Category: "culture/news"

I don't care

A short list of things I don't care about.

  • March Madness
  • American Idol
  • Michael Jackson trial
  • Martha Stewart

I don't have anything against people who care about these things, except for the cable network E!.

1991

In 1991, with preparations under way for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus, President Bush ordered the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq. He was sent this letter:

Dear President Bush. Please send your assistance in freeing our small nation from occupation. This foreign force occupied our lands to steal our rich resources. They used biological warfare and deceit, killing thousands of elders, children and women in the process. As they overwhelmed our land, they deposed our leaders and people of our own government, and in its place they installed their own government systems that yet today control our daily lives in many ways. As in your own words, the occupation and overthrow of one small nation . . . is one too many. Sincerely, An American Indian (A People's History of the United States, 627).

Vietnam

From 1964 to 1972, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort, with everything short of atomic bombs, to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny, peasant country--and failed (A People's History of the United States, 469).

By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II--almost one 500-pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam (ibid, 478).

Stem Cell Research: The Politics of Principle

Each year, Christians donate time and money to advance the pro-life cause. The Sanctity of Human Life week, stories of personal regret, moral arguments and medical concerns are means of spreading this message. From civil group concern for the unborn without a voice to militant individuals who bomb abortion clinics, these concerned Christians want their voices heard. Their methods are far from homogenous: while some prohibit abortion in any case, some are concerned that the constant focus on saving lives at conception and before birth takes away from the concern for life after birth. This latter group believes that skimping on welfare and other programs for mothers and children are travesties equal to the lives lost in abortion procedures.
Recently, the pro-life agenda seems to have taken a different approach by embracing a more contemporary political discussion—that of stem cell research. Many of the same arguments seem to overlap between these two subjects, mainly because of the proposed use of human embryos in this type of scientific advancement. As Fuller Theological Seminary student Peter Hough illustrates, the stem cell debate is "the abortion debate in a Star Trek uniform". But if the pro-life group has two voices, perhaps there is another side to the stem cell argument as well. And if, as David Gushee of Union University said, the issue of stem cell research will soon change human life forever, perhaps we should be well-educated to make sure we support the best choice.

Stem cells are, as David Batstone of the faith-based Sojourners magazine explains, "‘blank' cells that have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body" ( "Macrowave: Stem Cell Politics", www.sojo.net). Scientists believe that if stem cells are harvested before they develop into specific types of cells (cardiac, nerve or kidney, for example) these cells can be used to replace damaged cells in diseased individuals. The need for heart and kidney transplants, as well as the devastating diagnoses of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, could be eliminated if this science triumphs. Advancement of this nature is encouraging to both scientists and to those living with these ailments. Stem cell research opponents are not opposed to curing disease; their fundamental problem with stem cell research lies not in its existence, but in its means of origin.
As such, not all stem cell research is under fire. Stem cells gained from donated umbilical cord and placenta blood, adult neural cells and blood marrow can be used in research without violating any moral convictions.

Stem cells can also be extracted from embryos which were created for in vitro fertilization. Of the hundreds of embryos created in the in vitro process, a maximum of four can be implanted in the womb at one time. The rest of the embryos are frozen for future use, if needed. While most pro-lifers consider these bundles of cells embryos, others prefer the term ‘pre-embryos' because they lack organs and because their cells are undifferentiated, meaning they have not formed into specific types of cells (religioustolerance.org).
Finally, stem cells can be created using somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. SCNT is a procedure in which the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is replaced with cells from an adult donor. The altered egg then produces embryonic stem cells, which can replace the flawed cells that cause disease in humans (KMBC-9, Feb 9, 2005). Because of the lack of sperm and egg union, proponents of SCNT believe these cells are not embryos. Opponents of SCNT believe that these cells were created, or cloned, for the sole purpose of research. This, of course, violates their appreciation of the sanctity of human life.

The aforementioned Gushee, an Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy, is one of those opposed to SCNT. He believes that Christians are at an important junction in history and that remaining silent about the moral implications of stem cell research is irresponsible. "One of the best things biblical faith contributes to the biotech discussion is a well-considered understanding of human weakness, finitude, and sin, and the double-edged potential of many human endeavors," Gushee said ( "A Matter of Life and Death", Christianity Today, June 2000).
Gushee's academic presence is not the only agent vying for attention. Missouri Senate Bill 160 proposes to ban all forms of human cloning in the state. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Matt Bartle, stems from his own moral objection, though not only the objection to creating human life.

"I'm going to oppose anything that involves the killing of a human embryo," Bartle explained in the KMBC-9 interview. For many pro-lifers, Bartle's stance is unarguable: as with abortion, where a human life is destroyed, stem cell research that decides the fate of a future embryo can be equated with murder. In this case, Bartle is morally opposed to the creation of what he considers embryonic cells for scientific research, specifically SCNT.
Bartle is just one of many politicians weighing in on the debate. In 2001, President Bush delivered a speech explaining his position on stem cell research and introducing the president's council to monitor stem cell research. Bush stated that he had gathered information on the subject and came up with what he deemed two essential questions to be answered: "First, are frozen embryos human life, and therefore, something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?"

After consulting doctors, religious leaders and researchers, Bush decided to permit the use of an existing 60 lines of stem cells created from previously destroyed embryos. He also designated $250 million for research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells. Federally-funded future research on human embryos, however, was ruled unethical and unnecessary.
While Bush's plan seems to meld science and religious beliefs effortlessly, the reality is that the 60 previous lines he designated are rapidly dwindling into unusable material. Data gathered by the Family Research Council suggests that only 11 of the original lines are still usable; the rest have either been destroyed in scientific processes, have died or have converted to a specific type of human cell (www.religioustolerance.org).

Additionally, adult stem cells are not as versatile as those taken from embryos (Batstone). Adult stem cells are limited because they have already developed into type-specific cells. Embryonic stem cells can be manipulated to form kidney, heart, nerve and other cells.
Christian author Bob Smietana resists Bush's solution. "Full-scale stem cell research and the manufacturing of cures would mean using not just "spare embryos" but millions of new embryos created specifically for those purposes" ( "Playing Doctor, Playing God", Sojourners).

Groups like the Center for Bioethics and Human Diginity (CBHD), however, think the Bush plan is a good one. According to Daniel McConchie, a member of the CBHD, using adult stem cells is a viable solution for five reasons. First, an adult who is implanted with embryonic stem cells would have to take immunosuppressant drugs, such as those used after an organ transplant, for life. Using the same adult's own retooled stem cells would not require the same treatment. Second, no cloning is required—not even the cloning of one's own cells. Third, no human eggs are harmed. Fourth, adult stem cells are already specialized for specific functions in the body; embryonic cells must undergo specialization. Fifth, using adult stem cells eliminates the possibility for moral argument. ( "Adult Stem Cells-3, Embryonic Stem Cells-0", www.cbhd.org)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also recognizes the value of using adult stem cells. "Certain kinds of adult stem cells seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types, given the right conditions," explains their website (stemcells.nih.gov).

And, according to some, using embryonic stem cells to treat disease is not only immoral, it also has potentially lethal implications for the recipient. "Embryonic stem cells may actually provoke an immune reaction in patients [and] form tumors inside a patient's body" (CT Editorial, September 2001).
But in spite of this information, the decision to choose adult stem cells over embryonic ones is not simple. The NIH recognizes that even the task of finding adult stem cells is a difficult one. Scientists are not certain where adult stem cells live, but believe they are "thought to reside in a specific area of each tissue where they may remain quiescent [non-dividing] for many years until they are activated by disease or tissue injury". Because of the camouflaging nature of adult stem cells, researchers must first undergo the difficult process of identifying them.

The fact is, without necessary research performed on the many different types of stem cells, scientists will know neither the origin of nor the potential for curing any type of stem cell has. But what if moral and scientific concerns could be met simultaneously? What if embryonic stem cell research could be performed morally? As Jack Kessler writes, "The moral obligation to help other human beings is a concept universal to virtually all religions, and the entire focus of stem-cell biology is on alleviating human suffering and disease" (Chicago Tribune editorial, June 13, 2004).
Republican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah) relayed a similar message regarding embryos created through in vitro fertilization. "Why shouldn't embryos slated for destruction be used for the benefit of humankind?"

Educators Michael Meyer and Lawrence Nelson of Santa Clara University believe that human embryos can be both respected and researched. They recommend that scientists follow a "morally justifiable" plan when working with embryos, including the following steps:
1. Use embryos only if the research goals cannot be met using other methods.

2. Avoid considering embryos as property and cease buying and selling them. (In this case, parents involved with in vitro fertilization would donate their unused embryos to science. According to some, this is similar to a family donating the organs of a deceased loved one).
3. Obtain only the minimum number of embryos required to achieve research goals.

( "Human Embryo Experimentation Can Be Morally Justifiable")
The question of morality in stem cell research is a complicated one, as demonstrated by both sides' passionate arguments. On one hand, using embryos in research poses a threat to the potential for future life. On the other, refusing to investigate all avenues threatens the potential for a better life now.

If abortion and stem cell research are linked in the Christian mind, perhaps we should discover the pro-life solutions set forth by more progressive voices. Supporting pro-life causes from a purely political point of view can be dangerously one-sided. As pro-lifer Tom Allio explains, "In an election year the abortion issue is used in such a targeted way to solidify one's base, whether it's pro-life or pro-choice. That just doesn't do justice to the problem" (quoted in "No Place to Stand", Sojourners, Heidi Schlumpf, 2004).
Kevin Clarke of the social justice e-zine Salt of the Earth agrees. "By focusing only on whether abortion is legal or not, we ignore all the other cultural structures that drive women toward abortion…We have to develop a way to talk about this issue where we're not at each other's throats." (Sojourners).

One way of moving the focus is to remember that real lives are at stake: those of the patients awaiting a potential cure and, for those who believe SCNT creates a new life, that of the unborn. Conceivably the most relevant voices in this debate are those whose lives are slated to be changed by stem cell research, those who are awaiting a cure.
"One day he walked out of the kitchen, sat down on the couch and never got up, because he had forgotten how to use his legs," LaNeal Skinner said of her husband's early onset Alzheimer's ( "Debating Life, Morality, Hope", Kansas City Star, February 11, 2005). Skinner, a supporter of stem cell research, believes these cells may have saved her husband's life.

Pat Borland, whose mother had Alzheimer's, also knows the devastation of losing a loved one to this disease. Borland hopes for a cure, but not one gained through SCNT. "I don't believe that God wants us to play him. We shouldn't take a life to help our own. I know Mom wouldn't want that," Borland said (KC Star).
Perhaps it is not too late to change the focus of the stem cell debate. If it is fated to endure as the abortion debate has, we must try. Both supporting and opposing voices of stem cell research have pro-life goals in mind. Focusing on these goals, instead of on political partisanship, may reduce the amount of negative energy surrounding the debate. And it may pave the way for a cure.

Gator exec appointed to gov't privacy commitee

Adware maker joins federal privacy board | CNET News.com When I first saw this headline I thought it must have come from theOnion.com. Sadly, this is for real. The Department of Homeland Security is forming a privacy board and one of the appointees is D. Reed Freeman, vice president of Claria, formerly known as Gator. Unless you've been very careful you've probably had some of Gator's software installed on your computer without your permission. Once it's installed, their spyware serves ads and reports back to the company about what you're doing. That doesn't sound like the type of company that I want involved in forming privacy policy.

another quote

Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee . . .
You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?
--Helen Keller, 1911 (A People's History of the United States, page 345.)

A quote

. . . this year is going to be a year of patriotism and devotion to country. I am glad to know that people in every part of the country mean to be devoted to one flag, the glorious Stars and Stripes; that the people of this country mean to maintain the financial honor of the country as sacredly as they maintain the honor of the flag. --William McKinley (People's History of the US p. 295)

News from the left

My dad feeds himself a steady diet of conservative talk radio. I keep telling him that he needs more balance, and he said I should send him some links. So I'm looking for some left-leaning news sources that don't go so far as to freak him out. He's used to liberals being the butt of jokes, and I want him to be able to take the left seriously, so extremists need not apply. If you have any links, post a comment or email me.

An Unjust War

After an act of violence against us, the President took us to war against a sovereign nation. His proposal was approved easily, since his party controlled both houses of Congress. Many in the opposition party thought the war was unjust and only entered for political and economic reasons, but most of them went along with it. They knew that they didn’t have enough votes to stop the President, and they didn’t want to appear unpatriotic or like they weren’t supporting the troops. The debate in Congress was short, and the evidence wasn’t examined closely.

There was much talk of bringing liberty and freedom to more people, but the US troops were not welcomed as liberators. An insurgency developed and the military was soon understaffed and short on supplies. At home the country became sharply divided over the issue. The war was generally supported in the south and opposed in the north. The minority party proved ineffective and increasingly irrelevant.

What I've just given you is a description of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). I was reading in A People's History of the United States last night and I was struck by how familiar it sounded. Democratic President James K. Polk rushed the country to war after a border dispute left many American soldiers dead. The Whig party suspected that the war was an attempt to seize southwestern land from Mexico, annex it as southern states, and swing the balance of power further toward the Democratic party. But the Whigs did little to stop the unjust war, and less than 10 years later the party was over for the Whigs.

Out of the ashes of the Whig party came a new party with a strong, new leader. Abraham Lincoln had been an opponent of the war with Mexico, and his new party took a stronger stand against slavery than the Whigs had. The next great leader of the new party was Ulysses S. Grant, who had fought in the Mexican-American war and recalled it as "one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory."

One hundred and fifty years later and the country is still divided. Will history continue to repeat itself? Will a new party, with strong leaders and good causes, come on the scene and tip the balance of power in another direction? Will the division deepen to the point of civil war?

For further reading:A People's History of the United States, Mexican-American War, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Democrats, Whigs, Republicans.

School board election update

The school board election is April 5th, 2005. There are three spots open. The candidates are

Kellie Case
Steve Cooper
Jim Hester
Monte Johnson
Steve Lewis (incumbent)
Vanessa Tallman

Do they call them candidates because they're candid? We'll find out soon. Send me the questions you want answered.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Monte Johnson is a friend. He and his family have been our dinner guests and he's a member of my church. I'll do my best to be objective, but I thought I should disclose that.

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