Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Racialized Medicine: Prophecies for Profit

A few days ago, on a website I recently joined, I was faced with an interesting comment regarding my position on race. The comment read as follows:

"Basically the definition [of race] here you've given me is from the New Left. Unsurprisingly, its adherents do not address the differences in populations relating to genetics, responses to medications, vulnerabilities to disease, or incompatibilities with cross-group transplantation. To say that there are no differences between human population groups is either a flagrant lie or indicates you have been raised in a cave by wild hogs."

Of course, the commenter was unaware of the fact that I have addressed many arguments concerning race before, so to say that these "differences in populations" have not been addressed is pretty funny. In actuality, the entirety of this comment was a goldmine, but considering that I've addressed much of it before, and that there's really too much to consider in a single post (without boring everyone to death), I decided to narrow down my focus to "responses to medications;" or in other words, race-targeted medicine. The answer to this question, actually, can be applied to a lot of between-group differences regarding race, so this is an important case to look at. The idea, as the moniker implies, is that certain racial/ethnic groups respond differently to medications, and thus pharmaceutical/medical treatment should take race/ethnicity into consideration when treating patients.

If we were to take a look at the data, we might be convinced that this is the case. For example, Burroughs et al. (2002) writes:

"The recent report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare;" illustrates in eloquent scientific detail that racial and ethnic disparities in health care do exist and are prevalent in both the treatment of medical illness and in the delivery of care services to minorities in the United States." (Burroughs et al. 2002:1)

There are two problems with such a conclusions: (1) the parameters; and, (2) the use of race as a proxy.

By parameters, I mean how "race" is defined in these studies which show racial/ethnic disparities in responses to medical treatment. Much of my knowledge on race is informed by the special 2009 edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology entitled "Race Reconciled: How Biological Anthropologists View Human Variation." It's incredibly informative, and for anyone who is willing to sit through some of the jargon (much like I may end up doing), I would highly recommend it. In any case, it's thus only appropriate that I refer to Gravlee (2009), "How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality." Gravlee writes:

"Racial-genetic determinism persists in part because of the uncritical use of race in biomedical sciences and public health. Systematic reviews in health-related disciplines show that race is widely used--appearing in ~80% of recent articles--but that it is seldom defined (Anderson and Moscou, 1998; Drevdahl et al., 2001; Comstock et al., 2004; Gravlee and Sweet, 2008). For example, in three independent reviews of literature in genetics (Sankar et al. 2007), infant mortality research (Anderson and Moscou, 1998), and health services research (Williams, 1994), not a single article defined race." (Gravlee 2009:49)

In the absence of definition, we can only assume that we are looking at the traditional racial/ethnic categories that are used in the United States. This is problematic for reason 2 as stated above: that in these studies, race is used as a substitute for individual genotypes based on tested averages. Of course, this is a terrible proxy due to the complexity and nested pattern of human diversity. As Long et al. (2009) writes:

"[...] a classification that takes into account evolutionary relationships and the nested pattern of diversity would require that Sub-Saharan Africans are not a race because the most exclusive group that includes all Sub-Saharan African populations also includes every non-Sub-Saharan African population." (Long et al. 2009:32)

Hunley et al. (2009) comes to the same general conclusions, but tackles the idea of racialized medicine with their findings:

"Our findings confirm that broad ethnic categories employed in medical genetic research might not adequately take into account the complex geographic pattern of genetic structure in the species, but for the same reason, neither may continental ancestry. This is because our results also indicate that substantial, potentially medically important genetic differences may exist between populations within regions." (Hunley et al. 2009:45)

Practitioners who use race as a substitute for the true genetic explanations behind their results are making a grave mistake, and so are drug companies, because they are severely underestimating the true degree of diversity in different populations, especially sub-Saharan Africa. That being said, race is a horrible substitution for known alleles and genotypes. Thankfully, individual DNA analysis has become quite cheap over the years, and offers much more insight for individualized treatment.

Unfortunately, failures such as BiDil are ultimately going to be swatted at back and forth by the left and right, because scandals such as these are profitable, inspire research for the pharmaceutical field, and fans the flames of debates over race and "political correctness."

So, in summation:
(1) In biomedical research, race is hardly defined, if at all;
(2) To answer the question: "why do races respond differently to medical treatment," the answer is, we don't know if they really do;
(3) Using race as a mean for individual genotypes and alleles ignores the pattern of human diversity and the staunch differences within populations; and,
(4) Race-targeted medicines are honestly just prophecies for profits despite the much cheaper, more accurate use of individual DNA testing.

To conclude, I think it's interesting that individuals such as the commenter I am replying to, who are so skeptical of mainstream science, do not suspect the foul play going on here, simply for the fact that it seemingly validates the biological concept of race. This doesn't mean, however, that variation doesn't exist, and this is a point I've repeated many times in the past. As Relethford 2009:20 writes, race is "a culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation." The possibility that our DNA is affecting our responses to medical treatment is definitely there; but race, as it stands, is a bad representation of this genetic variation.

Thank you for reading.

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Burroughs VJ, Maxey RW, & Levy RA (2002). Racial and ethnic differences in response to medicines: towards individualized pharmaceutical treatment. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94 (10 Suppl), 1-26 PMID: 12401060

Gravlee, C. (2009). How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139 (1), 47-57 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20983

Hunley, K., Healy, M., & Long, J. (2009). The global pattern of gene identity variation reveals a history of long-range migrations, bottlenecks, and local mate exchange: Implications for biological race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139 (1), 35-46 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20932

Long, J., Li, J., & Healy, M. (2009). Human DNA sequences: More variation and less race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139 (1), 23-34 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21011

Relethford, J. (2009). Race and global patterns of phenotypic variation American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139 (1), 16-22 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20900

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The United States: Please... Oligarchy?

A study by Gilens and Page entitled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens" was released recently by Princeton University, and it seems that everybody has jumped on the bandwagon (the arrival of which I was unaware of) to claim that this study "finds" that the United States is an oligarchy. This has gone viral and received so much attention, yet it somehow swept under my skeptic's radar until late this morning. This is another one of those situations where I can't tell which people are being bitchy and which people are just being dishonest (or ignorant).

Regardless, I decided to look into the study.

The specificity of my radar hardly encompasses political issues anymore, and I have become quite familiar with how media reports on scientific findings are very disconnected from the actual findings. It seems that the same thing goes on in political theory. When a political scientist tests the theories of politics, they are not looking for a definitive answer like "the United States is an oligarchy" -- rather, they are looking for practical answers such as "the United States has a strong economic elite, and the populous needs to mobilize and consolidate their interests." Nevertheless this study by Gilens and Page is doing the latter, and people seem to be taking it for more than it's worth (and deciding on the former).

The study's primary findings can be summarized by saying: "in the United States, there is a strong economic elite (the top 10%) that has strong influence in policy making, while the lower 90% are not so influential." People take this and say "we have an economic elite that is controlling everything! Oligarchy!" It's ridiculous for so many reasons, and not just the fact that they ignored what the study actually said.

Firstly, the idea that "majority rule" is the defining concept of democracy is very popular, especially in America, but is nonetheless ill informed. For the purposes of political theory, there are defined conditions for democracy, and there is much deliberation over whether or not a political system meets those conditions. Personally, one of my favorite political scientists/theorists is Francis Fukuyama, who defined a democracy (or a modern liberal democracy) as meeting the following requirements:

(1) A functioning state;
(2) The rule of law; and,
(3) Accountable government.

Now, right off the bat, we can see that this has absolutely nothing to do with representation, but instead, the structure and limitations of a political system. Who would argue, then, that the United States is a failed state? That government officials in the US are not afraid of rioting and loss of voter support if they do something wrong? That the law operates by "rule of the wheel?" Furthermore, if the United States were so overwhelmingly controlled by the economic elite, social programs would not exist. Immediately, the idea that the United States is an oligarchy strikes me as being unrealistic and rather whiny. Why whiny, though?

Because the idea that the US is an oligarchy comes from a narrow definition of what an oligarchy is. Let's use the definition that Oligarchy USA uses on their homepage:
"Oligarchy... a government in which a small group exercises control, esp. for corrupt and selfish purposes."
For one, I'd like to note that they use the Webster definition, which is about as broad and ill informed for political theory as using Oligarchy USA itself as a source. Notice the general words "corrupt" and "selfish" -- it's up for so much interpretation, especially for whether or not it applies to the US. Let's make it a bit less general and subjective and use the Oxford definition, which still isn't that great, but is better than Webster:
"A small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution."
Okay, so now we have something to ask: does the top 10% actually control the United States? Sure, there is a massive wealth gap, and sure, that translates to political power, but do they really control the United States? When we realize that the power of big business and bureaucracy is largely reliant on constituent support, they're little more than figureheads of representation. This leads me to one of my biggest concerns with the methodology of the study: that they controlled for the desires of the elite to determine that the "average citizen" doesn't have much influence. But in examining their 1,779 policy issues (ones which were not chosen by significance, or perhaps more importantly, media coverage), they failed to answer the question "did the desires of the majority align with the economic elite?" Indeed, the voting system of the United States is structured around the idea that there are representatives for large groups of people, and those representatives speak on behalf of the desires of their constituents. If they don't, they lose their seat (i.e. accountability).

Just because there is a wealth gap doesn't necessarily mean that there is a huge disconnect between the common 90% and the top 10% in their desires. In fact, I think it's more likely that the groups within the 90% would have more conflict, since that 90% consists of lower, middle, and upper-middle/upper class citizens. They are also much more divided by other factors, including demographics, race/ethnicity, and so on. Let's face it, the top 10% are very similar, and thus it is much easier for them to aggregate their interests, whereas for 90% of the population, it is much more difficult.

Not only did the authors of this study acknowledge that this was a gap in their conclusions, but they emphasized it as a key point of their conclusions: that the average American citizen, generally, is bad at mobilizing and organizing their efforts. Thus, they rely on mass membership organizations. In fact, the authors of this study said that these mass interest groups are also very important in playing the political game in America.

So, the authors were not saying that America is an oligarchy with a domineering elite, since (as I'm sure the authors acknowledge), the existence of a wealthy elite does not automatically mean they have complete control over the government (unlike what the Washington Times would claim). So, what were the authors trying to say?

The study suggests that America may became an oligarchy in the future if advocacy groups and labor unions go by the wayside. They also suggest that the average American needs to start organizing and participating with consolidated interests and loud megaphones. This is pretty spot on considering there was only a 57.5% voter turnout in the 2012 election.

How did it ever come to this?
Lastly, this study only examined policy decisions (which people may or may not have even known about, or seen as important) between 1981 and 2002. The recession was in 2008. If it took the authors this long to finally tell Americans that wealthy people matter, and because of this study, Americans are screaming "oligarchy," then I'm not sure if it says more about the study itself, or the knowledge of the average American citizen. Furthermore, what was it like during other periods of time? What about now? If the American government is anything, it's plastic, because the way things are done changes as frequently as every four years.

Of course, this is going to get peddled around for a few more days, because questioning the democratic nature of America is profitable. This only proves that the average citizen is completely unaware of the impact of their participation in government and the articulation of their interests. That'll only make it worse for them, and it proves the point that the study was trying to make (but was so easily ignored). Thus, I fear for the welfare (see what I did there?) of the average American citizen.

Thank you very much for reading.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

420: How Marijuana Messes With the Brain

Thankfully, I'm only late to the party by 4 days. I wanted to save this post for 4/20 for obvious reasons.

On April 16 in the Journal of Neuroscience, a study was published by Gilman et al. entitled "Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users." Using MRI scans on 20 young adults (age 18-25) who qualified as casual recreational marijuana users and 20 non-using controls who were matched for gender, age, ethnicity, education and handedness, the researchers tested for three things (to quote from the abstract for brevity): (1) gray matter density using voxel-based morphometry, (2) volume (total brain and regional volumes), and (3) shape (surface morphometry). The researchers also controlled for alcohol use and cigarette smoking.

Their basic conclusions were that there is an association between casual marijuana use and density of gray matter in the left nucleus accumbens as well as the amygdala. The density, as well, correlated with higher use of marijuana as reported by the subjects.

Let us keep in mind, first, that this was a cross-sectional study. As Ryan Smith suggests: "While the correlative relationship reported here is statistically strong, a longitudinal study design is necessary to make the causative claims throughout the first 29 paragraphs and abstract of this manuscript."

While I partially sympathize with this statement, as correlation does not equal causation (nothing new, right?), I think the researchers have reason to believe that the association is causal, although as they suggest at the end of the study, it has not been conclusively verified. It has already been established that cannabis use is associated with working memory impairment, but there was still a need to establish a potential association between cannabis use and the neural circuitry. As such, we should see this new study in the context of another study published in Schizophrenia Bulletin by Smith et al. entitled "Heavy marijuana users have abnormal brain structure, poor memory." This study from December examined heavy marijuana users as opposed to casual users and found that there is an association between heavy use of cannabis and brain abnormalities as well as poor performance on memory tasks.

Thus, Ryan Smith's objection to the test may be seen as unnecessary. While a longitudinal study would effectively falsify or validate the causal relationship, showing that degree of use is correlated with degree of abnormality/impairment is good enough for supposition (I say this as a matter of opinion because, the way I see it, it seems less likely that having more problems causes you to smoke more weed. I think degree would be unrelated in such a relationship).

However, there are other objections to be made, namely relating to the funding the research received. Funding parties include the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This suggests potential funding bias, although practically we cannot make such an assertion. I would honestly be surprised, however, that this study was biased by its funding given the context of established associations between cannabis and cognitive impairment/brain abnormalities.

Although, that's the politics of science, and at this point the only thing that can be done is replication of the findings; but to close, that's not exactly a hard thing to do, considering that this study - to a smaller degree - replicated the results of previous studies. When will it end? 

Thank you very much for reading.

*For supplementary reading on marijuana's negative health effects, I highly recommend this infographic from Healthline.*

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Gilman, J., Kuster, J., Lee, S., Lee, M., Kim, B., Makris, N., van der Kouwe, A., Blood, A., & Breiter, H. (2014). Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users. Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (16), 5529-5538 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4745-13.2014

Meier, M., Caspi, A., Ambler, A., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Keefe, R., McDonald, K., Ward, A., Poulton, R., & Moffitt, T. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (40) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1206820109

ResearchBlogging.orgSmith, M., Cobia, D., Wang, L., Alpert, K., Cronenwett, W., Goldman, M., Mamah, D., Barch, D., Breiter, H., & Csernansky, J. (2013). Cannabis-Related Working Memory Deficits and Associated Subcortical Morphological Differences in Healthy Individuals and Schizophrenia Subjects. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 40 (2), 287-299 DOI: 10.1093/schbul/sbt176

Friday, April 18, 2014

In the Art Corner: New Digital Paintings

In truth, I have a few projects completed, but most of them will only be made available to my friends/family. Sorry to anybody else who was excited for more than one piece! With the effort I put into the one I'm sharing, I hope I can be forgiven.

The new digital piece is called Her Phantom, and for no better reason, it is a painting of a phantom-like girl drifting through a misty, eerie woods. I paid close attention to the trees' detail for perspective -- it only makes sense, right (where are the photography majors out there)? In the mean time, I had issue with adding fog to the background using my usual methods; however, when I was messing with the light curves, I somehow fixed it up to give a foggy effect without much further effort. I consider that a win for my fumbling around with Photoshop.

Her Phantom
Beyond that, the most difficult part of this was deciding where, and if so how, I would apply contours. Since we've been going over illusions in my courses, I decided this would be a great way to experiment with something that had no real aim. The bases of the trees have the same degree of opacity as the phantom does, and the result is surprisingly something I like. There's nothing to interpret with it (although you are free to make any statements you want about it), but it just looks cool.

There's something to be said for the ground, though. The fog effect underneath the phantom had a dual purpose: what is on the ground, and what force is acting on it? It could be seen as fog, but my intentions were, actually, that the phantom's presence was shifting the sand and dust that coated the floor of this forest. On that note, we could say that the opacity of the phantom in light of that of the trees, coupled with the unidentified pressure the phantom places on the ground beneath her, makes you wonder which is more real. I'm not one for the supernatural, so you decide!

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Mailbag: Clearing the Air Anthropologically

I noticed that there are, in addition to the things already discussed, a few questions regarding some of the things I've said having to deal with anthropology; thus, I decided it'd be best if I made another short mailbag post to clear the air.

The first two questions are responding to my post on "Lewontin's Fallacy" and Race, but since these (unlike what I'm used to) are constructive and very clearly objective, I'm going to reply to them despite my having ended any discussion on that post. First:

"Ms. Delanoir, I noticed that on your post on Lewontin and Race, you said that the general scientific consensus is in support of the Out of Africa hypothesis. This really isn't true anymore (although it may have been back in 2010 or 2011). Indeed, anthropologists do support the multiregional hypothesis, which is not to be confused with the candelabra model. Is this why you were confused?"

This email is two things: (A) completely correct; and, (B) a great talking point. It is entirely true that the most up-to-date data in anthropology supports the multiregional hypothesis. The difference between these two hypotheses is that Out of Africa supported the large-scale replacement hypothesis, in that it suspected that modern humans who migrated out of Africa replaced the existing human populations such as the Denisovans and the Neanderthals with little-to-no intermixing involved; however, recent evidence suggests the contrary, that some populations can have as much as 4% Neanderthal admixture. I actually had a brief discussion with somebody on my debate page comments regarding this. These findings do support a multiregional hypothesis (not a candelabra model) because the multiregional hypothesis suggests a series of migrations and back-migrations with substantial intermixing with existing human populations, thus resulting in a widespread, complicated network of human interaction and gene flow.

Often times, I conflate the multiregional hypothesis with the candelabra model for online debates because, considering who I'm debating against, they often do not know the difference, and if I were to tell them I supported the multiregional hypothesis but still believed human race does not exist, they would not understand why. Interestingly enough, the implications of the multiregional hypothesis suggest that Neanderthals and Denisovans are of the same species as Homo Sapiens, but perhaps different subspecies or races. That hurts the debate a little.

But, I'm willing to accept that I was incorrect in my framing of the debate, and I apologize to anyone who I misled. Knowing now that there are legitimate interest readers who look into the true science of what I write about on occasion, I'll do my best to improve my writing so that it is factually accurate, not socially convenient.

Next question.

First, I would like to thank you deeply for your contributions to fighting race revival. Sometimes I look back on the progress we've made in anthropology and think 'where did we go wrong?' In any case, I just have a few minor comments.
You spent a little bit of time defending your citation of both Lewontin and Gould (in separate posts), and I'm just wondering if there's a specific reason you're doing so. In all honesty, even I acknowledge in this debate that citing Lewontin or Gould is kind of remedial, and I often look at it and think 'is that all you got?' There are many other, much more recent authorities and studies to cite that effectively prove the same point. One good place to start would be with this article:
If you're interested in more, let me know!"

I defend my support of Lewontin and Gould for different reasons. Lewontin's research was genuinely the birth of research which would serve to debunk traditional racial categories at the genetic level. Gould was rejected by many scientists in the last decade because of the Morton-Gould War. Neither Lewontin nor Gould deserve to be rejected, but of course, we need more recent and relevant data to defend our position.

Since I want to keep this short, I'll only include one more question:

"I noticed that a lot of issues you're having with people in the race debates have to deal with this mistaken idea that human behavior and phenotypes can be predetermined by their genes. Do you think that there's some inherent human nature that we cannot overcome?"

You know, when I hear the phrase "human nature," I and many people in the field of anthropology let out a heavy sigh and put our fingers in between our eyes in frustration; but then, the words of Tim Ingold echo in my ears, and not only is my headache put at ease, but in all honesty, the eloquent phrasing of Ingold's argument makes my heart throb a little:

"Human capacities are not genetically specified but emerge within processes of ontogenetic development. Moreover the circumstances of development are continually shaped through human activity. There is consequently no human nature that has escaped the current of history.

[...] This does not mean, of course, that a human being can be anything you please. But it does mean that there is no way of describing what human beings are independently of the manifold historical and environmental circumstances in which they become–in which they grow up and live out their lives."

If you asked anthropologists today what their favorite quote was, I think many of them would pick this one out. The suggestion that a person, or a society's culture can be predetermined by their genes is absolutely ridiculous.

Thank you all for your input. Look forward to more

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mailbag: It's All About Me

Welcome to the last insertion of this three-part mailbag series! This doesn't mean I won't do any more mailbag posts anymore -- I definitely plan on doing more in the future if I get enough emails. Sorry that it took me so long to get to this post, I've just been busy with school and a small project I was working on with a friend of mine. Now that I'm here, let's get this show on the road!

By the way, somebody asked me about this via email, and I wanted to clarify:

Many of these emails were not submitted intentionally as questions for my blog. Many were sent to me as regular emails looking for conversation, and I asked the senders' permission to include them in this post. I may get a bit of traffic on my blog, but nowhere near enough that I get so much mail just asking me questions.

So, with that being said, let's answer some of those questions.

"Alexis, I saw your exchange with [name censored] on YouTube and your mentioning of how you grew up as a Protestant but turned to atheism. Care to talk about that at all? Also what is your view now on theists?"

There's a certain point in every child's life where they start to question the things they were taught, and I suppose it comes around age 10 or 11 at first where we begin to develop our autonomy. The big game changer in my life, on that note, would be when I started questioning the existence of God. I won't talk much about the transition, but I'll say that I'm glad there were already people who considered the potential arguments I had, because it would've been difficult to come to those conclusions on my own. In the end, it sparked my interest in science: knowledge in thermodynamics, genetics, and basic scientific discourse were all necessary to fully grasp the arguments being made on either side.

As far as how I view theists now, I don't mind. For many people, as I've said in the past, it can serve as a good basis for morality, although many ideas are questionable (e.g. opposition to homosexuality). However, theism becomes a problem when it interferes with one's ability to learn well-established facts. We've known evolution to be true for a long time now, yet according to the Gallup polls, 46% of people don't believe in it. That's far too large of a number, and that's where I find a problem with theism.

I also find a problem with theism when it's imposed. People such as [name censored] actively argue against evolution and the Big Bang theory, claiming that they're false, have no evidence, and that God is the truth. This is intentionally spreading misinformation, because these individuals haven't taken the time to learn the facts, and yet assert them as though they're so knowledgeable of all the material that they can safely say "it's a lie." When the facts are presented, they reject them. So, you can sum up the type of theists I reject in two categories: (1) militant theists; and, (2) science denialists. Even science denialists, though, can be tolerated if they just keep it to themselves.

Next question?

"Do you have a boyfriend yet, Lex? - John"

And please welcome that friend of mine I mentioned earlier: John! No John, I don't have a boyfriend yet.

"Why not?"

Yes, he actually asked that without me having given him a response to the first one.

I'm not interested in anybody new at the moment (people who are close to me know what that means). I'm also not sure what kind of person I would be interested in. I've thought about this idea before: a unique conversation. If I can have a conversation with somebody that is entirely unique, in that I've never had anything close to that type of conversation before, and if that conversation is inspiring, then perhaps I have a unique connection with that individual. This is just an idea, though, I'm not going to go drooling over a guy/girl just because they said something completely unprecedented to me.

Speaking of which:

I've seen you defend the idea of homosexuality before, and I'm wondering: is it because you're homosexual? There's nothing wrong with that, I'm just asking if you have a specific reason."

I defend homosexuality because I think people should be able to choose how they want to live without being forced into some other social norm by another person; however, as I suggested in the above paragraph, I'm not heterosexual. I identify as pansexual, which simply means that I don't see gender as being of significance in finding a partner; or rather, that I see the idea of a male-female relationship as being a social construction which is irrelevant in my own personal decisions. I hope that makes sense.

A few people have asked me different questions about my life, but one in particular asked me many of those questions in one email, and numbered, so I'll just answer them like that:
"Alexis, can I ask several questions?
1: You seem really really smart, how did you do in school? You don't need to say specific grades, but can you share GPA or class rank?
2: What instruments do you play?
3: Where did you learn to draw/paint/Photoshop?
1: Aw, thank you. My unweighted GPA was a 3.94, and my weighted was a 4.13. I was fourth in my graduating class. Now, with this being said, I want to say something to anyone who might be reading this and thinking badly of themselves.

In my opinion, GPA and class rank mean barely anything in terms of how intelligent you are. I took some AP classes, and they helped to boost my weighted GPA up, but most of my classes for my unweighted GPA were just me slacking off. My class rank, then, was based on that. I can probably say that in the four years of my experience being in high school, the only time the top 5 people deserved to be in the top 5 was my junior year. There was one boy who worked his butt off night and day, expending any potential for a social life, to get into the top 5 in his class for a scholarship. He ended up being salutatorian; valedictorian was granted to somebody who, unfortunately, was well-known as a cheater. I don't consider myself to be anything special by having these numbers. They're just numbers.

Same goes for the SAT/ACT.

2: I have experience in a lot of instruments, and I "know" how to play a lot, but I'm only good with a few. For the ones I actually know how to play, if I were to order them from most experienced to least, it would be: piano, violin, guitar, bass guitar, drums, harp. I barely know how to play harp, and I only kinda know how to play drums. Piano and violin are my life. Guitar and bass guitar are pretty good, but they were just things I picked up on the side.

3: For drawing and painting, I went to weekly art classes starting at a young age (around 8 if I recall correctly) and I stopped going when I graduated high school (age 18). I honed my painting skills in my classes in college, and I taught myself how to Photoshop via online tutorials and general trial and error.

Alright, I've ranted enough. Last email? Let's make it a good one!

"Anti-racist is just a codeword for anti-White."

(I know, I couldn't resist).

No, anti-white is just a codeword for anti-racist.

Now seriously, last email from the mailbag:

"Ms. Delanoir,
I read your biography and saw that you've lived in New Jersey (US), Shinagawa (JP) and Toronto, Ontario (CA). Which do you like the best?"

That's a really tough question. It's great to live where I do now, in Toronto, because my house has a great view, it's big, and it has a backyard covered over my trees, which gives a great atmosphere. The city sucks, though. The US has a lot of great memories for me -- it's where my childhood is, and I miss the ocean. Shinagawa was amazing, and in general Japan was exciting. I didn't mind the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, I loved my trip to the beach while I was in Japan, and overall it was just an awesome experience.

So, I would have to say this:

New Jersey is best because of nostalgia.
Toronto is best because of the quality of my living.
Shinagawa is best, in general, as a place to live.

My answer to your question, then, would probably be Shinagawa.

Thanks to everyone for their questions! I'm putting the mailbag away for now, but feel free to keep sending me emails, and I'll do another one in the future!

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