Reading Assignments: October 2007 Archives

To read this week

  • Vanity Fair's interview with Stephen Colbert
  • A lengthy, excellent excerpt from Anthony Esolen's Ironies of Faith. The particular irony of faith discussed is that of time, the context is Tolkein's short story "Leaf, by Niggle."
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Weekend Reading

  • NCR's John Allen's interview with Cardinal George.
  • Cheryl Miller's review of the somewhat frightening Everything Conceivable, a book that casts an indifferent eye on our assisted reproduction mess. Warning, although the review is good, things like this might make you want to bang your head against the wall:
    What of the babies who are the goal of these new reproductive technologies? The procedures of ART can harm the very children they help to create. Infertile fathers often pass their infertility down to their sons. Prematurity is now the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States, in part due to the “epidemic” of multiple births to IVF patients. Multiples are twenty times more likely to die in the first month of their lives than singletons; those multiples that survive are more likely to have respiratory difficulties, learning disabilities, and other problems. Cerebral palsy, for instance, has become more common in the United States, even as its major cause, jaundice, has been all but eliminated. And even IVF singletons are less healthy than non-IVF children: they tend to be smaller and are more likely to be born with birth defects, including bowel and genital deformations and eye cancer.

    And yet press reports abound with stories of “designer babies.” Would-be parents relying on sperm or egg donations try to micromanage every part of the donor selection process—eye color, height, musical or athletic ability, even political leanings—in part, no doubt, because they desperately want to exert some control over a process in which they are largely powerless. Mundy tries, at times, to play this tendency down, arguing that most fertility patients don’t want to design a perfect baby; they’re grateful to have any baby. She quotes a nurse who tells her, “I’ve never come across a patient who wants to design their baby.”

    This seems willfully naïve, even unbelievable. As much as Mundy wants to get past the stereotype of the super-picky fertility patient practicing “yuppie eugenics,” the stories she tells reinforce it. One couple fights over how tall their egg donor should be; another, to head off such squabbles, creates a mathematical formula for potential egg donors: “health plus education times looks, add back social sports.” “What are you going to do, get someone with [an SAT score of] 1550, or are you going to cheat your child and get them a mom with a 1210?” asks the parent who devised that “unofficial algorithm.” Such sentiments might strike the reader as shallow and laughable, but underneath these attitudes lie some unsavory (and decidedly illiberal) assumptions about human equality. One self-described “ardent social liberal” explains her feelings about donating her excess embryos (created using both an egg and sperm donor) thus: “These could be superstar embryos. I didn’t want to put them with high school graduates; you have the product of a doctor and a lawyer, and I wanted them to have the benefit of being around people like them.”

  • John Robb's look at the future of terrorism from this summer edition of City Journal. An eye-opening read, but given recent events, the author's touting of Blackwater as a possible solution to the threat of terrorism in our cities is unfortunate.

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At your leisure...

| might check out:

  • What's with the boom in spicy food? Baby boomers:
    Chiefly because of degenerating olfactory nerves, most aging people experience a diminished sense of taste, whether they realize it or not. But unlike previous generations, the nation's 80 million boomers have broad appetites, a full set of teeth, and the spending power to shape the entire food market.

  • The 10 Most Insane Sports in the World

    Go and belly-laugh

  • Lefty v. Lefty on Lefties

    Ezra Klein savages Mark Penn's Microtrends.

    I first flipped through Microtrends while at the YearlyKos convention, and Penn, astonishingly, seemed to comprehend the importance of the loosely connected, grassroots-driven, progressive movement’s flowering. “I suspect the lefty boom will bring a surge in the promotion of sheer creative energy,” Penn writes, “driven by an idea that is at the heart of this book—that small groups of people, sharing common experiences, can increasingly be drawn together to rally for their interests.” I was shocked—Penn was speaking admirably of “lefties,” not trying to recast them as moderates, not trying to write them out of the party? He was endorsing open-source politics, rather than a top-down structure? I had misjudged the man!

    I read on. Penn was talking about actual lefties—people who are born left-handed. Increasingly grim, I absorbed the first hard blows of Penn’s interpretative technique: “More lefties,” he enthuses, “could mean more military innovation: Famous military leaders from Charlemagne to Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon—as well as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf—were left-handed.” He uses the same thunderingly awful logic to argue that we’ll see more art and music greats, more famous criminals, more great comedians, more “executive greatness,” and better tennis and basketball players...

    What’s more amazing is this: A page earlier, Penn argues that the rise in lefties has nothing to do with there being more lefties, and everything to do with more permissive parenting. In other words, where children used to be trained out of left-handedness, now parents “shrug their shoulders, saying it’s okay.” So not only does Penn fail to prove that lefties are genetically different in some important way, he also suggests that the gene pool is no different, and that there are as many of them around now as always. It’s a fallacy atop an error built around something that isn’t happening.

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E-mail, succinctly

| | Comments (1)

Forget Send, this is all you need to read about email, and it's pure gold for misanthropes.

Correct emailing practice does not exist. The true mood of the form is spontaneity, alacrity—the right time to reply to a message is right away. But do that and your life is gone. So you reject the spontaneous spirit of email; you hold off replying for hours, days, even weeks. By then the initiatory email has gone stale, and your reply is bound to be labored. You compensate for the offense with a needlessly elaborate message. You ask polite questions to which you pray there will never come an answer. Oh, but there will....

Email is good for one thing only: flirtation. The problem with flirtation has always been that the nervousness you feel in front of the object of your infatuation deprives you of your wittiness. But with email you can spend an hour refining a casual sally. You trade clever notes as weightless, pretty, and tickling as feathers. The email, like the Petrarchan sonnet, is properly a seduction device, and everyone knows that the SUBJECT line should really read PRETEXT.

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John Derbyshire's tribute to 18th century mathematician Leonhard Euler is very much worth reading. Yeah, I know what I just wrote, but it's true.

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

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This page is a archive of entries in the Reading Assignments category from October 2007.

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