Medical Miracle, Medical Privilege

I am alive today because of world-class medical care. In the 1980s I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that used to be 100% fatal within six months. But I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to some of the world’s best hospitals and medical schools. My cancer cell type was identified by a pathology professor at Stanford who wrote the textbook on diagnosing the disease, after first being mis-diagnosed at my local hospital. My cancer doctor had sent a tissue sample to him for a second opinion. Without his second (correct) opinion, I would be dead. I … Read More

Hamburgers, Lawns, and Golf

Here’s a fact you may not know: Americans eat 50 billion hamburgers a year. That’s billion, not million. That comes to about 3.5 a week for every individual, or somewhat more if you exclude very young children (and maybe we shouldn’t, children love hamburgers). Do you eat 3 hamburgers a week? I don’t. Some other Americans must be eating our hamburgers to make the average work. In fact, it may be that, excluding people who don’t eat hamburgers, the weekly average of people who do is closer to 4 or even 5. Worldwide, annual hamburger consumption is 130 billion. These … Read More

The Heat Is Killing Us

I recently attended a wedding in the Sierra foothills region of Northern California.  It was hot.  To get there we drove through the Sacramento valley, where temperatures were over 100 degrees.  At the wedding, held in late afternoon, the temperature was in the 90s and we were all seated outside in the bright summer sun.  As the ceremony began, a minister approached the canopy where the couple stood. Suddenly the canopy collapsed, there was a commotion, followed by an urgent appeal for a doctor.  The minister had fainted.  As a small crowd surrounded the fallen minister, holding up a sheet to shield him from the sun, we … Read More

Men, Guns, and Identity

I’ve been reading a lot about guns and gun ownership lately.  Since we have just had two major mass shootings 10 days apart—one in a supermarket, one in a school–this is not surprising. And then we had about 10 more. The media sees guns and gun ownership as a topic of compelling interest right now. That said, I was surprised that, according to a Pew Research Poll, only 30% of Americans own a gun.  I thought it was more. Juxtapose that fact with the statistic that there are over 300 million guns in private hands, and that means some gun owners … Read More

Tribalism and our Primate Brain

It’s happened again.  Another mass shooting by a teenager with a gun in Buffalo, NY, this time livestreamed on social media by the shooter as it happened. He had a manifesto, as they often do—180 pages written, apparently, over months and posted to his private social media site.  We hear the hackneyed responses–“thoughts and prayers,” “this violence must stop,” “we must get these guns off the street.” These gestures are limp, without real effect. They go nowhere. Nothing will happen.  The funerals will go forward.  Lawsuits will eventually be filed. Memories of lives lost will torment the families of the victims forever. Elsewhere life … Read More

Live to be 200! On Mars!

I read recently in The Week about a new scientific breakthrough where scientists “made the skin cells of a 53-year-old woman look and behave like those of a 23-year-old.”  According to the article, this process “could be used to shave decades off organ cells.”  Another technology to lengthen lifespan, along with Silicon valley pipedreams of bionic brains and cryonic freezing.  Recently I read about one space entrepreneur’s continued fascination with going to Mars.  He said recently that he wants to die on Mars.

I wonder if any of these tech geniuses have really thought about what it would mean to human society if we … Read More

Tribalism and our Primate Brain

I’ve been reading a lot about guns and gun ownership lately.  Since we have just had two major mass shootings 10 days apart—one in a supermarket, one in a school–this is not surprising. The media sees guns and gun ownership as a topic of compelling interest right now. That said, I was surprised that, according to a Pew Research Poll, only 30% of Americans own a gun.  I thought it was more. Juxtapose that fact with the statistic that there are over 300 million guns in private hands, and that means some gun owners must own lots of guns.  And ammo too.  A … Read More

Overdose Deaths Hit Record High

I just read a news story that drug overdose deaths nationally reached a new high in 2021 of 107,000, up 15% from 2020—and 2020 was up 30% from 2019.  It was not a “major” news story, it was overshadowed by rising gas prices, Ukraine news, the Supreme Court and political primary battles.  It seems to me, in other words, that we—or at least the news media—are becoming numb to this story.  When drug overdoses first became a crisis, it was all over the news.  Politicans and opinion makers wrung their hands; what is happening to our country? What is causing this? Now, it seems, … Read More

The Long Crusade for Women’s Rights

My birth mother was destined for great things.  Born into a first-generation immigrant Greek-American family in New Jersey, she was the first girl in her community to graduate from high school, and then the first woman to graduate from college.  She was brilliant and idealistic, and like many young people coming of age in the 1940s, she believed in the possibility of positive social change through government and the innovations of Roosevelt’s New Deal.  I don’t know the details or even for sure if it is true, but I was told by family members that my mother served as an intern in the … Read More

The World is Coming Unglued

I don’t know exactly what I mean when I say the world is coming unglued. But I feel it. It’s a premonition, a tremor in the fabric of the reality that until recently I thought was more reliable and solid.  I also have a better sense of what it means for the world to be “glued”—a sense that everything coheres and sticks together.  The world is “glued” when what I experience and what other people experience is pretty much the same world.  But that’s not true anymore.  More and more people are curating their own reality, their own sense of what is true and … Read More