Thereabouts

826 Boston, the non profit educational group that provides free writing instruction for youth’s aged 6-18, held a ‘Books for Breakfast’ benefit at Wilmer Hale on December 4th . Author and historian David McCullough, who has received numerous writing awards—including two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book awards, the New York Public Library’s Literary Lion as well as a Presidential Medal of Freedom—was on hand to support the agency’s aim to give kids the writing chops they need to succeed. If you missed it, and McCullough’s (narrator of the movie Seabiscuit) inimitable voice, you can still participate by volunteering or donating. ‘College Essay Boot Camp’, ‘Storytelling & Bookmaking’ field trips, and ‘Night of 1000 stories’ are just three workshops that 826 offers to help children and young adults sharpen their creative and expository pencils.

Ray Kurzweil’s presentation at Brookline’s Coolidge Theatre for the release of his new book How to Build a Brain was humorous and engaging. The science was both fascinating and believable at the same time. Citing the laws that govern the rate that computer technology becomes obsolete, and using animated film depicting the history of our use of digital media—in the most tech savvy author talk this writer has ever witnessed—Kurzweil immersed the audience in the hard to fathom array of medical wizardry occurring today. It was easy to be seduced by the possibilities, real and further unfolding soon, of gene reverse engineering to circumvent serious medical conditions.

But when Kurzweil talks about cosmetic applications, cured illnesses, and adding a year for every year to the length of your life—the question that comes to mind is: will these bio-technological medical advances be accessible to all? Will these breakthroughs in science accrue benefit for people across the social spectrum? Or will these treatments only be available to those of disposable wealth?

Perhaps cognizant of this natural procession of thought, Kurzweil included a slide demonstrating a historical course of the differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’—which seemed to be tacitly stating that there has always been a disparity between poor & wealthy and that such a discrepancy between classes of people is scientifically normal. (And the oddly over-simplified monikers given to both groups is off-putting) But if in fact there has to be a divide between economic groups, should it not be made to be as negligible a difference as possible, particularly as regards matters of health? Doing so seems to be simply the most scientifically sound approach. This is true because regardless of developments in genetic illness and aging, communicable disorders will still pose problems, and these problems won’t stop to discriminate as regards monetary status.
Having an equally strong and healthy citizenship works to minimize the vulnerability of the entire population. This is a matter of numbers and containment.

Whereas, on the other hand, should a large gap in physical well being exist among citizens of a nation—what affect might that have on the natures and psyches of both groups? This question is expressly relevant in view of the looming environmental, energy and water crises, which underscore the pressing need for coherent, inclusive systems of cooperation.

In what may be the truest example of the definition of irony, the science seems to now exist for the human mind to near recreate itself—even while it still remains confounded as to how to humanely behave, and provide for, it’s sister or fellow self.

The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance meeting December 5th at the Boston Public Library was, as could be expected, a complex affair. While the agency is amiss in suggesting that continued funding for emergency shelter is a failure of some kind—part of the prompt for Rosie’s Place’s organized protest march to the State House scheduled for 12.12.12 at 12 noon to give a symbolic 51-A to the DHCD—it was evident that there were many good people there who sincerely care about the homeless community.

Further, the quiet, unassuming presence of two people trumped all argument at this year’s meeting, in the best possible way. The widow and son of formerly homeless advocate Ed O’Neil—inspiration for an award for service to the homeless (given, inaugurally, to Tim Smith of the Safe Haven Veterans Program)—Rosalie and Shaun O’Neil humbled the entire room, and served as a living, breathing reminder of just what—meaning who, as in our neighbors, and all regular folk—is truly important in the decisions being made.

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