Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A note to my reader(s)

I have been blogging irregularly about various topics. At one point, I turned off the comments. Sometimes it feels that things are published online get easily lost in the tons of information that every second are added to the Internet. Yet, recently, a person wrote me and asked to blog about some news (here is the blog entry that followed that request). The famous Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni wrote his masterpiece (I Promessi Sposi) assuming that he had’25 readers’ (in one occasion he referred to just 10 readers because he imagined that only 10 readers would follow him at that point).
I have one reader (and possibly more but I do not want to be too presumptuous) and that is enough to justify keep writing this blog. I will try to write more often and write entries that relate directly to my present research interests. I am working on issued of legal regulation of capitalism focusing in particular on the asbestos industry and the compensation of asbestos victims.
Therefore, I will try to post my reflections on two aspects of this research:

  1. Comments on the overall relationship between law and capitalism. It is a fascinating, difficult and very contemporary topic. I am learning about it every day and I would welcome any help (in terms of comments to my post or emails suggesting ideas or readings) to deepen my understanding of this complex relationship. (blog label = capitalism and law)
  2. News regarding various initiatives involving asbestos compensation around the world. In particular, I will try to follow the developments of a criminal trial that will start in early December 2009 in Torino. It will be an extraordinary trial, one of his kind: executives of the Swiss company Eternit will be tried for criminal actions that cause disease and deaths among communities whose members worked for or lived in the vicinity of several asbestos plants in Italy (blog label = asbestos compensation).
As a social scientist and an intellectual, I am interested in understanding how we came about to set up societies in which people go to work to make a living and then die because of the employment itself.
Please read my blog, comment it, send me suggestions. Be critical, engaged, and thoughtful because we need these three qualities to figure out how to imagine a better world.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, our society and ourselves

I have been asked to comment on the enactment of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Title II of this law came into effect a few days ago. Under Title II, an employer may not ‘discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment … because of genetic information.’

I do not feel particularly qualified to speak about its impact on insurance and workplaces, and whether this is truly going to make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. What I found interesting is that the process that led to the enactment of this piece of federal regulation was lengthy (13 years) and controversial, and that somehow the paradigm regarding genetic information has shifted. In the late 1990s, when the policy debate that led to GINA started, many commentators had been captured by the idea that genetic information were ‘exceptional’ in the sense that they carried along a great deal of predictability and significance. 13 years we know that we do not know much and that genetic data alone are a poor source of information (read the excellent chapter authored by Alex Capron in this book). In this regard, GINA is outdated because it reflects a view that is no longer widely shared.

On the other hand, it is certainly important to anticipate and correct possible forms of discrimination. Therefore, in that regard, GINA is still a useful tool. However, the real problem is that insurers and employers have incentives in piling up information about the genetic prospects of insured and employed individuals. People should not be worried about losing their insurance or employment because of who they are genetically (which certainly contributes to defining who we are only to a tiny little bit). The genetic lottery should not matter in defining who we are and how we can achieve our aspirations in life. This is also true for many other traits, many of which are the product of our choice—believing in God or not, having a certain partner, holding certain political ideas, and so forth.

If we need legislation to protect us against social arrangements (such as insurance or employment) that were set, sometimes in the past, to help us lead a better life, then we do have a problem. We ought to reason about the significance of the need to protect ourselves against our own social ‘creations,’ and reform the place that those ‘creations’ are occupying in our lives. It is a challenge that has been part of our civilization since the beginning. Genetic knowledge should not matter to define who we are.

Centuries ago, Terentius proclaimed that ‘Homo sum: nihil humani a me alienum puto’ (I am a human being and nothing human could be alien to me). This seems to be a good starting point to reason about GINA and what it means to us.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Marvel's Asbestos Lady


It was 1947, and Marvel comics created the Asbestos Lady, a blonde-haired, brown-eyed knockout with a green mini-skirt, a purple cape, and a flamethrower with which she will try to take over the world! She wasn't a heroin: she a villain, which is certainly much more in tune with the properties of the 'mineral killer' underlining her powers.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A building full of asbestos near Milan, Italy

A very will done report by the Italian TV program, Le Iene (in Italian, alas!) and on air on 11/03/09 tells the story of 55 families living in an asbestos-contaminated building near Milan. Built in 1984, the building is owned by the City of Milan and its fate is uncertain.