Archive for December 3, 2006

Reviews: The Genius Factory, The World is Flat, Buddha Volumes 1 & 4

The Genius Factory by David Plotz

Slate columnist takes on the Repository for Germinal Choice a sperm bank that got the reputation for being stocked by nobel lauretes or does he? Plotz’s narrative can be troubling, he often takes a moralist stance in his writing that can be a little disturbing, but that’s also exactly what this book lacks. The Genuis Factory is far from the fast food nation of fertility clinics (if anything it seems to endorse as Plotz admits that donor sperm does give children a small advantage) As Plotz notes The Nobel Prize Sperm bank blazed trails for fertility clinics by encouraging banks to become more selective with donors and more transparent with the donor’s history, but as Plotz notes fertility has become a commercial industry, one which is more than willing to capitalize and play off widespread beliefs in the importance of the father when it comes to children’s intelligence (although Plotz recaps current thinking that intelligence is actually mostly inherited from the mother in Chickens for instance 97.2% of genetic stuff comes from the mom). My point being while Plotz documents the rise of popular eugenics and it’s codification from women’s choices in their mates to banks codifing socially desirable traits such as height, eye color, race, ivy league education, and others at the exclusion of short, pudgy, curly haired… you get the idea, Plotz doesn’t get into the supply chain, the actual decission making process in how to market sperm or the other aspects of the industry that could be morally objectionable. This is both a plus and a minus as the book doesn’t come across as another tell all about an industry ,but Plotz’s narrative focuses on a small spectrum of interesting stories in what is probably a sea of data and that brings up the next problem, Plotz’s investigation provided plenty of chances to test the eugenics hypothesis he originally opposes, Plotz could have collected IQs, controlled for various factors, etc and then figure out if or if not children of the nobel sperm bank in fact are more intelligent, instead he sticks to a likely true, but more acceptable idea that children of the nobel bank turned out so well more becuase their mothers expected them too than becuase of their genetics. This is obviously a great loss becuase Plotz collected an amazing data set and do to the anonymous nature of donors and the difficultly of hunting down children of them it makes estimating the long term effects of sperm donation on a population hard to do. Plotz instead though tells a compelling story, one which proves his point, that genetics isn’t fate, in fact if anything his story seems to be telling us that what people become has more to do with their own decissions and context than with their genes, something that was already well know, but I would have liked to have seen Plotz make more of his sperm detective agency and also to justify his assumption with research, but David is a great writer and obviously a lot of fun to read I just wish he could summarize research with his stories.

The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

I’m way late on this book, which might explain why so much of it seems to familar. Anyway, Friedman (NYT writer) writes about the “flattening” of the world i.e. the outsourcing of manufacturing and brain power and the forces that are allowing companies to start as international businesses day one. Nothing in this book hasn’t been already injested by American or international culture, it’s almost redudant now, but it’s message does help to clarify the importance of developing a better educated populos worldwide.

Buddha Volumes One & Four by Osamu Tezuka

I wrote about this before, Osamu Tezuka the dude behind astro-boy wrote this fictional account of the Buddha’s life. Aside from reveling in Indian folk-lore, Tezuka has a peculiar knack for making interesting characters and making the Buddha surprisingly human. While Christ was always above it all, Tezuka’s Buddha sincerely yearns and bleeds like a human, and it is this aspect of his upbringing that is the most impressive, becuase Siddharta is a remarkably human character who is constrained by his own desire to be a holy man and the dictates of his mortality. Tezuka manages to make a major religious icon into a normal guy, his ascent into god-dom is underscored by his everydayness and the pettiness of his emotions, Osamu’s Buddha could be described as almost hyper-pathetic and hence his story is all the more engrossing by bringing nirvana down to the masses and making a revered icon into the boy next door. But Siddharta aside, Tezuka also interprets characters from The Mahabharata and The Ramayana into his own puply creations. Timeless tales become stripped down to crass levels that make them simplistic enough to be endearing, yet somehow the whole comes across much better than the parts, all of these 1-dimensional characters evolve into a very 5 or 6 dimensional narrative which is driven by a story that’s probably still new to many Western ears.

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December 3, 2006 at 5:55 pm Leave a comment

Neural Stem Cell + Mad Cow Disease

Mad Cow Disaease is caused by a protein that pokes holes in the brain eventually driving the victim insane, neural stem cells (recently cultured by researchers at Fudon University) repair portions of the brain. Hence a neural stem cell treatment would repair damaged portons of the brain, but more interestingly the stem cells can also be used as biomarkers, hence we can literally regrow portions of the brain with biomarkers in them creating one large neuronal structure which could be tagged and studied as it works. If this would help anyone I don’t know, but the idea just occured to me and sounds fun (especially on mice). You could eventually have an entire brain tagged and studyable at one time.

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December 3, 2006 at 3:25 pm Leave a comment

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