Thursday, April 26, 2012

A cruel hand laid upon American citizens (Books - The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander)

According to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the "War on Drugs," was not waged in an effort to dispense justice to dangerous criminals, but rather to control black men by putting them behind bars and relegating them to permanent second class status upon their release.  Her book is damning accusation that the execution of the drug laws has effectively continued the marginalization of black men that began with slavery, proceeded to the Jim Crow laws.  The difference today is that, since many presume we have reached the colorblind nirvana dreamed of by Dr. King, this is carried out through procedures masquerading as law and race is never mentioned.  Alexander's book reads less like a typical account of current affairs than a passionate case argument, a form that will come as no surprise considering her career as a civil rights lawyer and legal scholar.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Get out of the lab: scientists communicating with the world (Books - Am I Making Myself Clear, Don't be Such a Scientist, Escape from the Ivory Tower)

As I approach the home stretch of a PhD in neuroscience, I find that that the audience I most enjoy writing for about this cutting edge field is the general non-scientist reader. I read three books recently about scientists communicating with non-scientists. Am I Making Myself Clear by Cornelia Dean, Don't Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson, and Escape from the Ivory Tower by Nancy Baron have in common a belief that most scientists do this poorly and, ironically, that they should do it more often. Too long winded, too technical, and too many qualifications are the main criticisms, and each volume offers advice on how to be more effective.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Michael Gazzaniga, Father of Neuroscience, Speaks on Brain Science and Free Will

I covered neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga's talk on the brain and free will at Cooper Union for Capital New York, hence the resounding silence here. Check out my piece at the link below.

“Probably 99.999 percent of what goes on in the brain is automatic and unconscious. I have no idea what my next sentence will be, and sometimes I sound like it,” Gazzaniga began in his unassuming way. “We think the other stuff, the ‘me,’ the ‘self,’—we think that’s really important. We think there is somebody in charge—somebody pulling the levers.”

In promoting the book Who’s In Charge, Gazzaniga has learned that this is a subject on which everyone has an opinion.

Can we have free will, if the brain's actions are automatic? A scholar makes the case | Capital New York

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Orwell's inherently human contradictions embraced (Books - Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens)

I decided to read the late Christopher Hitchens's Why Orwell Matters less because I have a driving interest in political essayist and novelist George Orwell than because I had never read a book by Hitchens and many a sharp reading friend had praised his work. I was vaguely aware of Orwell being lauded and derided alternately by the left and the right. I knew he had become a hero of the neo-cons and I didn't know why. There's no reason to read at all if you're only going to stay in your ideological comfort zone, so I picked up Why Orwell Matters this weekend to see what they were all about.

This slim volume is not a biography. It is a corrective polemic of others opinions of Orwell - either critics of him, or those who idolized Orwell by appropriating

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A drama of social injustice in the Mumbai slums (Books - Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo)

Award-winning journalist Katherine Boo has spent two decades, according to her bio, writing about how societies distribute opportunity and, consequently, who is defined as poor. The last three years of that time she spent reporting on India, and in particular, an illegal squatters' slum near the Mumbai airport and luxury hotels known as Annawadi. Although Boo writes non-fiction, her prose in Behind the Beautiful Forevers transforms poverty from a socio-political abstraction into something one can taste and smell and whose consequences upon real people we experience deeply.