The Case for Animal
An Evolutionary and
Michael Allen Fox
(University of California)
"Hey babareebear said the little wee bear..." Still with us? --- Just checking. Someone sent us a piece of mail with that slogan on it and it's now emblazoned on our frontal lobes. We sit here all day typing away and repeating it over and over to ourselves
"Hey babareebear said the little wee bear,Who knows what it means or where it came from but it's wedged inside the brain and won't be loosened.
Hey babareebear said the little wee bear..."
The first thing we do when beginning to read a book for review is look at the jacket picture of the author. Then, as we read, every 100 pages or so, we flip back to take another look. As we become absorbed in the book, familiar with the author's sensibilities, the photograph changes or new things appear in the frame. In a previous lifetime, the aptly named Mr. Fox may have been just that, or something close: a badger or ermine or ferret. He's a pleasant looking gentleman, a professor of philosophy, and may, we suspect, possess a particularly interesting angle on his bleak subject --- medical and other experimention on animals.
The book is published, not by the Sierra Club or the ASPCA, but by the University of California; an institution which must receive a substantial amount of grant dollars for such experimention, and therefore has a vested interest. Be that as it may, Mr. Fox has produced an exhaustive exploration of his subject. He dwells at length on the morality of animal experimentation, comparison with experiments carried out in the Nazi concentration camps, and the possibilities for using something other than a living creature for such research.
There's no denying that animal experimentation has often been the cornerstone of great progress in medical research, and yet there have also been terrible abuses and cruelties. Within the last decade smallpox has been virtually eradicated in Africa. The research which produced the vaccine employed animal experimentation. Women's makeup is often tested for its likelihood to cause irritation by dropping the substance into the eyes of rabbits --- it may painfully blind the bunnies, but it keeps the ladies' eyes and skin irritation free. Of the two examples we cite, both impose a cruel fate on the test animal, though the resulting benefit of the latter seems more superfluous than the first. In the case of animal experimentation, as with so much, it is left to us, finally, to remind ourselves that it was little more than luck, happenstance and a couple of opposing fingers that landed us at the top of the food chain. For those who believe in reincarnation (for which Mr. Fox's visage is a compelling argument) a mantra to the effect of "There but for the grace of God go I" may give guidance. If that doesn't work try "Hey babareebear said the little wee bear."The Universal Machine:
Confessions of a
It's been estimated that Isaac Newton spent as much as 75% of his time working out his equations in longhand. If he, or Copernicus or Da Vinci had possessed a computer, imagine how much more angst-ridden their lives could have been. And if he had mistakenly erased his hard disc, like we did recently, he might never have discovered gravity and we'd all have to nail our shoes to the floor so we wouldn't float up to the clouds.
McCorduck's writing is passionate and wise. With the exception of Tracy Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine), no other writer has conveyed the conceptual beauty of the computer.
Here it comes into our lives, this inevitable engine for the Age of Symbols, an age that marked its debut with the work of Sigmund Freud in one important domain, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in another, Ferdinand de Saussuve in still a third, all taking up as central to their separate disciplines the systematic idea of representation: standing for, the object as reference to another object. Thus the symbol, and now its own machine, the computer: It enters because we want it, we need it, a human machine in a way no other ever has been...As the microscope revealed the underlying structure shared by all living organisms, the cell, so the computer is revealing the underlying structures of all symbols, so varied and rich that it seems impossible to find connections among them that don't verge on superstition
To remain ignorant or indifferent to it is to step aside from our own century's contribution to all the other magnificent intellectual adventures that have exalted the human spirit, beginning, perhaps, with the invention of language itself.
It's commonplace that the twentieth century holds a ghastly store of tragedy for its children, who must clutch at their humanity against all despair and dread. We have seen poetry falter; we have seen the law fail us; formal religion was lost to us long ago. But in the distance, these troubled times may be remembered best for the invention --- the inevitable invention --- of an instrument to give us heart, for it liberates and magnifies the human property that has always served us best, our own intelligence.
(Simon & Schuster)Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about whom John McPhee wrote his portrait-essay A Roomful of Hovings, has cranked out a tale of intrigue having to do with Everybody In The World trying to get their hands on the last significant painting by Velázquez. Edgar Cayce said he could "read" a book by placing it beneath his pillow as he slept. We're trying out his technique on this one.
A Biography of
William James Sidis,
(Dutton)Amy Wallace gives us the heebie-jeebies. In fact, the whole Wallechinsky clan does. Amy, Irving, Sylvia, David, Sam, Sophie and god-knows-who-else Wallace are there in their word factory in Pomona or Gardena or Cucamonga busily spinning out Sex Books and Prediction Books and Psychic Healing Books and their newest The Of Lisps about all the great lispers of hithtory (did you know that Tipper Gore calls Al "Thnookumth?")
We always envision the Wallace Word Factory as the Swanson's of the publishing biz; Irving in charge of the Salisbury Steak, David parboiling the string beans, and Amy dredging up mashed potatoes.
The Prodigy certainly is a potato --- mashed together in record time in Amy's trusty spud cutter, facts and history glaucously amush, lumped up just in time for some new Dutton publishing deadline.
Sidis' history is not unworthy of interest nor pursuit: he was a certifiable genius, perhaps as great a prodigy as John Stuart Mill. He could type at three, write on anatomy by five, and speak seven languages at age six. He entered Harvard in 1909 when he was eleven years old; he composed poems and elaborate theories (he came up with a theory for the creation of the universe which is not unlike the Big Bang) --- but within a decade, he had dropped out of school and life --- spending the rest of his days hiding from the press and collecting streetcar transfers. His sad tale has great potential for in-depth probing (what happens psychologically to child pushed to the limits while still a prepubescent?) but the TV Dinner School of Journalism can kill an entertaining story deader 'n' an armadillo on a Texas two-laner just outside Waxahatchie at midnight.
Breaking the Impasse
In the War on Drugs
(Greenwood)We Americans certainly have a weird attitude towards drugs. We evidently want to restrict them as habit solely for the Upper Class: only those who can afford medically approved prescription, or professionals like attorneys or people who can pay for one or for the outrageous cost of coke. If you are minority, or a high-school student, we'll bust the hell out of you for buying, or using. (Despite this, and despite years and billions of dollars for "Drug Education Programs," it's estimated that 60% of California students use drugs every day).
For the poor --- it even worse: the police now have tanks to shove down your front door and squash you and your family flat in efforts to make the ghettos safe for democracy.
Not satisfied with this, we destroy the governing systems of whole countries (like Colombia) because of our arrant needs, and then dump money on their governments to punish those who are merely feeding our habits --- habits which are a product of our strange neo-puritan lifestyle. The people of America had the grace, in 1933, to push through the 21st Amendment; perhaps it time to do the same for drugs.
Wisotsky, a professor of law at Nova University, has had a bellyfull, saying
The War on Drugs inevitabIy is a losing and destructive policy; it reflects a set of unconscious, prejudicial, attitudes portraying the drug taker as victim rather than one exercising personal liberty in the pursuit of fundamental psychic needs. These attitudes imprison us, disabling us from taking meaningful and principled action. Breaking the impasse requires a new paradigm of individual responsibility for drug control.
Americans have always delighted in overseeing the morals of other Americans --- but fun as it may be to try to punish those who don't live up to our standards, our morals pitted against theirs creates a hellishly expensive public policy. For instance, Wisotsky points out that federal taxes on a legal drug trade could wipe out our national debt in two years; he also makes note of the fact that the Coast Guard has taken to chasing after drug dealers on the high seas in lieu of saving lives.
A few years ago, Consumer Reports issued a thorough study on drugs and drug use which claimed that the belief inaddicting powers of drugs is the most dangerous addiction of the operatives of the DEA. The War on Drugs makes us all out to be children, "treats people as though they were not morally responsible," says Wisotsky. He sees our policy as a rearguard action that has to change, and change drastically, in the coming years.--- R. R. Doister