Friday, December 14, 2007

The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank

Many people say, "Breeding is more important than birth." Is it true? I wanted to know the answer in detail, so I picked up this book. I've got two things out of this book. Firstly, the actual condition of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, secondly, the eugenics history of the U.S. and the existence of the man who embodied it.

1.The Nobel Prize Sperm Bank

The Sperm Bank was established in 1980 by Robert Graham who was a glass maker businessman. His policy was that this system was needed for making excellent humans because too much welfare allows incompetents to have their offspring. Therefore this Bank was free of charge for both donors and receivers.

What was the story of the Bank? This book told us that the bank was irresponsible. The bank required detailed profiles of donors, but they didn't require its proof. The author searched for a man whose profile said his IQ was 160; the man said to the author that he had never taken an IQ test. He merely told the Bank a number they would be glad of. He only wanted a lot of babies (This man registered his sperm with two other sperm banks, what's more, he made a lot of children with ladies in his real life.)
The staff of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank were also generous or irresponsible – they arranged a correspondence with a donor and a receiver family. As for the founder, his eagerness was "true", but the eagerness didn't penetrate into the staff.

In addition to, Graham quit before he could collect the Nobel Prize winner's sperm (Above all, the bank didn't make the Nobel Prize winner's baby) and he begun to collect the sperm of men who were smart, young, sporty and good-looking. The author thought the reason why was that mothers didn't want a smart brain only, they wanted well-balanced babies. After all, Graham adjusted his policy to clients' needs "flexibly". The client mothers were conscious of donors' looks, in particular, they asked donors' heights invariably (Nobody received the sperm of the low-height man.)

Could the Bank make the genius babies? 271 babies were born from this Bank, and the author had contacts with thirty people of the 271. He said that generously they are above average, but individual variation is much. Is that "above average" based on the gene? He said it's suspicious. In short, it was based on the environment. He thinks that all ladies who knocked on the door of the Sperm Bank were keen to have super babies, and they made good environments for babies.

However, the author picked up on the examples of blood ties. For instance, the common points of the donor and his child are as follows:
The child plays the piano, the donor's mother was a professional pianist
The child dreams to be a marine biologist, the donor's father and a grand father were both well-known marine biologists
The child likes to play chess, so does the donor
The child favors Russian composers (i.e. Rakhmaninov) more than German composers, so do a donor
The child resembles the donor
I was amazed at these similarities despite them never having been seen together.
This Bank was closed in 1999 because of the passing away of the establisher, Graham's successor.

2.The history of eugenics in the U.S.

This book told us not only about the Sperm Bank but also a background building up to that. It means that eugenics was popular in the U.S.

The word of "eugenics" was made by Francis Galton who was a cousin of Charles Darwin, but the U.S. people put it into practice. In the beginning of the 20th Century, white people's fear of other races and eugenics combined. In 1907, the law of forcible sterilization for mentally disabled people was passed. In the 1930s, sterilization for ineligible people became compulsory. They say up to sixty thousands people were operated on till the 1960s.

There was such "negative eugenics"(decreasing "ineligible" people). On the other hand, "positive eugenics"(increasing "excellent" people) grew in popularity, then the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank was established.

William Shockley was the man who embodied such eugenics passages. He was the Nobel Prize winner for his invention of the transistor.

I agree that he was excellent for his invention, but I can't agree that he was also excellent to understand human emotion. After he invented the transistor, he realized that a royalty of the transistor is attributed to his company (Bell Labs) and quit his company. He established an enterprise and employed young smart workers, for instance, Robert Noyce (one of the founders of Intel), Gordon Moore (the advocator of "Moore's Law" which describes an important trend in the history of computer hardware.) So far so good. But in the new company, he advocated "an open mind" and put up spreadsheets of all employees on a wall, advocated "the flat system" and exerted influence as a dictator. Employees left the company.

Then, he was open to say his theory. For example, in the U.S., black people's IQ is inferior to white people by 12 points, that is unable to be adjusted by social welfare or education because it depends on a genetic problem. Nazis contributed to decreasing genetic diseases because they did sterilization. And so on. It seems that he felt glad to provide his sperm for Graham's sperm bank.

At any rate, it seems that Shockley is a radical example of a man who is excellent but has problem in the root of humanity.

3.Interested in juicy stories

I personally think the human is a creature who tends to be affected strongly by environments, so I nearly agree that "Breeding is more important than birth." But sometimes juicy stories of genetic affection are interesting to me. For example, Japanese translator's trailer of this book: "I am endlessly interested in irresponsible juicy stories like tabloids: What songs does the child of Paul McCartney and Carole King give us? Could the child of Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt inherit the talent of the blues guitar without his/her parents' indulgence of cocaine?" I am also really interested in such juicy stories.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How do Japanese think about the Pearl Harbor attack?

"Do you know what day the 8th of December is?" If you ask Japanese people, some music lovers will reply "It is the day of John Lennon was shot." But most of them will reply "It is the day (Japan Time) of the Pearl Harbor attack / the beginning day of the Pacific War." All Japanese know of the Pearl Harbor attack, most of them have a different understanding from the one U.S. people have.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 (from Wikipedia Commons, this image is in the public domain.)

Actually, most Japanese feel a little pang of conscience about the Pearl Harbor attack, in spite of them knowing that it was a perfidious attack. Of course, a perfidious attack is understood as an evil act among Japanese. Why do Japanese think that the Pearl Harbor attack was "a normal act?"

First, quite a few Japanese believe in the opinion that "the U.S. knew of the attack beforehand." The opinion is as follows: The U.S. caught and decoded the Japanese army's coded command of the attack, therefore the U.S. army prepared for the attack: let all main aircraft carriers go, only old battleships were left in the harbor. The opinion also says that a rare vivid color film which captured the attack exists. It is the evidence of the opinion, they said. In addition to, some go to the length of saying that it was a trap by the U.S. Of course, all the information above is a false rumor. But in Japan, many people know and believe the rumor.

Second, some Japanese say that the Japanese government prepared the declaration of war, but it couldn't be sent to the U.S. government before the attack. The night before the attack, all members of the Japanese Embassy in the U.S. attended a farewell party for a member and the ambassador attended a funeral, therefore nobody could receive the declaration. The ministry of foreign affairs of Japan admitted this mistake at last in 1994.

This mistake was a big misfortune for Japan: the attack became a perfidious attack from a mere sudden attack. However, at any rate, it was Japan's mistake - not the U.S.'s. In addition to, the Japanese government thought that the declaration of war would be sent at least 30 minutes before the attack. If Japan sent the declaration as they thought, the attack would be a perfidious one.

Third, in my opinion, this is the strongest reason for the Japanese thinking about the attack, nobody says that the Pearl Harbor attack was out of spite. Most Japanese think the following: Was the attack a surprise attack? Yes. Do you think the U.S. got angry? Yes, of course. That's all. People never ask the next question: Was the attack out of spite?

It is absurd thinking, I admit. However, in my opinion, many Japanese think so. Actually, I did. Through writing this article, I have learned that the rumor that the U.S knew of the attack beforehand was false, learned over 2,400 U.S. people were killed at the attack (many Japanese think the attack broke many battleships but didn't take people's lives.) I have also learned the following fact: think about what we did.

Related Post

Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?