Monthly Archives: January 2010

Howard Zinn, antiwar stalwart

Friend of Media Nation Clif Garboden sent along this photo of the late Howard Zinn, debating the Vietnam War in Boston University’s Hayden Hall in 1967. The photo is Garboden’s copyrighted work, and is republished here by permission.

Targeting the difference gene

A major theme of my 2003 book on dwarfism, “Little People,” was what would happen in the not-too-distant future when inexpensive tests would be developed to detect the 100 or so most common genetic conditions in utero. Would dwarfism and other human variations be eliminated? How would it change our uneasy relationship with difference, which we both celebrate and fear?

Now it’s starting to happen. The New York Times reports today that a company called Counsyl has come up with exactly such a test. It costs only $698 for couples. It’s not an in utero test; rather, the aim is to tell would-be parents whether they are carriers of genetic conditions. And there are questions as to how effective the test will be. But we have finally reached the starting line.

The most common form of dwarfism, achondroplasia, is not on the list, and there’s a good reason for that: it’s a dominant condition. If you have the gene, you’re a dwarf, and a carrier by definition. But diastrophic dysplasia and cartilage-hair hypoplasia, recessive forms of dwarfism, are on the list. (For those of you who have seen “Little People, Big World,” Amy and Zach Roloff have achondroplasia. Matt Roloff has diastrophic dysplasia.)

And what are you supposed to do if you learn you are a carrier? Counsyl calls these “Preventable Genetic Diseases Covered by the Universal Genetic Test.” We get the picture, and it’s mighty chilling.

We are all entitled to as much information as possible. It’s up to each of us to decide what to do with that information. Nevertheless, you can’t help but be concerned about where this is going to lead.

J.D. Salinger’s battle against free expression

J.D. Salinger, who died Wednesday at the age of 91, spent the last year of his life waging a wrong-headed battle against the fair-use exemption to copyright law, which allows for the use of copyrighted materials without permission under certain limited circumstances.

A Swedish humorist who goes by the name of J.D. California wrote a sequel to Salinger’s most famous work, “The Catcher in the Rye,” called “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye.” Salinger sued for copyright violation, even though parody is protected by fair use.

Last summer I gave Salinger a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award for this outrage against free speech. I am, of course, under no illusions that Salinger ever knew or cared. What’s more disturbing is that the courts held up publication of “60 Years Later,” and that the case is still pending.

Let’s hope Salinger’s heirs drop the suit.

An Indian casino for Fall River?

The Cape Cod Times reports that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is negotiating with Fall River officials to build a casino in that city — a claim that tribal council chairman Cedric Cromwell more or less denies, saying he remains committed to building a casino in Middleborough.

A casino would be bad news anywhere in Massachusetts. But, all things considered, an economically depressed city such as Fall River makes more sense than Middleborough, whose rural character would be harmed significantly by such a venture.

Friday morning update: The Cape Cod Times, as promised, has more details today. And it looks like negotiations are off to a fine start. Fall River Mayor William Flanagan tells the Times, on the record, that he has met with tribal leaders to talk about a casino. Cromwell denies it.

Thoughts on the state of Obama

Long after the forgettable rhetoric of the State of the Union address has been duly forgotten, voters may remember two things: a combative, self-confident president and a sour, negative opposition party. If President Obama is to stage a political comeback, it may well have begun last night.

Or so I argue in the Guardian.

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

Howard Zinn

Historian, social critic and war hero Howard Zinn has died at 87. The Boston Globe weighs in with a well-wrought obituary. Wikipedia’s thorough profile of Zinn is worth reading as well.

Zinn was a dedicated man of the left, and his take on President Obama, written just a few weeks ago for the Nation, is characteristic. It begins:

I’ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama’s rhetoric; I don’t see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I didn’t expect that much.

Zinn was best known for his book “A People’s History of the United States.” I came to it rather late — less than 10 years ago. Frankly, a lot of it struck me as the sort of cant that I got over in my teens – although I was also struck by how deeply Zinn loved his country.

“A People’s History” is well-written and meticulously well-documented, and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in an alternative perspective on American history.

Photo via WikiMedia Commons.

Mining comments for social-media gold

Social media isn’t just about Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes it’s about finding new ways to listen to your audience. Even reader comments, which seem so 1998, can be a good starting point.

Today’s example: For some time now, a commenter to the New Haven Independent who goes by the handle of “Norton Street” has been posting smart missives on issues related to architecture and urban design.

On Tuesday, NHI editor Paul Bass revealed Norton Street’s identity — he is an architecture student named Jonathan Hopkins — and accompanied him on a walking tour of New Haven’s architectural highlights and lowlights.

The story has already attracted 17 comments, including yet another long post from Hopkins.

Here is the NHI’s comments policy, which I think is a model of how to do this right.