Book Review: Between the World and Me


Five stars.

This is thin ice for me, a well-assimilated Asian, reading and commenting on the African-American experience of disenfranchisement.

I’m currently immersed in the world of West Baltimore: ‘powerdisking’ seasons of The Wire, amazed at the lingo, the culture, the down-and-out police and detectives who get up every morning to face the jungle, in a world where the jungle is clearly winning.

And in the middle, the black man. A powerful, yet powerless figure. The games, the chess moves, the subtle alliances, the backstabbing, the occasional yet vicious executive liaisons of violence. (I originally wrote ‘explosions of violence’ but maybe autocorrect understands something I don’t).

And now, Mr. Coates writes this book: a letter to his young son. One letter, one book. It is a quick, searing read. Indirectly, it addresses ‘the men who believe themselves to be white.’ And with this phrase he lays bare the bias underlying so many assumptions of American culture.

Coates is an educated African-American man with command of the language, a deep understanding of the powerful forces shaping American history, an unflinching eye toward the shameful treatment of blacks in America, in past centuries and including now.

And he sadly has to pass on his cautions and his learnings to his son, who even today, is not safe, for all the same reasons.

As an Asian-American, this is not my fight. I carry neither the inherited guilt of the Southern plantation owner (but did enjoy watching the Dukes of Hazzard when I was growing up: sorry), nor the chromatic guilt of appearing ‘white’ (although it is true that I was labeled ‘white’ at high school graduation*).

This book amazes me: that a black man in America spends his entire life knowing that, fundamentally, he, and his body, are never safe: he could be detained, arrested, or killed at any time.

Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, recently said that since moving to the U.S. that he has been pulled over while driving, more than 50 times.

Although such systematic bias and discrimination against Asians existed in my father’s time, and more in decades and centuries past (Chinatowns built to house and segregate workers for the railroad, epithets that spoke of ‘a Chinaman’s chance,’ meaning that the Chinese worker who was lowered down in the basket with explosives to carve the railroad tunnels out of rock would likely die), I have fortunately not often been subject to those pressures, those glass ceilings, those verbal taunts and those mortal risks.

America does have a checkered past. Indeed the present is also checkered. We are by no means out of the dark tunnel of our chromatic biases. But it is the conversation and powerfully articulated voices, like those of Mr. Coates and the empathy and compassion of our melting pot society that might move us forward.

*True story: I was getting ready to graduate high school in Tallahassee, Florida, part of a senior class of about 600, about 1/3 black and 2/3 white, and one Asian. Honestly, having spent more than a decade growing up among these same friends, I did not feel isolated or apart.

I was approached during the week prior to graduation, by the registrar of Amos P. Godby High School, who informed me:

‘I hope you don’t mind: I made you white, otherwise I would have had to put two more columns into my report for the numbers of white boys and girls, and black boys and girls. I would have had to type up Asian boys and girls. Just because of you. So I made you white.’

What did she want me to say? Perhaps ‘thank you?’ Or maybe ‘no thanks, I prefer to be black?’ It puzzles me to this day.

CMIO’s take? This CMIO has no take.

Remember that you will die. (WIRED)

from wired dot com

Wired magazine is starting to re-invent itself again; now as a paid-subscription service with interesting articles on a website called Backchannel. The first few articles are doozies: incredible thought pieces on the near-future of technology. I’m inhaling these; love the thoughtfulness behind the reporting.

This article speaks about the stranglehold our devices have on us; something that is prevalent in the news. The upshot, and most relevant recommendation to reduce your smartphone use?

Remember that you will die.

Wow, that’s a show-stopper. Makes you think, doesn’t it? I believe this is exactly what the victorious Roman generals, when they returned from their military conquests, would have whispered in their ear, during the celebratory parade back in Rome: “Memento mori.” (or, perhaps it is merely a cool meme).

Anyway, a good read. I’m trying various things to reduce my smartphone distraction. This memory is helping. I’m also trying out turning my smartphone screen to grayscale. I’m also turning off all my ‘bing’ notifications and red number badges for “unread messages” on LinkedIn, Twitter, Outlook on my desktop and on my phone. I’ve deleted my Facebook app (which is power-hog anyway) and only check it using a browser, and on MY TERMS, no longer drawn in by that siren-song red circle.

I’m trying to hack my own brain chemistry and reward circuits by removing visual triggers and cues. This is also described in the book Deep Work.

CMIO’s take? Time to start hacking your own motivations and actions.

NYT: Talk to your doctor about your Bucket List.

I love this idea. So often I struggle with setting treatment goals for patients, and equally difficult, how to bring it up, make it relevant to their lives, and make their treatment consistent with their life goals. This is a wonderful, succinct way to think about it and ask about it. I’m going to start doing this.

Our EHR already has a great place to put “Patient Goals.” Why not make that the patient’s Bucket List? Seems right to me.

CMIO’s take? Sometimes the non-medical literature is where we learn the most about humane health care. What are you doing to help your patients reach their goals?

TED talk: Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog)

Give this a listen. I love all that TED stands for (Technology, Entertainment, Design), but most of all that they interview interesting folks, usually restrict them to a very short presentation, and despite the lack of rigorous data in the presentation, never fail to catch your attention. All academics everywhere can learn something about how to give talks from TED.

And, Stewart Brand is a wonderful polymath who is worth listening to.

CMIO’s take? Enjoy.

Google Glass EE (it’s back!)


So, sometimes second or third acts are what save a new technology. Google, who famously introduced Google glass a few years ago, resulting in public derision for a technology not quite ready for prime time, is back with a latest edition called Google Glass Enterprise Edition, now being tested and used in various industries including Boeing, for aircraft wiring harness technicians, and in healthcare for physicians using it to communicate with scribes during patient care.

CMIO’s take? If at first you don’t succeed…

Advance Care Planning video at UCHealth


It is always a joy to realize that one works with amazing colleagues. Here is a video (in which I participated), on the emphasis UCHealth is placing on Advance Care Planning, specifically of Durable Power of Attorney for Health care, a Living will, the 5 wishes documents. It is a way for our patients to indicate to us their wishes for end-of-life care.

Equally important, we have made it much easier for patients to submit their own documents and statements directly into their electronic health record through their patient-portal, that we call My Health Connection.

Thank to to our team, and to teams worldwide, who are raising awareness and assisting patients with expressing these very important wishes, and making them known to their healthcare providers.

CMIO’s take? Thank you to our team, and to teams worldwide, who are raising awareness and assisting patients with expressing these very important wishes, and making them known to their healthcare providers.