeling again, and sharing your own thoughts and feelings. Make it a goal to engage your partner in more of these curiosity-conversations each day. Most likely, they will begin to reciprocate, asking you similar questions. It might not happen right away, but trust that it will over time. Humans are pretty predictable; we tend to give back what we are given.

Get into their world

More specifically, get into the world of their thoughts. Yes, this will naturally happen by asking questions. But also important is making a quiet, internal effort to take your partner’s perspective—an exercise that you can’t skip as you work to re-build an emotional bond.

What does this entail? Pick just 60 seconds every day, close your eyes, and take just one minute to imagine what your partner’s world is currently like—from their vantage point. What might they be feeling/experiencing/needing right now? What is their current reality? What might their challenges be? Where are they finding joy? What might they be worried about, yearning for, or what might be weighing them down? Come into this minute of perspective-taking with a generosity of heart and mind.

You don’t even have to talk to your spouse about what you see in your mind’s eye — at least not immediately, and sometimes not ever. Because by simply engaging in this brief activity you will have more empathy and patience as you go about navigating daily life with your partner. Most important: this increased empathy can be the root of renewed emotional connection.

Create rituals of connection

Start small here. Choose to create tiny moments of intentional shared experiences together. If your partner is the one who usually makes dinner, join them in the kitchen and ask how you can help tonight. Maybe pull up their favorite artist on Spotify and set the tone for more joyful — even if they’re tiny — feelings between the two of you. These gestures of connection are the powerful stuff of thriving marriages, each one contributing to a larger reality of being a we again.

If you’re worried about doing any of the above and/or you’ve been in the lonely season of your marriage for a while, it might be wise — and necessary — for you to get support in this process. There are excellent, licensed marriage and family therapists working in most communities. Ask a friend or colleague for referrals, or do a simple google search. Another option for people in the US: Enter your zip code here to get a list of practitioners near you. Seeing a marriage and family therapist is covered by many health insurance plans.

If your spouse or partner is reluctant about seeing a therapist, encourage them to think of therapy as education, not as someone fixing broken humans or judging you on the way you communicate. Quite the contrary. Great therapy is a warm, safe, and welcoming opportunity to simply learn positive new ways of being together, building on what you already have created as a couple. If you have children, tap into your partner’s desire to raise healthy, happy young people, and remind your partner that the single most important thing you can do for your children is to have a healthy relationship yourselves. Yes, your children are watching.

And, yes, you can reclaim intimacy again. But it’s going to take some work. Just keep reminding yourself: It’s the most valuable work you can do.

Watch her TEDxMinneapolis Salon Talk here:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Bruess (rhymes with “peace”) is professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota; resident scholar at St. Norbert College, Wisconsin; and forever passionate about studying and improving relationships. She is fluent in emoji, loves parentheticals (it’s what all the cool kids are doing), and is happy-dancing her way through empty-nesting (although don’t tell her kids; they think she’s all weepy). Check out her five books and sewing/design shenanigans over at www.carolbruess.com

Why parents should stop blaming themselves for how their kids turn out By Yuko Munakata PhD

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

A few years ago, a student came up to me after the second day of my class on parenting and child development (I’m a college psychology professor). She hesitated for a second, and then she confessed: “I’m really interested in this material. But I was hoping that your class would help me to become a better parent if I have kids someday.”

She had jumped to the conclusion that the class wouldn’t help her because I had told the students that I was going to cover how parents do not have control in shaping who their children become. I was caught off guard. Would confronting the science of parenting and child development not be relevant to being a good parent? I hope that my class ended up changing her mind.

Parents want what’s best for their children — whether they’re young or old, rich or poor, married or divorced. Shelves of parenting books promise to show people how to address the difficult decisions that parents face every day and how to achieve the best outcomes.

Whether they’re about tiger parenting or free-range parenting, parenting like the Dutch or parenting like the Germans, these books share one consistent message: If your child isn’t succeeding, you’re doing something wrong.

As it turns out, the science supports a totally different and ultimately empowering message: Trying to predict how a child will turn out based on choices made by their parents is like trying to predict a hurricane from the flap of a butterfly’s wings.

Do you know about the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings in China, perturbing the atmosphere just enough to shift wind currents that they end up fueling a hurricane in the Caribbean six weeks later?

If you are a parent, you are the butterfly flapping your wings. Your child is the hurricane, a breathtaking force of nature. You will shape the person your child becomes — just like the butterfly shapes the hurricane — in complex, seemingly unpredictable but powerful ways. The hurricane wouldn’t exist without the butterfly.

You might ask, “What about all the successful parents who have successful children? Or the struggling parents who have struggling children?”

They seem to show the power of parenting, but children are shaped by many forces that they grow up with and that are often intertwined — forces like genes, peers and culture. This makes it hard to know which forces influence who children become.

Millions of children have been studied to disentangle all those shaping forces. Studies have followed identical twins and fraternal twins and plain-old siblings growing up together or adopted and raised apart. Growing up in the same home does not make children noticeably more alike in how successful they are, how happy or self-reliant they are, and so on.

In other words, imagine if you’d been taken at birth and raised next door by the family to the left and your brother or sister had been raised next door by the family to the right. By and large, that would have made you no more similar or different than growing up together under the same roof.

On the one hand, these findings seem unbelievable. Think about all the ways that parents differ from home to home and how often they argue and whether they helicopter and how much they shower their children with love. You’d think it would matter enough to make children growing up in the same home more alike than if they’d been raised apart, but it doesn’t.

In 2015, a meta-analysis — or a study that analyzes many, many studies — found this pattern across thousands of studies following over 14 million twin pairs in 39 countries. They measured over 17,000 outcomes, and the researchers concluded that every single one of the outcomes was heritable. Genes influence who children become, but genes didn’t explain everything. Environment mattered too but it wasn’t enough to shape children growing up in the same home to be more alike.

Some people have looked at these findings and concluded that it means parenting doesn’t matter, that you would’ve become the same person you are today, regardless of who raised you.

On the other hand — or really I should say on the other hands because there are many caveats — these findings are not all that shocking when you think about how the same parent can shape different children in different ways. For example, one child might find it helpful when her mother provides structure, while her sister finds it stifling. One child could think his parents are caring when they ask questions about his friends, but his brother thinks they’re nosy. One child might view a divorce as a tragedy, while his sister sees it as a relief.

Same event, different experience.

But just because an event doesn’t shape people in the same way doesn’t mean it had no effect. Your parenting could be shaping your children — just not in the ways that lead them to become more alike. Your parenting could be leading your first child to become more serious and your second child to become more relaxed. Or, it could lead your first child to want to be like you and your second child to want to be nothing like you.

You are flapping your butterfly wings to your hurricane children.

I know this isn’t typically how we think about parenting, and it doesn’t make for simple advice. At this point, you may be like the students in my class who sometimes say, “OK, we get it —  development is complicated, and maybe it’s not worth studying because it’s too complicated.”

But meaning can be made from chaos. Scientists now understand how babies go from apparent lumps to walking, talking, thinking, social independent beings. They understand this process well enough to intervene to test newborns for a genetic condition that once led to mental retardation. Scientists are also developing an ever more sophisticated understanding of how parents could shape their children’s futures.

So what can we do with all these findings?

First, know that parents do matter.

That might seem obvious, but smart people have argued otherwise.

Second, know that how parents matter is complex and difficult to predict.

For anyone who’s ever been a parent: Stop blaming yourself as if you’re in control of your child’s path. You have influence — but you don’t have control.

For anyone who’s ever been a child: Stop blaming your parents, or at least stop thinking you must be defined by them.

And stop blaming other parents. A recent survey of thousands of parents revealed that 90 percent of mothers and 85 percent of fathers feel judged, and close to half of them feel judged all or nearly all the time by people they know and by complete strangers. Even when parents do their best, you can’t satisfy everybody. There’s only so much time.

This is especially true for “dragon parents”. Author Emily Rapp came up with this term after her baby was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease. She knew then and there that Ronan would never walk or talk and he would likely die before the age of 4.

My firstborn son was born with a condition that prevents the intestine from absorbing nutrients or water for the body. It affects only 1 in 5 million babies, and it’s so rare that one doctor felt confident telling us that we would be screwed if that’s what our baby had. He was also the one who had to break the news to us later.

Dragon parents have a lot to say about parenting, even if they know their children will die young or even if we have no idea whether our babies will live.

Rapp wrote:

“We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves … This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents, fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself … Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent anywhere, that’s all there is.

I had thought that my expertise in child development would help prepare me for becoming a parent. Instead, becoming a parent helped me see the science in a whole new light.

Third, appreciate how powerful your moments with them can be because of what they mean for you and your child right now — not because of what they mean for your child long-term, which you cannot know.

Activist Andrew Solomon noted that “even though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.” Maybe we’d be less sad if we could let go of the notion that our children’s futures are in our control.

If we could embrace the complexity of our children’s development, it could transform how we approach the parenting decisions we face each day and empower us to realize how much more there is to having a child rather than trying to shape a specific outcome. I’ve learned to appreciate every moment with my firstborn son — who is thriving at the age of 14 — and with his younger brother and the unique paths they are each taking.

The science of parents and children — us butterflies and our hurricanes — can free people to focus on what is most important and meaningful in our lives. This can make the experience of being a parent and the experience of having been a child more realistic and more satisfying.

This piece was adapted from a TEDxCU Talk. Watch it here:

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Meet Assembloids, Mini Human Brains With Muscles Attached


Wowza! I thought Advanced/AP Biology got an awesome upgrade with CRISPR… But these beat that: Meet Assembloids, Mini Human Brains With Muscles Attached By Shelly Fan via SingularityHub

It’s not often that a twitching, snowman-shaped blob of 3D human tissue makes someone’s day.

But when Dr. Sergiu Pasca at Stanford University witnessed the tiny movement, he knew his lab had achieved something special. You see, the blob was evolved from three lab-grown chunks of human tissue: a mini-brain, mini-spinal cord, and mini-muscle. Each individual component, churned to eerie humanoid perfection inside bubbling incubators, is already a work of scientific genius. But Pasca took the extra step, marinating the three components together inside a soup of nutrients.

The result was a bizarre, Lego-like human tissue that replicates the basic circuits behind how we decide to move. Without external prompting, when churned together like ice cream, the three ingredients physically linked up into a fully functional circuit. The 3D mini-brain, through the information highway formed by the artificial spinal cord, was able to make the lab-grown muscle twitch on demand.

In other words, if you think isolated mini-brains—known formally as brain organoids—floating in a jar is creepy, upgrade your nightmares. The next big thing in probing the brain is assembloids—free-floating brain circuits—that now combine brain tissue with an external output.

The end goal isn’t to freak people out. Rather, it’s to recapitulate our nervous system, from input to output, inside the controlled environment of a Petri dish. An autonomous, living brain-spinal cord-muscle entity is an invaluable model for figuring out how our own brains direct the intricate muscle movements that allow us stay upright, walk, or type on a keyboard.

It’s the nexus toward more dexterous brain-machine interfaces, and a model to understand when brain-muscle connections fail—as in devastating conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease or Parkinson’s, where people slowly lose muscle control due to the gradual death of neurons that control muscle function. Assembloids are a sort of “mini-me,” a workaround for testing potential treatments on a simple “replica” of a person rather than directly on a human.

From Organoids to Assembloids

The miniature snippet of the human nervous system has been a long time in the making.

It all started in 2014, when Dr. Madeleine Lancaster, then a post-doc at Stanford, grew a shockingly intricate 3D replica of human brain tissue inside a whirling incubator. Revolutionarily different than standard cell cultures, which grind up brain tissue to reconstruct as a flat network of cells, Lancaster’s 3D brain organoids were incredibly sophisticated in their recapitulation of the human brain during development. Subsequent studies further solidified their similarity to the developing brain of a fetus—not just in terms of neuron types, but also their connections and structure.

With the finding that these mini-brains sparked with electrical activity, bioethicists increasingly raised red flags that the blobs of human brain tissue—no larger than the size of a pea at most—could harbor the potential to develop a sense of awareness if further matured and with external input and output.

Despite these concerns, brain organoids became an instant hit. Because they’re made of human tissue—often taken from actual human patients and converted into stem-cell-like states—organoids harbor the same genetic makeup as their donors. This makes it possible to study perplexing conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, or other brain disorders in a dish. What’s more, because they’re grown in the lab, it’s possible to genetically edit the mini-brains to test potential genetic culprits in the search for a cure.

Yet mini-brains had an Achilles’ heel: not all were made the same. Rather, depending on the region of the brain that was reverse engineered, the cells had to be persuaded by different cocktails of chemical soups and maintained in isolation. It was a stark contrast to our own developing brains, where regions are connected through highways of neural networks and work in tandem.

Pasca faced the problem head-on. Betting on the brain’s self-assembling capacity, his team hypothesized that it might be possible to grow different mini-brains, each reflecting a different brain region, and have them fuse together into a synchronized band of neuron circuits to process information. Last year, his idea paid off.

In one mind-blowing study, his team grew two separate portions of the brain into blobs, one representing the cortex, the other a deeper part of the brain known to control reward and movement, called the striatum. Shockingly, when put together, the two blobs of human brain tissue fused into a functional couple, automatically establishing neural highways that resulted in one of the most sophisticated recapitulations of a human brain. Pasca crowned this tissue engineering crème-de-la-crème “assembloids,” a portmanteau between “assemble” and “organoids.”

“We have demonstrated that regionalized brain spheroids can be put together to form fused structures called brain assembloids,” said Pasca at the time.” [They] can then be used to investigate developmental processes that were previously inaccessible.”

And if that’s possible for wiring up a lab-grown brain, why wouldn’t it work for larger neural circuits?

Assembloids, Assemble

The new study is the fruition of that idea.

The team started with human skin cells, scraped off of eight healthy people, and transformed them into a stem-cell-like state, called iPSCs. These cells have long been touted as the breakthrough for personalized medical treatment, before each reflects the genetic makeup of its original host.

Using two separate cocktails, the team then generated mini-brains and mini-spinal cords using these iPSCs. The two components were placed together “in close proximity” for three days inside a lab incubator, gently floating around each other in an intricate dance. To the team’s surprise, under the microscope using tracers that glow in the dark, they saw highways of branches extending from one organoid to the other like arms in a tight embrace. When stimulated with electricity, the links fired up, suggesting that the connections weren’t just for show—they’re capable of transmitting information.

“We made the parts,” said Pasca, “but they knew how to put themselves together.”

Then came the ménage à trois. Once the mini-brain and spinal cord formed their double-decker ice cream scoop, the team overlaid them onto a layer of muscle cells—cultured separately into a human-like muscular structure. The end result was a somewhat bizarre and silly-looking snowman, made of three oddly-shaped spherical balls.

Yet against all odds, the brain-spinal cord assembly reached out to the lab-grown muscle. Using a variety of tools, including measuring muscle contraction, the team found that this utterly Frankenstein-like snowman was able to make the muscle component contract—in a way similar to how our muscles twitch when needed.

“Skeletal muscle doesn’t usually contract on its own,” said Pasca. “Seeing that first twitch in a lab dish immediately after cortical stimulation is something that’s not soon forgotten.”

When tested for longevity, the contraption lasted for up to 10 weeks without any sort of breakdown. Far from a one-shot wonder, the isolated circuit worked even better the longer each component was connected.

Pasca isn’t the first to give mini-brains an output channel. Last year, the queen of brain organoids, Lancaster, chopped up mature mini-brains into slices, which were then linked to muscle tissue through a cultured spinal cord. Assembloids are a step up, showing that it’s possible to automatically sew multiple nerve-linked structures together, such as brain and muscle, sans slicing.

The question is what happens when these assembloids become more sophisticated, edging ever closer to the inherent wiring that powers our movements. Pasca’s study targets outputs, but what about inputs? Can we wire input channels, such as retinal cells, to mini-brains that have a rudimentary visual cortex to process those examples? Learning, after all, depends on examples of our world, which are processed inside computational circuits and delivered as outputs—potentially, muscle contractions.

To be clear, few would argue that today’s mini-brains are capable of any sort of consciousness or awareness. But as mini-brains get increasingly more sophisticated, at what point can we consider them a sort of AI, capable of computation or even something that mimics thought? We don’t yet have an answer—but the debates are on.