Children, Espionage, and Pain

Here’s what was important this week…

If you have a child abroad, and you’re a U.S. citizen, you can get your child U.S. citizenship as well. However, as Tori Marlan investigates  “the rules that determine what babies can become citizens seem to be butting up against the modern circumstances under which Americans are having babies.” Most notably, modern practices that involve children being born before marriage, or through fertility treatments, or to same-sex couples. Proof is needed to prove that the child is “born of” the U.S. citizen–implied in heterosexual couples, but not as much for homosexual couples. Alexis Madrigal explores further implications that the future of reproductive technology will have for how we define parenthood.

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. indicted 5 members of the Chinese military on economic espionage charges.

As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, we’re guilty of nearly the same:

“The only difference between the U.S. and China’s actions is that the U.S. doesn’t engage in direct industrial espionage. That is, we don’t steal secrets from Chinese companies and pass them directly to U.S. competitors. But we do engage in economic espionage; we steal secrets from Chinese companies for an advantage in government trade negotiations, which directly benefits U.S. competitors. We might think this difference is important, but other countries are not as as impressed with our nuance.”

And James Surowiecki writes for the New Yorker on the fact that the U.S. got its start as an industrial power by engaging in just that kind of espionage, to the point where “State governments financed the importation of smuggled machines.”

As Surowiecki concludes,

“engaging in economic espionage is something developing countries do. When you’re not yet generating a lot of intellectual property on your own, you imitate. These days, China is going to try to steal, and the West is going to try to stop it. But the tactic of using piracy to leapfrog ahead? That looks like an idea it stole from us.”

As Spring comes to an end, the goslings I’ve seen all over town are turning into teenagers and will soon be full birds! It’s easy to forget that we’re surrounded by animals when you live in a city (except when the sidewalk is coated in goose poop). For those with even fewer parks, it’s easy to forget that cities bring with them their own biosphere of animals—gray squirrels and pigeons especially. An appreciator of squirrels, Jamie Allen, alleges:

“We city people have lost our connection to wild animals. Our pavement paradise, our automobile enclaves, and the pervasive technologies that sap our powers of observation have blinded us to our earthly neighbors. But nature is vibrating, even in the cities. Look in the skies. The birds are engaged in mortal combat. Coyotes and bears lurk on the outskirts. And in the matrix of tree canopy, squirrels are the cursor, the movement that gives voice to Mother’s existence here, even still, and always, long after we’re gone.”

As you’ve probably picked up on by now, I am a word nerd. Writing as a job makes me especially aware of the words that I use, the nuance between having a process cause a user frustration or pain or irritation. The words used when discussing health issues is even more important. As SARS and MERS and other global epidemics arise, how we communicate these diseases across the cultures of the world, and the rhetoric that we use, is increasingly important.

Not only that, but language is very important when discussing pain. Pain is increasingly clinicalized and medicalized–attaching a rating from 1-10 to pain felt, rather than asking for it to be described in words. While a pain scale may seem to create “quantitative” assessments, the nuance of the pain can be lost–and so can the human capacity for sympathy and understanding of the pain. This was somewhat brought about by the use of anesthetics for the first time:

“Anaesthetics rendered patients passive, unconscious bodies, stripped of sensibility, agency and, critically, words.”

(given that, it makes sense that many people fear waking up mid-surgery feeling pain but unable to speak out to stop it).

Social media is allowing us to recapture the descriptive aspects of pain once more (ignored since the 19th century), as a study is using Twitter to determine what words people commonly use to describe their migraine pain as it is happening. As one of the researching doctors points out, “The more you connect with your patient, the better you can treat them.”

In celebration of word nerddom, here is 43 minutes of every word in Star Wars in an alphabetical supercut of each instance of the word. Darth Vader makes a lot of plans.

If that really isn’t of interest, here is a song called Giants by the band Bear Hands.