Category: Social


Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity by Jamie Metzl

September 10th, 2019 — 10:07pm

Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl

What if during the stage of life that you will be planning a family, your doctor told you that it could be arranged so that your future child would have the best of yours and your partner’s genetic makeup? Isn’t that what everybody hopes for? Suppose it could also be arranged that your future child would not get cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses and would lead a long and healthy life. In addition, you could choose for your offspring to have a very high IQ and great athletic ability? While you are at it, you could also choose to have this precious child have an outgoing, empathic personality.

The summer between college and medical school, I had a fellowship to work at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. One of the projects that I worked on was to study the behavior differences between mice that differed from each other by one gene. Little did I realize that I was a small part of major scientific advances that were developing which are now on the verge of offering all of the above choices and much more.

This book explains what is happening in an exploding revolution in our understanding of the ability to manipulate human genetics. Initially, I felt the book was going to be too technical as even with my medical background, I had some trouble following the scientific descriptions of the splitting of the human genome. However, just as I was about to lose him, the author dialed back with a practical explanation and descriptions. He also was able to inject his sense of humor into the overwhelming implications of what he is talking about.

The result is an absolutely fascinating book that will completely change your view of Olympic athletes as well as the choices that you and your children may have to make when planning a family. I am sorry to say that reading this book make keep you awake at night contemplating the serious ethical and moral dilemmas that our society will now have to face. Thoughtfully, the author even offers some suggestions how we can grapple with those issues.

By the way, because of the background of the author Jamie Metzl, I can’t help wondering if he himself were genetically modified. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University, held a PhD from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard Law School. In addition, he is an avid Ironman triathlete and an ultramarathoner.

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Comment » | M - Medical, Science, Social

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

October 5th, 2018 — 8:01pm

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Although this book bemoans the loss of conversation because of modern technology, I don’t believe I have recently read a book that stimulated more conversation with people who are important to me than this one did. Early in the book, there is a reference to a cute two-minute video which had 51 million hits the last time I looked. It is titled “I Forgot My Phone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8). The response to this simple message reveals to me the awareness that people now have concerning their increasing dependency on their phones.

It is stating the obvious that people are on their phones much of the time, at the dinner table, while working, in school, walking in the street, riding in the car-frequently while driving, before going to sleep, just after waking up, as well as in many more places and situations. The author hammers home the point which should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that texts, emails, emojis, etc. are taking the place of real conversations between people. Replying to a text or email while you are with people is not a real conversation with the person who is in your presence or with your phone partner. In person conversations facilitate real relationships and creativity.

The impact of this book, which is based on a good deal of personal research by the author as well as studying other peoples’ research and observations, is not simply a loss of the art of or advantages of meaningful conversation. Ms. Turkle makes a very strong argument and a scary one, as she gives numerous examples proving the point, that the more we communicate with our phones as compared to being in person, the more we lose the ability to have empathy and to be empathic with other people. The ability to relate to others and to understand their feelings is the essence of what makes us human. Ms. Turkle is making a very compelling case that modern technology is making us lose our humanity.

This point is made in the book numerous times. While it is even somewhat repetitious, there is great value to see it in so many different contexts. For example, there is a parent who takes a small child to the park and is looking at his or her phone rather than looking and talking to the child. The author gives the all familiar example of a family who is at home or in the car with children involved in games or texting as the parents are likewise preoccupied with their phones rather than the family relating to each other. When there should be an in person creative business meeting, instead the meeting is held by Skype during which the participants are multitasking in their own locations. There is a school lunch table where friends instead of talking and understanding each other, are looking at their latest texts. There are obviously numerous other examples that could be made and are made in this book.

While the results of the invasion of our phones and all that goes with it is scary and discouraging, there is hope. The author talks about families, businesses and schools that are addressing these issues with no phone zones, no phones at meals or in the car and other creative ways of bringing people together and encouraging conversation. However, it is also clear that we are far from solving this problem. In fact, the author shows us with many examples that we are regressing “Siri” to robots who we want to take care of us. Do we believe that artificial intelligent machines can understand and respond to us? Where are we going with this issue? What should we do about the effects of modern technology on our humanity and the impact on our children. Read this book and keep talking about this subject.

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Comment » | Social

Strangers In Their Own Land By Arlie Russell Hochschild

December 17th, 2017 — 11:51pm

Strangers In Their Own Land

Anger And Mourning On The American Right. A Journey To The Heart Of Our Political Divide by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The title and subtitles pretty much summarizes the heart of this book. It is the story of the journey of a prominent sociologist from the University of California at Berkeley who is clearly quite liberal on the political spectrum. However, she had a strong desire to understand the other side of the political divide and put herself in the shoes of people who identify with the Tea Party and its followers.

Through some personal connections of people that she had met, she is able to travel to places in the Deep South particularly the State of Louisiana and spend time with real people who live and work in red states and identify with the Tea Party. She comes to understand and shares with the reader a metaphor or concept of “Standing in a long line waiting for your piece of the American dream.” The typical person who she met, who she felt appeared to identify with this idea of patiently standing in line was often Christian, male, at least middle age and hard working. Of course, there were many women and younger people and other variations. But the important part of this metaphor that the “people standing in line” believed was that there were other people who were cutting into the line in front of them. These “cutters” were often immigrants, refugees, people of color and any minority you might think of. This “cutting in front of them” was usually felt to be sponsored by government action and government program such as welfare, affirmative action and other programs. There were deep emotional feelings that were connected with these ideas which appeared to block out any awareness of how many government programs have been used by their forebearers, family members and even themselves such as Medicaid, Medicare, government loans, school support, etc. In fact, many of these people actually see former President Barack Obama himself as typifying the people who they felt cheated them out of their piece of the American dream.

Ms. Hochschild clearly conveys that most of the people she met in her journey were kind, caring people who were often charitable to strangers. Some, but not all, do have deep prejudice. We see in her many discussions and listening sessions that the author had in the land of the right, there is a little room for debate, but that it requires listening and empathy to gain insight into a thinking of the people who she met. Clearly, Ms. Hochschild has a great ability to listen and is quite empathic which does not mean that she agrees with the subjects in her book.

The voyage which the author has taken is in my opinion is most amazing when she tries to understand how the Tea Party and its followers view environmental damage. She met many people who have clearly seen their beloved home state, home town and in some cases their own health and the health of their children, all damaged by gross negligence caused by big unregulated industry. You would think that people who are in this sad situation would welcome protection by government and government regulations. But instead, their predisposition against government and their view that government has been unfair to them, does not allow them to embrace the regulations that are needed to protect them.

The words of this review cannot give you a true understanding of the feelings of the people that she meets in this book. In my opinion, there are many solid facts that argue against the beliefs and conclusions that these Americans have made. The author’s journey makes it clear that rational debate will not begin to heal the chasm that exists at present. Perhaps there needs to be another important book written this time by a southern Tea Party author who will come to the blue states and try to understand why so many of us are acutely aware that “there for the grace of God go us.” We know the story of our ancestors and we experience the story of America quite differently than they do, but hopefully their empathy will allow them to understand us and perhaps we can all come together at some future time.

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Comment » | P - Political, Social

Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America by Jill Leovy

October 10th, 2017 — 8:26pm

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

This is a very sad book. It is a story of homicide in the so-called Ghetto area of Los Angeles. Most of the victims and perpetrators are young black men and boys. Not surprisingly, these murders are often gang related, sometimes revenge for previous murder or because somebody is believed to be a “snitch”. Other times the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of these murders don’t even get mentioned in the newspapers or on TV. It’s not unusual for there to be a couple of murders per night in each police district. These crimes may occur in a family where there is a tradition of crime and violence. But on the other hand, sometimes the victim is a high school kid who seemed to be on verge of breaking out of this cycle of crime. Countless families become devastated by this epidemic of murder as the author skillfully and vividly described in so many cases. At times the reader just wants to say, “Enough!” as it it is quite painful to read this book.

The book is also about the Los Angeles homicide detectives and their dedication and professionalism. We see countless examples of how these detectives deal with the horror and indescribable painful situations that they have to view every day. We see their patience and empathy as they speak to family members of murder victims and often making a death notification. This reader was blown away by their ability to do this type of work on a day-to-day basis and treat each murder with care and individuality. We follow some very skillful, dedicated detectives who do their jobs with great respect for the victims and their families.

The juxtaposition of getting insight into the impact of these murders on the families and the professionalism and dedication of the police homicide detectives was quite interesting. However, nothing was more dramatic and eye-opening then when one of the homicide detectives’ sons was murdered and we follow another detective as he applies his intellectual and emotional skills to follow and solve this case through the court room and final verdict. It was clear that this LAPD homicide detective did his best to bring justice to this case in the same manner that he handled all his other cases.

This book really gives a wonderful window and insight to how the police, despite difficult circumstances and at times limited resources, do a job about which they and all of us should be very proud. Reading this book is as engrossing as any TV show about crime and it probably brings the reader closer to the real thing than any movie or novel could do. It is all true and happening every day in Los Angeles and in many other cities throughout the country

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Comment » | Social

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

July 13th, 2017 — 9:44pm

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Much to my chagrin, I thought that I was reading a fiction novel until I concluded the book and read some notes by the author. It was then that I understood that the book is a true account of specific real people living in Annawanda, a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) India. The author kept detailed notes about her interviews and discussion with the people described in this book. Everything in the book is purported to be true!

I come away from this experience with insight into the life of living in a slum in India. It is most depressing to realize the demeaning life that so many people are living there. It is especially disheartening to appreciate how so many children are deprived of an education and instead have to accept their role of hard labor at a young age. If something can even be worse than this, it is the type of work that these youngsters must pursue. Of course any type of child labor is deplorable but for the children of Annawanda and other such areas, a major work endeavor is scavenging garbage on a daily basis in order to come up with anything of value which might include used paper cups, uneaten food, scraps of metal and whatever. At times these children would seem to be from age 10 upward. They would find their lives endangered from security guards or dealing with risky physical hazards. Other times we learn how such children suffer the health consequences by incurring diseases and infected skin lesions by their daily submersion in garbage. The fact that their parents and other elders tolerate these activities by their children, have encouraged it as well or even joined them in some aspect of this work, only demonstrates the degenerate nature of their life.

It is ironic that these things are happening in a democratic country, which appears to have free elections. However, this book gives us a close look at the level of corruption among politicians at all levels, police and seemingly among just about any person who has any authority or advantage over another person. Paying bribes is an acceptable way of life even if these payments may be diminishing the food from their families.

Certainly this book is well written. The subject matter is riveting, if for no other reason that it is unbelievable. Does a woman with one leg being set on fire by herself or perhaps assisted by someone close to her, provide a dramatic scenario? Imagine a prolonged trial for this incident in which one of the defendants is a child being tried in juvenile court, all fraught with corruption and bribery.

Katherine Boo is a first time author who worked as a writer for New Yorker Magazine for many years and has spent a great deal of time reporting from poor countries. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. It must have been an emotionally painful experience to have been so close to the depravity and misery that she reported in this story.

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Comment » | HI - History, P - Political, Social

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