29 September 2008

richard preston - the hot zone

the hot zone || richard preston || 2.0/5.0 stars

ok, so this was a book that i should have read in high school. maybe middle school. but i never had, and since it had been sitting on my shelf for well over two years, i figured it was probably time to finally pick it up. public health is my field, after all, and i kept feeling guilty for not having read one of our few claims to pop culture lore.

it took less than a week, and it was pretty painful. interesting, sure, but not quite my usual read. i feel like a snob saying that it isn't a smart book, but frankly, that's how it felt. i think i would have loved it ten years ago, but reading it now, and suffering through really basic (and often poor) descriptions of basic biologic processes, it was almost a chore to read.

perhaps the most difficult part of reading this book was how much the author anthropomorphized the ebola virus. sure, you can certainly let yourself believe that viruses (or more generally, species as a whole on the evolutionary level) are actively thinking and strategically planning their attack, but in the end this a false notion. viruses don't plan their mutations any more than the finches of galapagos got together and decided who would grow longer beaks or shorter legs. this concept is one of the most common bastardizations of the natural selection idea, and it doesn't help science for authors such as mr. preston to further the idea.

though i understand the dramatic appeal of such a slant, and the need to sell books, i think its irresponsible of a "science author" who has won several awards for his efforts. evolution works solely through chance mutations and luck of the draw - let's not muddle the story by pretending otherwise. its unfairly up for debate as it is.

my conclusions? i feel better having read it - a little more informed of what the lay population understands about epidemiology and outbreak investigations. less than impressed by the writing and the spin on the virus, though, and looking forward to cracking open a new book.

dwight yoakam - thousand miles from nowhere

26 September 2008

up for debate

"what we have to do is find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities."
-hillary clinton

i'm going to have to side with senator clinton: i'm pretty sure our current presidential debate system isn't cutting it. the neutral viewer learns little of value about the candidates, and the party faithful watch their opponents with baited breath for future campaign fodder. would it be so difficult to redesign the system so that americans could learn something about the issues and be able to compare potential policy? i'm excited to watch tonight, but also discouraged at the unlikelihood anything will come of it.

the structure of the debates feeds into society's dangerous propensity for soundbites and quick answers. instead of having three of the same, perhaps this year of "change" would be a good time to try out a new model of debate. a mirrored town hall? a revisit to sirs abe lincoln and stephen douglas? perhaps microphones designed to prevent interruption mid-explanation? there must be a way to reintroduce intelligence and thought into debates. larry sabato describes our current system as a nascar race, where we watch not for the monotony of the laps but for the perhaps catastrophic crash. debates should educate and inspire, not further partisanship. will tonight be the best our political process can create?

23 September 2008

franklin foer - how soccer explains the world

how soccer explains the world || franklin foer || 2.5/5.0 stars

i'd been looking forward to this read for a long time. it's certainly a grabbing title, and an unusual combination of concepts. i would call myself "interested" in both soccer and globalization, though i have to confess my knowledge of both is woefully inadequate. in terms of globalization, my understanding is skewed to the development end, and generally only goes as far as thomas friedman's the world is flat. as for soccer, i'm one of those obsessive world cup watchers - but completely oblivious otherwise. i'd blame it on inaccessability, but that's really a lie considering something i like to call "the internet", and my friend threestripes. i guess i was hoping for an answer why in this book.

sadly, it let me down. the writing was good, and it certainly wasn't hard to stay engaged. learned a lot about soccer's modern history and found the specific histories of various clubs to be very interesting.

the structure, however, failed to meet the concept's potential. the book is broken down into ten chapters, each designed to show how soccer explains a particular tenet of globalization - sectarianism, the role of jews, bourgeois nationalism, etc. because the book lacks a first or last chapter tying things together, it feels scrambled and disjointed. if anything, the author makes convincing arguments about how soccer has been shaped by globalizing factors - the opposite intention, perhaps. if you're looking for an expanded understanding of globalization, this isn't the book for you. if you're interested, however, in expanding your knowledge of the modern history of soccer - read on.

i'd absolutely recommend the book to soccer fans with an interest in current affairs. if you're looking for an answer as to why there are so few of that group in the united states, chapter 10 (how soccer explains the american culture wars) may shed a little light on the subject.

22 September 2008