Splainer

Friday, June 25 2021


Dive In

When hairs are still under the skin as follicles, they are subject to the influence of stress hormones and other things happening in our mind and body. Once hairs grow out of the scalp, they harden and permanently crystallize these exposures into a stable form.

That’s the co-author of a new study that definitively establishes a link between grey hair and stress. The happier news: Hair follicles revert to black if we reduce factors that induce stress. Sadly, this won’t work if you are greying because of age or genetics. But it does suggest that we have some control over the amount of silver in our hair.

Big Story

Britney’s break for freedom

The TLDR: Britney Spears spoke out for the very first time in a US court—demanding to be released from the conservatorship that gave her father full control over her life and finances. The case reveals how the law deprives people with mental illnesses of their freedom and agency.

 

A brief history of Britney Spears

  • Spears burst into the spotlight as a 16-year old with her legendary hit ‘...Baby One More Time’. For a few years, everything is golden—including her relationship with fellow pop star Justin Timberlake.
  • By 2007, she is embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with her ex-husband Kevin Federline—who questions her mental health and fitness as a mother of their two sons. And she is being constantly stalked by the press.
  • Her mental health struggles first become public when she walks into a salon that same year and shaves off her hair. Soon after, she tells a tattoo parlor employee, “I don't want anyone touching me. I'm tired of everybody touching me.”
  • In 2008, she is hospitalised twice and placed under a psychiatric hold—and her custody rights are suspended.
  • Soon after the second hospitalisation, her father Jamie Spears petitions the courts to place her under a temporary conservatorship—and he is put in charge of both her personal life and her financial affairs. Attorney Andrew Wallet is also made a co-conservator of the estate.
  • Over the years, Spears continues to perform, tour and release albums—and launch business ventures including her lucrative perfume and namesake lingerie lines.
  • In 2019, Wallet resigns his co-conservatorship, leaving her father Jamie Spears fully in charge. But Jamie Spears steps away temporarily citing health reasons, and a court-appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery is put in charge.
  • By 2020, the #FreeBritney movement to rescue Spears from the conservatorship gathers momentum—even as she goes to court to prevent Jamie from resuming his role as conservator. She says she is “afraid of her father.”
  • In March, she asks the court to permanently replace her father as the conservator with Montgomery.
  • And on Wednesday, she was granted her request to directly address the court—and speak about the conservatorship in public for the very first time. 

 

Wait, what’s a conservatorship?

It is a form of guardianship for adults where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the "conservator") to care for another adult (called the "conservatee") who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances. Spears' conservatorship is split into two parts: her estate and financial affairs and her as a person. Jamie Spears was in charge of both until last year—when the court appointed a financial firm to act as co-conservator for her wealth. Currently, her conservatorship has been extended until September 2021.

 

Point to note: As conservator, Jamie Spears is well-compensated for doing this court-appointed ‘job’:

 

“Aside from his salary as conservator — now about $16,000 per month, plus $2,000 a month for office space rent — Mr. Spears was approved by the court to receive a percentage of various deals signed for his daughter.”

 

As of 2018, Spears had a net worth of $59 million, and had spent $1.1 million on legal and conservator fees. 

 

Unusual and restrictive: Spears’ case is unusual as conservatorships are often created for people who have a severe cognitive impairment—such as those with severe dementia. A disability rights expert tells NPR:

 

"Usually it's not an individual who is young, who is working, who is very successful in their field — because that suggests a level of capability that wouldn't meet the standard for legal incapacity… It seems quite unusual that you would have a person who was capable of going out and doing all the kinds of professional activities she was doing, who is found to be totally incapable of managing either her personal or property affairs."

 

And it is rare for a court to grant such sweeping and absolute control to a single conservator: "It's supposed to be a narrowly tailored order, and the court is always supposed to use the least restrictive alternative.” 

 

Most strikingly, a person is supposed to have some say in who the court picks as their conservator. But her father has remained in charge even though Spears has tried for years to get him removed—and was opposed to his appointment from the very outset.

 

Point to note: According to the US law, the person should not lose their freedom due to a conservatorship:

 

"All conservatees have the right to be treated with understanding and respect and to have their wishes considered. They have all basic human rights, as well, and the right to be well cared for by you."

 

But going by Spears’ testimony, her father wilfully ignored both the letter and the spirit of the law.

 

What did Britney say about her father?

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In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • Deleted Covid samples raises questions
  • Tech pioneer John McAfee found dead
  • Mass graves of children in Canada
  • A gay man on a pound note

 

Weekend Advisory 

  • How is a new generation of thinkers grappling with consent?
  • Is working in offices really all that great for creativity?
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