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Joel Eissenberg

Articles by Joel Eissenberg


17 days ago

Just finished reading “Bloodlands,” a book by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. It was published in 2010, but now has a lengthy afterword that discusses the book’s reception and ties the theme to current events. I was inspired to read this book because of events in Ukraine and I believe that I have a much better understanding of the current conflict from having read it.The bloodlands refers to the territory lying between central Poland and, roughly, the Russian border, covering eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic republics. It was here that ca. 14 million people were killed by purposeful policies of mass murder implemented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1945: the Ukrainian Holodomor in 1932-33, the Stalinist purges in

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The making of modern Ukraine

24 days ago

For most of my adult life, I’ve learned history almost exclusively by reading books. I took American and World history in high school and two quarters of American history in college, but after that, I became a history autodidact. I’ve written several book reviews (and published three of them), but this is the first course review I’ve written.In a footnote to an article on Ukraine in New York Review of books by British historian Timothy Garton Ash, he mentioned a series of 23 online lectures from Fall 2022 about the history of Ukraine by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. I’m not a big consumer of video content, but I decided to check them out, and in the space of the first afternoon, I’d already watched five 50-minute lectures. I binge-watched all 23

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The rest of us

29 days ago

“The Rest of us,” by Stephen Birmingham, is subtitled “The Rise of America’s Eastern European Jews.” Birmingham wrote previously about the Sephardic Jewish immigration around the time of the American Revolution, and about the German Jews who arrived in the mid-1800s. This covers the third wave of Jewish immigration to the United States, the immigration of eastern European Jews starting in the late 19th century. These subsequent immigrants arriving from the Pale of Settlement were regarded by the by-then established German immigrants as an embarrassment to American Jewry: they not only had poor clothes and hygiene, but were religiously conservative and indifferent to the ostensibly genteel manners of the larger Christian community and the established

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The Wordy Shipmates

February 23, 2023

For awhile, my favorite radio show was This American Life. And one of my favorite voices on the show was Sarah Vowell. Her nasal, girlish tone belied a sophisticated intelligence and wicked sense of humor.I recently read “The wordy shipmates” by Sarah Vowell. It’s basically her idiosyncratic take on the Puritans who colonized Massachusetts at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. While they were escaping England because of religious persecution, the quickly established their own brand of religious intolerance. A couple of exceptions to this intolerance were Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson, were were exiled for their troubles and went on to found settlements in Rhode Island.Neither Roger nor Ann were particularly nice people. They were strict

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Lenin’s Tomb

February 19, 2023

Just finished “Lenin’s Tomb” by David Remnick. The book’s subtitle is “The last days of the Soviet empire.” At ca. 550 pages, it might seem a lot of text to devote to a few days or weeks, but that’s not what the book is really about. Remnick shows us how the history of the Soviet Union as codified by the Bolsheviks and Stalin became the foundational myth that drove that society. In the face of daily evidence that the USSR was fundamentally a terrorist state built mostly by slave labor, the memories of those who managed to escape state murder and the gulag were of heroic sacrifice for Stalin. They lauded Stalin and his party for moving the Soviet Union from a peasant society to an industrialized nation in the space of 35 years. They revered him for

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Ukraine outreach

February 18, 2023

From My Lovely And Talented Wife®My Ukranian friend just sent me a photo of a supermarket that was leveled to the ground during the Russian invasion and massacre in Bucha in March, 2022. She looks out on this from her nearby 14th floor window, and she is heartened by the fact that the area is now being cleared for rebuilding. Such efforts are everywhere, she tells me. People are hard at work to bring the city back to what it was.I just met my lively new friend this past week on Zoom as part of an online program, ENGin, to match young Ukranians with native English speakers in other countries so that they can improve their English. We will be speaking together every week for an hour at a mutually agreed upon time for at least three months. She loves to

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A fatal thing happened on the way to the forum

February 4, 2023

My daughter gave me Emma Southon’s book “A fatal thing happened on the way to the forum” for Christmas. Apart from my longtime interest in history, there was a particular reason for this choice. Rebecca took five years of Latin in middle school and high school. She got a 5 on the Latin AP exam, which entitled her to college credit, although I’m not sure whether Colorado State awarded that credit on her transcript. Along the way, she learned 33 words for “kill” and supplied me a cheat sheet of these words along with the book. The lexicon turned out to be unnecessary, but it illustrates the scope of the task Southon undertook in writing this book.Homicide, both intentional and inadvertent, was common in ancient Rome. Just how common is unclear, since

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The Prince of Providence

February 1, 2023

The Prince of Providence was Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Cianci grew up in Rhode Island. His father was a physician (a proctologist), so he grew up in privilege. He went to the right schools, although being of Italian descent, he came in for some ridicule in this ethnically Balkanized community. He got a law degree from Marquette University.When Cianci decided to run for mayor of Providence, he styled himself as the anti-corruption candidate, taking on the graft and bribery that characterized city hall up to that point. Remarkably, Cianci ran as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state and won through energy, grit and determination. But rather than extirpating the corruption, Cianci was subsumed by it. The parade of petty criminals that populate

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Whatever happened to MOOCs?

January 22, 2023

10-15 years ago, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) were a higher education fad. Universities could dispense with physical (lecture halls, heating, cooling, cleaning, security) and administrative (room scheduling) costs and just teach students online. During this period, I was associate dean for research and the Dean of our medical school brought up the suggestion that we could replace our first year medical school curriculum with MOOCs. Never mind that one of those Os in MOOC stands for “open,” meaning tuition-free, open to everyone, which would do violence to our tuition-based business model. We were going to just give this away–seriously?I read everything I could at the time–it was hot, so there were plenty of articles and studies–to prepare for a

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How do you solve a problem like George Santos?

January 8, 2023

Can he be recalled? NoCan he be charged with a crime for lying about his bio? NoCan the House of Representatives refuse to seat him? NoHowever:He can face criminal and civil fraud charges for lying on documents submitted to government entities and investors.He could be extradited to Brazil to face criminal charges there.He could be censured or expelled by the House.There is approximately zero chance that Kevin McCarthy and his band of merry insurrectionists will force Santos to resign, since he would be replaced by a Democrat. And there is certainly zero chance that Santos will resign on his own, since he can continue to serve even if tried and convicted on federal tax charges, for which he is currently being investigated.So unless and until the House

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Saving Ryan

December 28, 2022

I just finished reading “Saving Ryan” by Emil Kakkis. Kakkis is a physician who pioneered enzyme replacement therapy for Mucopolysaccharidosis I (MPS I), a progressive and fatal disease. The story is about the patients and their families who struggle with the disease and Emil’s struggle to deliver life-enhancing therapy against terribly long odds. The Ryan of the book’s title is a kid with MPS I. His working class parents were not content to watch Ryan decline and die in his first or second decade. MPS I is an extremely rare disease, so big pharma sees no potential for return on investment for developing treatments or cures. Ryan’s parents start a foundation to raise money for a cure.I seldom read lay science/medical books because they usually spend

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Not One Inch

December 24, 2022

Just finished “Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the making of a postwar stalemate” by Mary Sarotte. The book was recommended to me by Bruce Cochrane. It is an excellent insight into current events in Ukraine today.The title comes from the assurance given by then-Secretary of State James Baker to Mikhail Gorbachev that German reunification would mean “not one inch eastward” in NATO expansion. This phrase has inspired much finger-pointing by Russia and its Western defenders, since NATO did indeed expand eastward, up to the Russian border in the case of Poland and the Baltics.The history unfolded by Sarotte is nuanced and detailed. To simplify greatly, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and later Russia under Yeltsen was in desperate need of hard

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From the frontiers of viral immunology

November 28, 2022

Ever since the COVID mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) proved themselves, I became convinced they are the future of viral vaccines. Looks like a polyvalent flu vaccine is in the works that may obviate annual strain-specific vaccines.“In this work, we developed a nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (mRNA)–lipid nanoparticle vaccine encoding hemagglutinin antigens from all 20 known influenza A virus subtypes and influenza B virus lineages. This multivalent vaccine elicited high levels of cross-reactive and subtype-specific antibodies in mice and ferrets that reacted to all 20 encoded antigens. Vaccination protected mice and ferrets challenged with matched and mismatched viral strains, and this protection was at least partially dependent on antibodies.

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Keep masking and social distancing

November 16, 2022

It’s tempting to let your guard down, now that vaccination has reduced the prevalence of COVID, but don’t. Just don’t. Getting it once is a bad idea, even if it doesn’t kill you. And getting it again is worse.“During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started referring to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at the School of Medicine. “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the

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Africa, a biography

November 4, 2022

Just finished “Africa, A Biography of a Continent”” by John Reader. I don’t recall how this book came into my possession. It may have been on my mom’s bookshelf when we stopped by after they moved to take whatever we wanted. Whatever its provenance, I had only read a little African history: “King Leopold’s Ghost” and a book on the Boer War are the only ones I can recall. I also read Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” which is a thinly veiled account of Conrad’s own journey up the Congo River in the Belgian Congo Free state. I figured it was time for a deep dive into African history.This is truly a biography of a continent. It starts with geological history and the origin of the African continent as it split from Pangea. Reader explains the geological

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Review of “The Future is History”

October 2, 2022

I’ve long held that one of the greatest blows to American democracy was the disappearance of the Soviet Union. With the advent of the Cold War, as the USSR went from ally to adversary, the US was shamed into embrace civil rights and to improve public education. I personally benefitted from the updated public school STEM curricula driven by the space race. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been in retreat in these areas and increasing embraced crony capitalism.In my personal quest to understand the Cold War, I’ve read books on Russian history, the Russian revolution, and biographies of Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and Rasputin. I’ve been to Moscow twice and the former GDR three times, and I’ve discussed this history with Russian, Polish and East

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Review of “Demagogue”

September 23, 2022

Review of “Demagogue”“Demagogue: The life and long shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy” by Larry Tye is a particularly timely read as the nation continues in the grip of another political bully, Donald Trump. The parallels in their methods are striking and the degree to which McCarthy held the nation in thrall during the 1950s mirrors the fealty of the Trumpenproletariat today. We know how the McCarthy story ended, and it offers hope that the nation will eventually turn its back on Trump and move on. Whether it learns the lesson is unclear, since in many ways Trumpism is a reincarnation of McCarthyism.McCarthy was raised a Midwestern farm boy and got his start in business raising chickens. He had to drop out of high school, and when he returned much older

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Review of “Superfuel”

July 31, 2022

Growing up in Oak Ridge TN in the ‘60s, terms like “homogeneous reactor,” “molten salt reactor” and “breeder reactor” were frequently used, although I couldn’t have explained them at the time. Research into nuclear power became the mission of Oak Ridge National Labs after the war under the direction of Alvin Weinberg.

A few years ago, I came across a guy on FB named Charles Barton Jr, an addiction counselor by training and a stalwart advocate for thorium molten salt reactors. His dad had done some pioneering work in the ‘50s on the technology. We became Facebook friends and I learned a little about molten salt reactors. Then, I happened to mention that we had rooftop solar and he started attacking me. Turns out, he wasn’t a reactor geek, he was a

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The air we breathe

July 19, 2022

Most of the earth’s oxygen doesn’t come from forests or jungles but from ocean plankton. A recent survey found an alarming drop in Atlantic plankton levels likely due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and resulting ocean acidification.“Plankton is a blanket term for the billions of tiny sea organisms living close to the surface of the oceans, which are eaten by krill, small crustaceans, which are in turn eaten by fish and whales. No plankton, little or no marine life.“And while trees hog all the credit, plankton generate 70% of our oxygen.“Howarth reports that the GOES team just sampled the ocean water surface along the French and Portuguese coasts before heading across the Atlantic to Colombia. They and volunteers gathered 500 data points.“They

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For July 4th: Bach to Paul Simon

July 4, 2022

I’m not a big consumer of liturgical music. I still listen to Handel’s Messiah on Christmas. So it surprised me when I found myself enjoying a boxed set of LPs of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion recorded about 50 years ago. It’s in German, of course, so I’m not following the libretto, just the voices and instruments.There’s a theme that will be familiar to those, like me, who have attended a church that features Christian hymns. The title varies, but is sometimes rendered as “O Sacred head, sore wounded.” The German text is by Paul Gerhardt, based on a poem attributed to either Arnulf of Leuven or Bernard of Clairvaux, one a medieval sacred poet and the other a Cistercian abbot. Surprisingly, the melody comes from a secular song by Hans Leo Hassler,

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Oak Ridge and desegregation

June 13, 2022

I grew up in Oak Ridge TN, where the uranium was enriched for the Hiroshima bomb. There’s a recent piece on the NYT on Oak Ridge and desegregation. One of the local players at the time was Waldo Cohn, a chemist and symphony conductor, who was on the school board at the time. Here’s his account:MR. COHN: So, this Advisory Town Council met every week, every second week with him. There were seven people. I was interested in not only community affairs, but I was also interested in politics, and I was not on the original one at all. Before one of the elections would come up, which was every two years, some of the people who were interested in who would run for it, asked me to run. I believe the person who asked me to run for it was Evelyn Snell, wife of

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Ammosexual fantasy vs real life

May 31, 2022

Ammosexual amateurs think a gun gives them superpowers. In reality, trained law enforcement only hit their target ca. 30% of the time on average at close range in an active shooter event. And that’s with training and regular practice. Unless you’re training regularly, you’re not going to protect yourself with a gun, and you’re likely to kill a bystander and/or just make yourself a target.Don’t believe me? Watch this:

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Tags: Hand Guns (Pistols)

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Review of “The Prophet” by Isaac Deutcher

May 21, 2022

“Until we are done with the ironies of history (because they will never be done with us), the image of Trotsky will not dissipate.”~Christopher HitchensI’ve had a lifelong fascination with socialism, communism and the Cold War. This probably springs from having grown up during the Cold War at nuclear ground zero for World War III. Also contributing was that I came of age near the end of the Vietnam War, a proxy war between the US and the USSR into which I very nearly was drafted. My quest to understand this 20th century bipolar world into which I was born has most recently brought me to Isaac Deutcher’s monumental biography of Leon Trotsky, “The Prophet.” In fact, The Prophet is really three volumes published separately: “The Prophet Armed” (1952, 540

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Making the physician sausage

May 7, 2022

I started teaching medical students in 1988 and have been an instructor and course director for one or more first-year med school courses continuously since 1990. When I started, there were two full years of pre-clinical course-work. Now we’re down to a year and two-thirds and there are plans to shrink further. Some medical schools in the US already only have a single pre-clinical year.

Personally, I thought the pre-clinical lectures and exams were excessive in the beginning, particularly in courses like Medical Biochemistry (my course) and Human Anatomy, but probably also in most courses. Some of those lecture hours could have been replaced by flipped classroom problem-solving and other forms of problem-based learning. I ran PBL in my course for

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Review of “Lenin: A Biography”

March 16, 2022

I just finished Robert Service’s biography of Lenin. The “Marxism” of Lenin was not Marxist at all. Classical Marxism holds that capitalism must achieve a high level of industrialization before the workers can overturn the landlords and factory owners and collectivize the fruits of labor for the benefit of workers. Like Mao, Lenin retrofitted socialist revolution to the circumstances. Since Russia at the end of the Romanov dynasty was still a semi-feudal rural society, Lenin decided to dispense with Marx’s preconditions and asserted that Russia was ripe for socialist revolution. While he was certainly right that the people were ready to overthrow the Czar, Lenin had to destroy any attempts at a democratic successor government to ruthlessly impose

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Can Bill Gates bring nuclear power back to the US?

January 29, 2022

Usually, discussions of decarbonizing energy production involve solar, wind, tidal and geothermal. But nuclear power generation doesn’t generate greenhouse gas (though the large amount of concrete in conventional nuclear power plants does). Nuclear power generation has a bad name after Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. While there is debate about whether the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents really endangered many lives, there’s no doubt that solid fuel light water nuclear power reactors have an image problem. Bill Gates is hoping to overcome that image problem by co-funding a nuclear power reactor. Gates’ company, TerraPower, has announced the siting of a 345 MW demonstration plant in Kemmerer WY, an old coal town. This plant is a

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