When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish by Lisa Seachrist Chiu


When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish: And Other Amazing Tales about the Genes in Your Body by Lisa Seachrist Chiu

Human Genetics

This is a rather technical book on human genetics. Recent research is described, with plenty of names of researchers and institutions of research. A background in college biology would be helpful for understanding most of the material. It is mainly about diseases that are caused by defective genes, including:

  1. Metabolic diseases that cause smelly or colored chemicals to be excreted in urine and sweat,
  2. Wilson’s disease, which involves copper metabolism,
  3. Marfan Syndrome, which affected one of my favorite actors, Vincent Schiavelli, (4) Huntington’s Disease, which runs in families,
  4. Fragile X Syndrome, which causes mental retardation,
  5. the blood-clotting disease hemophilia, and
  6. male-pattern baldness.


Some genetic diseases more common among some ethnic groups, such as Amish cerebral palsy, Mennonite maple syrup urine disease, and Celtic hereditary hemochromatosis.


The author also discusses epigenetics, which is about whether a gene is turned on or off. Since females have two X chromosomes and men only one, in females one of the two X chromosomes is turned off, so males and females will produce equal amounts of the gene’s protein product. However, which of the two X chromosomes is turned off, the one from the woman’s mother, or the one from the woman’s father, varies from cell to cell in the body. Thus all females are chimeras. This mechanism also gives rise to calico cats.

Recombination Activating Genes

The author mentions the recently discovered recombination activating genes (RAG1 and RAG2), that are involved in creating a wide diversity in the antigen-binding specificity of antibodies and cellular adaptive immunity. It appears that they were transferred from a virus or a bacteria by horizontal evolution to a primitive fish millions of years ago.


The Japanese people are a combination of the original Jomon inhabitants of the islands and Korean immigrants called Yayoi. The Ainu of Hokkaido are similar to the Jomon. The inhabitants of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu are more similar to the Koreans. The author claims that the Japanese language is an isolate, but the physiologist Jared Diamond and some linguists have written elsewhere that Korean and Japanese have a common ancestor.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the rule for most peoples of the world. When children grow up, they generally stop making the enzyme for digesting the milk sugar lactose. However, some peoples, such as northern Europeans, have developed a tolerance for milk into adulthood. It appears to have evolved among a cattle-herding people, the Udmerts (Votyak), who lived between the Ural mountains and the Volga river several thousand years ago. Drinking cow milk by adults and lactose tolerance then spread to Europe.


Perfect Spy by Larry Berman


Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent by Larry Berman

The French and the Japanese

When Vichy France surrendered to the Nazis during World War II, this had implications for French colonies. Japan took over Vietnam from the French. After America defeated Japan in 1945, Japan lost Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh moved into Hanoi. There followed several years of the Communist Viet Minh and the French fighting for control of Vietnam, culminating in partition in 1956. The Viet Minh presented themselves as nationalists, not as Communists, in 1954 when they were fighting the French.

South Vietnam

Forces in the 1950s competing for South Vietnam:

  1. Bao Dai (last emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, who was exiled to France in 1955),
  2. Cao Dai (vegetarian Buddhists, whose main temple is at Tay Ninh, near the Black Virgin Mountain. One of its leaders, Trinh Minh The, was assassinated in 1955),
  3. Hoa Hao (rural Buddhists living in the Mekong river delta),
  4. Binh Xuyen (in charge of gambling, opium and prostitution in Cho Lon, including the largest brothel in Asia, the Hall of Mirrors),
  5. General Nguyen Van Hinh, backed by France, and eventually exiled to France in 1954,
  6. Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic who became head of South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Pham Xuan An

Pham Xuan An was born in Dong Hai province in 1927. His father was a land surveyor. His father sent him to live in Hue for awhile, where he saw how badly the landlords treated their tenant farmers. An liked Americans, because they root for the underdog. An learned English first from missionaries, then from the British embassy. An loved reading. An’s American friends and colleagues were very fond of him and never suspected his hobby.


Pham Xuan An was recruited to spy for the Communists. The mission of An was two-fold:

  1. to learn as much as possible about American culture,
  2. to become a journalist covering Viet Nam for a major American news organization.

To conceal his true sympathies, An hung out with the most anti-Communist Americans.

Orange County, California

Colonel Edward Lansdale arranged for the Asia Foundation to sponsor An as a journalism student in the United States. An attended Orange Coast College in southern California. An was a reporter for his college newspaper the Barnacle. An graduated in 1959 and went to work for the Sacramento Bee newspaper.


After An returned to Vietnam in 1960, he worked first for the South Vietnam Press Agency, then for Reuters, then in 1964 for the New York Herald Tribune, then in 1965 forTime magazine. Pham Xuan An did not give disinformation, because it would damage his credibility. American reporters valued his opinion and he tried to educate them about Vietnam. He was valued by the American due to his easy going nature, sense of humor, competence, excellent English, and wide array of contacts among the Vietnamese locals.

American Departure

In 1973 Henry Kissinger negotiated the Paris Accords, which allowed the North Vietnamese Army to keep 2-3 hundred thousand troops in South Vietnam, but required the American troops to leave. In December 1974 the North Vietnam Army took Phuoc Long City, thus violating the Paris Accords. American President Gerald Ford made no military response. He let them get away with it. The Communists knew then that America had abandoned Vietnam and it was theirs for the taking. After Saigon fell to the Communists in April 1975, An felt that the Americans failed to train good South Vietnamese leaders. An had contempt for the South Vietnamese leadership.

Personal Loyalty

An remained in Vietnam to take care of his mother. 120,000 South Vietnamese refugees were rescued by USA. For An, personal relationships were more important than political allegiances.An refused to rat out his anti-communist contacts to the communists after the war. After 1975, An finally learned about Marxist-Leninism, and the country became de-Americanized and Russified. An did not care for the Russians. An’s son studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An died in Vietnam in 2006 of emphysema.

In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce


In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce

The Author

The author is a reporter for the British newspaper, the Financial Times, who is married to an Indian woman.

Gandhi, Nehru and Ali Jinnah

Mohandas K. Gandhi was a proponent of a traditional, rural India. The main political party in India is the Congress Party, whose most famous leader was Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was a proponent of British culture. Nehru was born a Brahmin, but did not support the caste system. His support of Fabian socialism and disdain for capitalism came in part from his dislike of the bania castes of moneylenders and traders, who are lower than the Brahmin in the Hindu pecking order. Nehru was a secularist who disliked religious ritual. Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and founder of Pakistan, was not an observant Muslim. In fact he drank whiskey and ate pork. Since its creation, Pakistan has become less secular and more Islamic.

Hindu Nationalism

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a movement of Hindu nationalists that supports the theory that the Aryans, who originated the Hindu religion, originated in India. Scientific evidence shows that the Aryans originated outside of India and invaded India several thousand years ago. The original inhabitants of India were actually the Dravidians, who now live in southern India, and speak southern Indian languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. The political wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the Bharatiya Janata Party. The assassin of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi came from a family associated with RSS.


Bhimrao Ambedkar was a Dalit (untouchable) who championed the Dalits and opposed India’s caste system. In India for thousands of years, your caste has determined your profession and who you could marry. India has the largest affirmative action program in the world. It reserves government jobs for Dalits. One source of support for the Bharatiya Janata Party has been a backlash against affirmative action for Dalits.

Government Bureaucracy

Perhaps India’s main problem is its bloated and corrupt government bureaucracy, which employs a huge number of people. India has produced many high tech jobs for its educated elite, but, unlike China, India has failed to produce blue collar manufacturing jobs for its peasants to move into. So the main hope for poor people is to get a government job. Government officials have a lot of income, because of all the bribes they receive.

Street Justice

In Mumbai, because of the slowness of the criminal court system, and the fact that rich criminals can buy corrupt judges, the police have developed an informal system of assassinating the worst criminals.