The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race

A so, so difficult book to wade through. For you, it might be easy and enjoyable. Still, I had to read it. The times demand it.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human RaceThe Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I offered only an OK rating of two stars. That’s not to say that this isn’t a well-written book, for the right audience. Walter Isaacson had to have spent an incredible amount of time researching and compiling all the information within it. All those five star ratings and stellar reviews must have come from the right readers who found it great.

This is a science book. Very dense and heavy science. Misled by the many interviews on Walter Isaacson’s book tour, I didn’t realize that I was not among the members of the right audience. I thought this book would spend considerable time (it spent some, just not nearly the amount I expected) on the topics below:

The how and why mRNA and CRISPR were used to create both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines–and, most importantly, why reluctant people had nothing to fear from them. [I came away unable to find the words with which I could readily allay those fears of others. I had already happily got my shots, taking on faith the review and approval process–not to mention the lack of reports of any serious ill effects of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.]

The ethical quandaries gene editing pose AND the benefits of them for curing diseases. [Yes, looking forward to disease cures but not to enhancements the wealthy will seek for their children].

What then did the book cover?

In excruciating detail, a chronicle of every meeting, conversation, conference and lab experiment, paper submitted/published, patent applied for by hundreds of graduate students, post-docs and more among the biochemists, x-ray crystallographers, structural biologists, engineers, etc., who worked for or under, in competition or collaboration with or supervised Jennifer Doudna enroute to her well deserved Nobel prize that she shared with Emmanuelle Charpentier.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate Infamy Has Passed On

It’s been nearly a week now since the leader of Richard Nixon’s White House Plumbers unit passed away. Many, if not most of you, have heard neither of him nor these plumbers. They had nothing to do with pipes in the White House. They were charged with doing what they could–legal or otherwise, to get Nixon reelected in 1972. As it turned out, he really didn’t need the help; he won by a landslide.

On the other hand, his second term ended early because of their criminal activity–and that of countless top White House staff or cabinet members in trying to cover up their misdeeds. Many of the perps went to jail, including Liddy. Oh, and then there was the tape of conversations between Nixon and those conspirators–that he had installed in the Oval Office–that was the “smoking gun” that the Supreme Court said must be released.

Quite a difference between them and former 45th President Trump.  Not nearly as many went to jail–though more still may do so. Nixon pardoned NONE of his criminal conspirators. Trump pardoned most of his. Unfortunately for those who stuck it out to the bitter end of Trump’s unsuccessful effort to reverse the 2020 election results, they didn’t get pardoned and now never will.

But let’s get back to Liddy, who served 4 1/2 years in prison back in the 1970s. Nixon resigned the White House in 1973, when it all came out. He would have been convicted in a Senate trial of impeachment–but it never came to that. The GOP has changed greatly over those decades–giving Trump a free pass, TWICE.

Notably, none of the media I read or watch had any word of Liddy coming to Trump’s aid on January 6th or any time over the four preceding years. One might be excused for thinking he might have followed in Roger Stone’s footsteps (or tattoo of Nixon on his back) working for Trump.

In 2015, we had dueling book reviews here on Views. One of Viktor Frankl’s best selling Man’s Search for Meaning. and one of Liddy’s memoir, Will. I won’t rehash that post; you can read it here.

But, I will repost my review of Liddy’s book, in somewhat sardonic honor of his recent death at age 90.

Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon LiddyWill: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy by G. Gordon Liddy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This has to be one of the most hilarious, surprising and ultimately tragic books I have ever read. Far into the book I remained convinced that Liddy must have been writing a self-deprecating satire of his life just to spite all the liberals, Nixon-haters and antiwar protestors of the Watergate era.

Who would brag about tying himself to a tree in a lightning storm to overcome his fears? Who would describe choosing his spouse in major part for her strong Teutonic stock? Who would extoll many aspects of the Third Reich?

But no, I eventually concluded, he was serious. He really did do all the nutty stuff he described. He really believed all the nonsensical things he professed. He really did all the criminal acts he was charged with and did so proudly–thinking that his self-perceived set of American values superseded the Constitution and the applicable laws. It explains a lot about his behavior during Watergate. That he not only was but still is so deluded is the tragedy. You should read the book, but check it out of the library–don’t buy it.

View all my Goodreads reviews

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

A Review of Pines (first in Wayward Pines trilogy)

Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I watched the TV show and only now read the book. Some may like the TV show better. For me, the book is far better–with surprising literary qualities amidst the terror, the savagery and the mystery. Now I must wonder what happens in the next two books. It took the second season of the TV show (if my memory is correct) to reveal all (and probably things not in the trilogy). Here the big mystery is laid bare in book one, but not until the very end. Obviously the books and the show were very different. So, I must read the next two.

What literary qualities? OK, not so many, but here’s a couple samples:

“The sweet cold water. The bright sound of the river tumbling down through the canyon. The clatter of stones shifting under the current. The piercing blue of the sky. To be warm again lifted his spirits.”

and

“scooted forward until he perched on the edge of the alcove. The rain had stopped. The night sky hemorrhaging starlight. He’d never had the slightest interest in astronomy but he found himself searching for familiar constellations . . .”

You probably won’t read this book looking for literary motifs, but it’s interesting to me that a book like this has some.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

A Review of The Illustrated Hen

The Illustrated HenThe Illustrated Hen by Scott Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some have called it surreal. Others say absurd. It crosses genres. Read the description here on Goodreads for what’s up with the book. As a fellow writer, I look at it for technique even as I strive to be entertained. I did like it very much. Not everyone will. This is one of those books that will engender the “Huh?” response. As in, where is the author going with this. If you’re patient, you’ll find out. That requires your attention to be kept because you find it enjoyable. If not, you’ll just close the Kindle reader.

For me, it’s an excellent book with imagery that only occasionally borders on purple prose. The voice does vary, adding some confusion, which is resolved in time. That’s a pun, as you will learn sooner or later.
The book opens and closes with a frame—not so obvious in the prologue, yet that’s what is.

Without spoiling, here’s some foreshadowing from it:

“He paused briefly at the dates. The headstones shimmered a bit as he pulled his hand away.

She would be here soon.

He could see the energy rising up from the ground.

There was another Ray entering the tunnel. The possibilities were endless. Time was bending toward him but wouldn’t remain that way for long.

The headstones came back into focus, and she was standing there.

‘We’ve been waiting for you,’ she said.”

The opening chapter offers a PI character in negotiation with a shopkeeper. The narrative is vivid, putting the reader in front of the man. Again, in time, one will come to understand the point not of knowing the man but of getting why the description is supplied. The book is that well constructed.

“ ‘So what can I do for your, Burrberry comma Raymond,’ the man asked. He was a large, beefy fellow with a booming voice and thick framed glasses. He was holding up a business card and looking at it carefully. The man squinted through his glasses at the card, then Burrberry then back to the card.

The lenses were huge. The frames hung somewhat delicately on the bridge of his nose—a sculptured kind of nose, like you saw in those old Italian paintings.”

We could go on, but that risks telling too much. Here is the thing—it’s a story within a story. Rather, stories within a story. The writer’s voice varies because the stories do and it’s part of the evolution. Back and forth in time with characters and situations. It’s a rich book that I enjoyed. There are parts better than others. Parts that could have been better. But they can be overlooked as the sum of the parts makes for a wonderful whole.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

Review of Partners in Time

My first review of 2021–an intense love/hate suspense thriller with a ghost and an affluent couple nearly torn apart by an unlikely affair.

Partners in TimePartners in Time by Stevie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book I was reluctant to read, thinking it must be a romance like so many of the others with time-traveling lovers. Well, at least one of them moving through the years. Assured that it had a lot more than that-in fact, not so much romance but horror and suspense,  I downloaded the book.  I’m glad that I did.

It’s an odd triangle between a man and his wife who is not interested in having the children he wanted her to, and the ghost from a hundred years before who was more than willing to bear his children.

Doubt that I ever read a story like this one–with a ghost not just appearing all wispy and such, but enough in the flesh to have sex with a person. Jealousy, not surprisingly, ensues. Worse, once involved, the ghost gets involved with the screenwriting husband, she won’t let go. Much more and I risk writing spoilers. Suffice it to say that this book will drag you well into the story of how dangerous it is to get involved with a powerful spirit that can take over lives.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

2021–New Beginnings

It’s another new beginning. A new year. It could scarcely fail to be a better one than the last. Nonetheless, it’s off to a mixed start in the America, with the attack on the US Capitol.

We had hoped to be able to dispense with posts about Trump by now. Yet here we are, already well into 2021 and I must offer more pending his departure, in no more than 11 days from the White House, perhaps fewer. Will he resign? Be removed via the 25th Amendment or impeachment and conviction? Who can say.

By now I would usually have recapped the successes of the prior year and noted the goals or determinations for the new one. I don’t make resolutions; those are the things that late night talk show hosts mock for the failure of so many to achieve. Let’s skip the recap. Being retired and living atop a hill nearby to a small town kept us safe from the pandemic. Risk yes; trauma no—other than the usual ailments that accompany aging. Enough to deter some goals.

It’s only now that I am putting up my first post. I’ve been busy working on that compilation of short stories, verse and more that must be completed soon. Must only because that’s the determination. Without discipline to overcome obstacles that inevitably arise, goals will not be achieved. Thus, no resolutions. Tasks and an action plan—with a schedule, despite the likelihood it may have to be amended.

Meanwhile, America’s President has desperately done everything he could to retain power—unsuccessfully. Tacitly encouraging his most extreme followers to stage an insurrection. Over the past four years he has made such people feel free to engage in extreme rhetoric and violent behavior. All the while he has called for law and order and suppression of peaceful protestors against systemic racism and the policies of his own administration.

Among my goals for this year—and beyond, is to heal the divide that Trump has fostered and awaken those poor souls who have been deluded by him.  Those conned into believing that he cares anything at all for their welfare. Projecting his own psychoses onto them that he won an election that he lost and that it was rigged against him.

As Timothy Snyder recently said from Vienna, it is truth that is required to dispel the “Big Lie.” That big lie is what Trump has been spreading since November 3rd. [More on Snyder here]

I must create value each day—not only in my own life but in the world. That is my paramount determination.  That means less ranting about the malevolence of Trump and his sycophants who share his perspective that it’s their own advancement and benefit that is their guiding principle. Most, while professing some allegiance to the advancement of fellow Americans, have no other principles–that’s all they have!

So, here are some of my goals:

Get that first book out early spring. Then a novel in the fall. Both have many words already written. The novel requires more writing—plus editing and revisions. Watch for updates here—on release dates and progress along the way.

To get those books done, I must have a clear mind that is fatigue free. That’s not always the case—for reasons undetectable by my doctor. So, I must fix that myself. That is more a determination than a goal. One that I must achieve through my own assiduous practice of Buddhism.  As the Buddha says, one must be the master of one’s own mind rather than letting mind master oneself.

And, as Daisaku Ikeda says, “The real struggle in life is with ourselves. The true secret of success is the refusal to give up, the refusal to fail; it lies in the struggle to win the battle against one’s own weaknesses.”

Another goal–more mundane, perhaps, is financial management and planning. I have no expectation of an early demise, but I must simplify our finances and create some mini-tutorials for my wife just in case. The division of labor worked well when we were both working and had children under 20 at home. Now we both need to be able to do all a household’s tasks.

Yes, there’s many more objectives, but you don’t need to know about them all. Consider this one: There’s that vacation to Europe that didn’t happen last year. The one that’s paid for. Will it happen this year? Not so sure about that. But we must go somewhere. Even if it’s not until fall. COVID limits planning month’s in advance—as we and our travel agent would prefer. Maybe Canada with our dog—when Trudeau will let us American’s cross the border again. We don’t need an agent to do that.

The point is to have no regrets and to be confident and at ease with the turmoil that sometimes prevents completing tasks per a schedule. Defy the satirists and achieve those “resolutions” that you may have already set for yourself. If you need help. Check out this post from a past year. It has some tips to get you there.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 John Maberry

Wrapping up 2020 Heading toward 2021

Been busy on financial planning. Reflecting on avoiding COVID-19-so-far (plan on continuing to do so. It helps being retired and living in a small town in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Okay, no slams on our environs–we like it here!)

People have been suffering economically, spiritually–not to mention medically. Mostly avoidable but for that idiotic Golfer-in-Chief. Hope in a vial is on its way throughout America (and the world) .

We, thankfully, have had only what aging brings–expected and frustrating but not incapacitating.  Had my last doctor’s appointment today. Nothing of consequence. All systems are functioning within normal tolerances. Check back again on this or that at various points in 2021.

Meanwhile Biff’s delusional behavior continues. He can’t accept being the biggest loser since Herbert Hoover. His sycophantic supporters are willing to destroy democracy to keep him from disappearing in a burst of psychological flames.  Enough of him. He’s become boringly predictable in his final days as Liar-in-Chief. History will not be sparing in recording his as the worst presidency ever in the US. Be circumspect in your schadenfreude, just consider the karma he must endure his remaining days and into the next several existences, most likely.

I will be posting news of the upcoming book, along with other 2021 plans and objectives after the January 5th Georgia Senate race runoff. That’s no matter the results. Barring unforeseen events this is it for 2020.

Until then, have a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. (In case you’re not aware, the X has a meaning in Greek that amounts to a shortened version of Christmas–it’s not some antireligious sentiment, although I am a Buddhist

I will be spending until Jan 6, working on that blogs into book collection with short stories that have been moldering on my hard drive. Have to get it out in the February/March time frame so the novel can get out by this time next year. Okay, I stepped in it again. But if one doesn’t have determinations, dreams can never become reality.

“Become the master of your mind; don’t let it master you.” The Buddha

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2020 John Maberry

Review, Liars & Thieves

One more book review for 2020–may be running out of time for any more. 

Liars and ThievesLiars and Thieves by D. Wallace Peach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goblins, elves, changelings and more. Occasional humans too–rarely. It’s the interactions of the first three that holds the conflict and a storyline of finger-pointing over who is trespassing on whose territory–violating a treaty intended to keep competing interests from breaking out in war. They depend on one another–to an extent, so that’s preferable.

It’s my first reading of this compelling sub-genre and found it very entertaining. Just took a little while to figure out who was really who, their powers or attributes, and where it all would end up. I knew it really wouldn’t “end” because this is the first in a series. So, yes, I will read more.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2020 John Maberry

COVID and the Trump Cult Raging in America

Hope is a Decision—Now More than Ever.

November 8—the last post here before this one. Recognizing that Biden had won the election. Biden the healer of the cultural and political divide. An effort that I am determined to participate in.

As I said then, it would be difficult. Even more difficult than I expected. Not due to the resistance of ordinary folks, but to all those members of the Trump Cult.

My natural inclination is to simply say:

Get over it—he lost!

But they won’t buy that. They have drunk gallons of his Trump Kool-Aid and believe in him with all their hearts. The election was rigged and stolen from him. 

They also believe one or all these options about COVID-19:

  • It’s a hoax
  • It’s no worse than a cold or at worst a flu and people get over it
  • Masks are worse than useless—they are an infringement on one’s freedom
  • Likewise, social distancing and closing bars, restaurants, gyms, etc.

Worse, they make death threats against even Republicans who won’t help Trump in reversing the election results through whatever means he and his associates try. Somewhat skilled attorneys withdrew after winning but one of 38 plus cases. Leaving semi to unskilled attorneys to continue frivolous lawsuits that judicially speaking ought to incur sanctions against them or referrals to the bar for misconduct.

Those are the facts. But what will I make of them? Will I deplore those who fall for the lies? Pity those who may die of COVID because of him? Many probably have already. Statistical analysis suggests surges associated with Trump rallies and in those parts of the country where votes for him were higher than for Biden.

Trump didn’t bring the virus here. He did mock those who took it seriously. They accepted his direction on this and other things. He didn’t suffer physically, so far, for his dismissal of the virus. His supporters have found his assurances persuasive—he is their political messiah. Republican elected officials, in fear or support of Trump, continue likewise to follow the same patterns of COVID oblivion—even as they or their constituents succumb to the virus.

Should I sink into the pit of hatred, vitriol and derisive attacks on those who offer death threats even to fellow Republicans  who don’t support Trump in overturning Biden’s victory. NO! If I do, I can’t help heal the division. I must accept their humanity and, from my faith perspective, their inherent Buddhahood.

Yes, a difficult proposition. Whether you who read this find the principles, the concepts or tenets, of Buddhism persuasive, you still may find it difficult to accept the humanity of the Trump faithful if you are not among them. That’s the challenge if we are to get beyond the present turmoil.

We have an economy in tatters. Sickness and death confront us at the hands of an unthinking enemy we call coronavirus, COVID-19 or more formally–SARS-CoV-2. We have a would-be autocrat striving to milk the last bit of financial fortune and power from his tenure in the White House. Even he has a Buddha nature. Even he has a shred of humanity within his angry and hate-filled heart. It’s barely visible, but it’s there. As much as I have demonized, satirized and condemned him on this blog, I know that to be true. Still, he must pay for his crimes and suffer the effects of the karma he has created. He already has, at the hands of the voters. Beyond that, there are legal and financial perils ahead that he will likely face.

In the meantime, we must rescue and rehabilitate America from the harms he has inflicted. Reestablish a rule of law. An independent Justice Department. Oversight of the actions of the Executive Branch—which, according to the US Constitution is subordinate to Congress. The latter makes the laws, appropriates the money and declares war. The President and those in the administration implement and enforce those laws. He and the rest of the Executive Branch must yield to the scrutiny of how well and how lawfully are executing the laws passed by Congress that give him authority to act.

America has barely—and not yet completely, escaped becoming a dictatorship. Aided and abetted by a GOP controlling the Senate. There is lots to do. But political reforms are just treating symptoms. The underlying disease is what must be addressed. A disease of Us and Them.

That’s enough for now. We will be making updates as often as we can. Not so much on what politicians and ostensible national leaders are doing. No, on what’s happening among the populace. Who, myself included, are reaching out and making connections with the other side.

As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, we need a

“new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Had Trump won, those famous words might very well have been for naught—due to Trump’s intentions and those he put into his second administration.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2020 John Maberry

Hope is a decision–now more than ever

Joe Biden is President-Elect–so say all the major media, including Fox News.

A change is coming but not the radical one those on the other side feared. The Democrats lost seats in the House and at best may get a tie in the Senate.

The good news is that America dodged the bullet of losing its democracy and slipping into autocracy. Now, the people of America, led by a President who intends to serve ALL the people and to heal the partisan and cultural divisions will have the chance to be truly United States.

That won’t be easy. There will be resistance to change, this time by those who were enamored of Trump and enabled by him to defend white privilege. Also by those who feared “Socialism” would come to America (it never was coming and certainly isn’t now). Or some who thought COVID-19 was a hoax or would go away by itself.

There will be resistance by some of the progressive members of the Democratic party who were looking forward to establishing new policies that others viewed as a bridge too far. Not happening in 2021 or 2022.

Consider this excerpt (those of you who live in the US, at least) from a very long article in the 2nd Eagle Peak Annual, published on October 30th. It offered commentary and analysis on three books. Just check the link to see which ones.

We all live here, in these United States. We depend on one another producing goods and supplying services. Goods that we wear. That we use in our daily lives. Services at medical facilities, schools, retail stores, repair shops and more. “Can’t we all just get along?” Asked Rodney King in 1992, a victim of police brutality that resulted in costly riots in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years later, the answer remains uncertain.

Here’s a couple more excerpts, snippets really, from that item on the Annual.

But change is sorely needed. Policy changes. Dealing effectively, for a change, with the still deadly dangerous pandemic. Spurring economic recovery. And healing the divisions of race, class and party.

Political solutions are not a panacea. Yes, we all hope that the candidates we vote for will keep their promises made on the campaign trail. Promises that suggest if only we did X, Y and Z instead of A, B and C, we all would be happier and more prosperous. We should all know better by now! 

Don’t rely on elected officials to do it all! We all need to work together within our shared humanity to make America a better, more prosperous and more just nation. Don’t believe all the stuff that people post on social media–conspiracy theories and nonsense abound there. Verify through fact checking sources, what you do see on such sites. Go beyond the echo chambers of your favorite news sources that tell you what you want to hear. Make new friends among your neighborhood and community.

Finally, let’s get to the title of this post. It comes from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Hope Is a Decision.  My review of the book appears below.

Hope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku IkedaHope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku Ikeda by Daisaku Ikeda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For 43 years I have been practicing the engaged Buddhism that Daisaku Ikeda has spread throughout the world over the last 60 years. While you might suppose that indicates a bias on my part in writing this review. On the other hand, you might conclude that I know the extent of wisdom he can share. That said, I should also note that this book is neither an introduction to Buddhism nor an appeal to follow it’s teaching. It is what the title implies and the review below describes.

Even after so many years, one needs encouragement now and then. One needs words to share with others, words that provide hope in times of crisis. In the US and around the world we have been in a variety of crises–the worst pandemic in 100 years, poverty, political turmoil and more.

This is a very inspirational book of essays, with comments on the wisdom of poets, writers and historians from throughout the world. It’s easy enough to give in to despair, as Ikeda points out. At the same time, as the title says, hope is a decision that one can make. He spells it out in a series of essays written over decades. Here’s a couple examples. Both are from page 14 and 15 of the Kindle edition.

The moment we make a powerful resolve, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward the fulfillment of this goal or desire. On the other hand, if we think, “This is never going to work out,” then every cell in our body will be deflated and give up the fight. Hope, in this sense, is a decision. It is the most important decision we can make. Hope changes everything, starting with our lives. Hope is the force that enables us to take action to make our dreams come true. It has the power to change winter into summer, barrenness to creativity, agony to joy. As long as we have hope, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

There may be times when, confronted by cruel reality, we verge on losing all hope. If we cannot feel hope, it is time to create some. We can do this by digging deeper within, searching for even a small glimmer of light, for the possibility of a way to begin to break through the impasse before us.

View all my Goodreads reviews here

Starting now, you won’t see so many knocks on the current president of the US. They won’t be needed soon. We may have some comments on what transpires in the White House or the administration over the 70+ days until Biden is inaugurated. Perhaps some coverage of what happens in the life of Trump thereafter.  

What you will see, often, is progress on the front of healing the wounds in America. Finding a path to accomplishing positive results in controlling the pandemic, restoring the economy, restoring civility and more. 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2020 John Maberry