Archive for January, 2012

PGD: a stem cell reconciliation?

January 28, 2012

When a man and a woman make love and give life together to a new person, this is a beautiful event. The love act is creative in every sense of the word, but most especially because of this: the two lovers have contributed to an eternally procreative art project that has been blooming on our planet for a very long time.

Whoever or whatever the Creator of this life process is, or is up to, is not my question to explore just now, although I have made some decisions in my belief about that question. I merely want to point out a fact or two about the process through which we humans have come to have our individual existences.

Fact #1 is this: you, as a human person, have 46 chromosomes.

2.) 23 of your chromosomes were passed to you from your father; the other 23 came from your mother.

3.) These chromosomes, or coded genetic programs, establish a biological framework for your physical existence and life-long development.

4.) Since the unique man who is your father paired his 23 with the 23 chromosomes within that unique woman who is your mother, then you yourself are unique. You–your particular combination of 46 chromosomes– had never existed before. So you are a unique creation. Congratulations. There has never been another “you”; nor will there ever be.

These days, microbiologists can husband this human-making process in a laboratory. Believe it or not. It is not as much fun–not nearly as satisfying– as making babies the time-tested Adam and Eve hubba hubba way. But hey, this test-tube thing is happening. This is what humans, in their quest for improvement, do. The scientific rationale for in vitro fertilization is this: some couples have not been able to conceive a child naturally, and so they can get  clinical help to bridge that fertility gap.    After obtaining sperm from a man, and an egg from a woman, the microbiologist combines them (in the famous “test tube”), and a new human is begun.

Here’s where the scientific work, and the ethical discussion surrounding it, becomes a breeding ground for controversy. My opinion is: Since a unique, never-before-existing 46-chromosome arrangement is manifested in space and time, soon to be flesh and blood–no matter how the conception was facilitated– we have a new human being our hands. This is creation, by which we men and women participate with the original Creator. And it is serious business, because a person’s life–and entire lifetime development–is at stake. There are great–dare I say “sacred” responsibilities present here.

Well, simple enough, really. Not. The further you climb on the tree of knowledge (or the double-helix of DNA), the more complex do your choices become. This is part of what Moses was getting at when he wrote Genesis. But I’ll not go there now, as if I could. Anyway,  as it turns out, there is another reason that scientists have for working with in vitro embryos. Some of them are leftovers.

Yes, Virginia, the outcome of the test-tube baby boom is that we have thousands, possibly millions, of little embryos suspended in cold-storage, probably at about -196º C.  Most of them will never be implanted in a mother’s womb. Some of them will be, but not all. So guess what–another thing that’s happening is this: the key to medical progress is contained deep within the very life process itself, beginning with its earliest stage, the embryo. These frozen embryos. So the scientific community wants to call these microscopic potentialities into the service of mankind–involuntarily, of course–by harvesting their totipotent genetic characteristics to improve the health of living persons.These little ones are the source for the famous “embryonic stem cell” lines that are cultured in petri dishes in laboratories all over the world.

So then the question becomes, quite infamously: Are we, as a human race of civilized persons, going to allow these suspended potential kids to be sacrificed, for the sake of medical progress, so that already-living persons can have qualitatively better lives?

We don’t want to kill those 46-chromosome-bearing new creations just for the sake of heartlessly improving our own already-established lives. That would be, in the biblical sense, not unlike child sacrifice. Civilized people don’t do that, do we?

Well guess what. I heard on the radio yesterday that microbiologists have developed a technique for obtaining individual embryonic stem cells from a 3-day embryo (in what’s called the “cleavage” stage of fetal development) without killing the embryo. The procedure is called PGD, which stands for pre-implantation diagnosis. In it, the microbiologist extracts a single cell  from the 8-cell embryo, leaving the embryo virtually intact for further development and life.

The PGD single-cell extraction procedure has been widely used all over the world. According Dr. Robert Lanza, in his statement during an interview with Ira Flatow on ScienceFriday (NPR), its use is dependable. http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201201275 Dr. Lanza’s research pertains to stem cell therapy for improved eyesight in patients who have suffered macular degeneration. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2960028-2/abstract

But what caught my pro-life ear was Dr. Lanza’s mention of this technique for obtaining totipotent embryonic stem cells without killing the fetus. The little guy gives up a single cell, then moves on to further development. Assuming the best, maybe its a little like giving blood.

A little further reading brought me to:

http://www.pennmedicine.org/fertility/patient/clinical-services/pgd-preimplantation-genetic-diagnosis/#step-by-step-process and this explanation: “After three days in culture, the embryos typically reach the eight–cell stage. One to two cells are removed from each embryo on day three and analyzed…”

The extracted cell ia generally used for a genetic assessment of the embryo, so that parents, assisted by the scientists and doctors, can make choices about which of the embryos to choose for implantation in the mother’s womb. This is another controversial development in the can-of-DNA-worms that constitutes genetic research and practices–“designer babies,” and so and so on…

But my interest in this procedure revolves around its potential as a reconciliation between the value that we pro-lifers place on embryonic sanctity, and scientific use of surplus embryos without wholesale killing of them. A little more googling brought me to more info, from a fertility clinic in Houston, where I found this (emphasis mine):

http://www.houstonivf.net/Services/PreimplantationGeneticDiagnosis.aspx

“Preimplantation genetics can be performed in vitro at any of the following developmental stages, the zygote (day 1), cleavage stage (day 3) or blastocyst (day 5). At each of these stages, cell(s) are removed from the embryo for genetic testing in special laboratories. This does not appear to harm the ongoing development of the embryo with over 1000 healthy babies born worldwide after preimplantation genetic screening. However, an insufficient number of babies have been born to confirm that the procedure is completely without risk.

So now I’m wondering: Does this change, at all, the debate between pro-life opponents of embryonic stem-cell research, and the researchers whose microscope sights are trained on all those frozen surplus embryos?

Glass Chimera

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Redquity, Whitequity, and Bluequity

January 25, 2012

From the moment of our bloody birth

this equality thread’s sewn a sturdy seam;

it flaps red dream stripes across our flagg-ed earth,

as justice in a dream.

That sanguine color was borrowed from French egalit’e;

yet runs red on American soil,

so every man and woman’s own unique regalit’e

might flourish bright in blood, and sweat, and toil.

Now the extremities of our ruptured economic wounds

draw social sympathy for Occupy Red Square,

while our banner stripes flap o’er flagging glooms.

Does anybody care?

 

’cause t’was like a row of stony marble whites

set upon each soldier’s devotion given wholly,

we laid our solemn hopes and fights

on Arlington ground made holy,

while all across this manifest destiny quest

sprang picket-white fence, and courtly documents

to assure each citizen’s effort best

to prosper and to thrive, in enterprising sacraments,

as white stripes snap o’er our flaggy threadbare cares;

they’re new as the driven snow,

and prosperity blooms bright on our equity shares

with wealth and health to grow.

 

We always held high that true blue hope

from mom and pop, of limitless expanding sky,

of deep blue ocean, and work, and cleansing soap,

purple mountain majesty and  blueberry pie.

Oh, mister bluebird on my shoulder,

do you still sing with America singing?

Can we whistle and rhyme and yet grow bolder

with our cracked bell of Liberty still ringing?

Hey Bo, can you thump us that delta thang?

But don’t tread on my blue ragtime shoes.

Go set yo’self down on the front-porch swang.

Flap us your red, your white, your field of starry blues.

 

O, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Does it fly high o’er the level playing field,

while our anthem’s strains cry out to  save

opportunities to knock and profits to yield?

We’re not making equality here,

’cause Nature’s God done created that;

we’re merely holding these principles dear–

of freedom to blog and liberty to chat!

To gather on the public square,

to prosper, to invest, to build on equity that grew,

to pray and to love and forever to care,

to flow red, flap white,  and shine like the starry blue.

Glass half-Full

The one thing that stops politics

January 22, 2012

A politician was talking about the unfortunate condition of his government:

Since the economic had begun…

…growing numbers of Agrarians maintained that the state was ungovernable without their participation, and that their party was the only one capable of managing the state…In the summer of 1933, Beran himself was of the opinion that the rising root of aggravation was an exaggerated school education, and (that), for a child subjected to education, a country person ‘began to stink of horse piss.’

‘We have the most educated proletariat…the government has to perform miracles, so as to be able to maintain an army of tramps who mainly despise work…so that an unemployed worker would not have to leave town for the countryside and ask a farmer for a job.’

The state would never get out of its difficulties without reducing lavish unemployment benefits, ‘this social monster which the socialists have created…’

The politician who presented this position was Rudolph Beran, a leader in the Agrarian party of Czechoslovakia during the 1930s. His assessment was supported largely by rural folks who populated a region known as Sudetenland. Many of the these Agrarians were ethnic Germans whose loyalties were gravitating, during the ’30s, toward support for German occupation of their region of the Czech lands. The passage above was quoted from The Life of Edvard Benes, 1884-1948, by Zbynek Zemen with Antonin Klimek (Oxford, 1997)

However, after a while the extremist rhetoric didn’t really produce much benefit to anyone. In 1939, all the polarizing politics that had been cranked out between fascist and communist extremes in eastern Europe went up in smoke, because Hitler’s war blew all the manipulative politics to smithereens.

Europe in the 1930s was a festering boil of political infection and belligerence that eventually erupted as World War II. At the  core of the contagion was a warm-up war of opposing ideologies:  fascism and communism. Fascism was being force-fed by Germany and Italy.  Communism was perpetrating through the nascent Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, led by Russia.

Pretty much the whole developed world was suffering through an economic depression. The democratic nations, primarily France, Great Britain, and their smaller allies, were grasping at security straws. In their faltering attempts to preserve peace and what was left of prosperity, the liberal democracies were attempting to follow a political course between the two extremes of fascism and communism. This was no easy agenda, given the extremities with which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Russia were polarizing their own internally bloody pathologies along with the other nations under their influence.

The most fervent expression of these death-wish ideologies was being hammered out in eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia and Poland, two regions or “nations” that had long been areas of exploitative manipulations between the larger powers, were destined to become the flash points of the world’s next “great war”–the one that the last “great war” (1912-1918) had purported to avoid.

Czechoslovakia was a fledgling democratic republic during the ’20s and ’30s, having been established in the remnants of the Austria-Hungary empire that had dissipated after 1918 and the end of World War I. But this new Czech nation was a fragmented check-list of ethnic groups: Czechs, Sudetan Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, and a few others.

A multiplicity of political identities in 1930s Czechoslovakia generated a swirling frenzy of discontents. The most intense Czechoslovakian rivalries were in the western border districts,  the Sudetenland, where a  plurality of ethnic Germans held to Deutschland traditions and loyalties. This hotbed of opposing discontents is where World War II found its first militarized eruptions.

During 1938, Hitler’s impudently pagan will-to-power intimidated British and French politicians into submissive strategies of appeasement. The Munich Pact conceded Sudetenland to the third reich, and assigned the Czechs to an impotent role as pawns in the game. Czech leaders had not even been consulted; nor were they present when the sellout deal with the devil was signed in Munich in September. The Nazi wehrmacht‘s ensuing occupation of Sudeten Czech lands set the terrible stage for Hitler’s invasion of the Czech lands in March 1939.

But Czechoslovakia was just a wehrmacht warmup for the full-scale blitzkrieg of Poland that came in September of ’39. That’s when the Allies finally woke up to smell the smoke of hitlerian deception and destruction. Then they began to mobilize the Allied resistance that ultimately became successful by 1945. But World War II was no walk in the park.

A lot has changed in our world since then. Today our politics and war rationalizations display a few discernible parallels with those turbulent times past. Now the players on the stage are the same, but different. European ideological extremities have synthesized somewhat, a la Hegelian dialectics, morphing to “the West.” Meanwhile in Eurasia the old kid on the world block–Islam–rises as a newly energized force-field. It will exert  polarizing effects to religiously neuterize our old ideologies into kaffirific irrelevance. Could be a volatile situation, especially if you factor in the spark-breathing dragon in the far East.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Dr. King and me

January 16, 2012

In my sixty years, I remember no fellow-American whose courage and true patriotism surpasses that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I grew up in Mississippi and Louisiana, two states of the deep south, where the legacy of Dr. King’s work–his love of mankind, his tireless work for freedom, and his ultimate sacrifice–made its most enduring impact.

In the constant struggle for human justice in this nation and in our world, he was a vigilant prophet and laborer. As a fallen soldier in that cause, Dr. King was one of those whom Lincoln had presciently memorialized at Gettysburg a hundred years prior, with this assessment: he paid the “last full measure of devotion,” by giving his life so that others could live free from slavery and oppression.

I will never forget the effect of his prophetic life on me and the generation I grew up with. The people of our United States should not forget.

In 1978, the year that I joined the ranks of Christian faith, a faith that Dr. King openly proclaimed and by which he was forever inspired, I wrote this song about him and Moses, after climbing Mt. Pisgah near my home in North Carolina. Perhaps you will be inspired by this great legacy, as I was:

Mountaintop

Something from Nothing

January 14, 2012

Today, I am going to expose to you my ignorance of quantum mechanics in the study of physics. Furthermore, you will plainly see that my childish grasp of the physicists’ exposition of this phenomenon is woefully inadequate, even naive.  But it doesn’t matter if you can detect right off the bat how blatantly dense is my take on the matter. You see, I am one of those who short circuits the rational pursuit of truth by inserting faith in a Creator where there should by all hypothetical propositions be an equation, or some hard-earned experimental data.

It all started with this: http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201201132, wherein Lawrence Krauss is discussing the contents of his new book,  A Universe From Nothing, with Ira Flatow, and Lawrence makes such potentially gravitational statements as “Nothing is unstable,” meaning that nothingness itself is unstable, insofar as that it has a habit of generating stuff out of itself (nothing) out in space.

“Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time scale so short that you can’t even measure them.”

Spontaneous generation, we used to call it, and thinking about it is, as Lawrence points out, a little bit “like counting angels on the head of a pin.”

But somewhere in the half-life of Lawrence’s broadcast/webcast explanations, what really set my neurons hurdling  into photonic frenzies is this idea that an electron, which is whirring somewhat orbitally around a proton, cannot be adequately assessed in terms of its position in relation to the proton, or in relation to, for that matter (haha) anything else. This is because, as soon as the analyst, or scientist, casts light on the subject particle(wave) in question, in order to view the electron and make some kind of determinating statement about it, the light (the energetic effect of the light) itself alters the quarky little rascal, rendering its position indeterminable! Imagine that! Like trying to herd cats.

And Lawrence also mentioned:

“Whole universes can pop out of nothing, by the laws of quantum mechanics.”

Ha!  I was stumped.

I tried, well into the evening  and the nighttime, to wrap my warpish mind around all this, which must resemble a light beam trying to keep up with a neutrino, as the French say in Switzerland.  I was getting  a little short on the fourth dimension while trying to capture the essence of  those quarks in question and fathom their unquantifiable fidgettance. And then, as if that weren’t enough profundity to drag my faltering comprehension into a blackhole, Paul Krugman’s recent comparison between Austrian economics and the 18th-century theory of phlogiston in chemistry popped out of nowhere, not to mention Higgs-Boson confusion on top of that, and…

while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping. . . and the faith-based  short circuit suddenly presented itself, when my friend Dave sent out his daily ditty, http://outdeep.com/2012/01/13/light-in-our-heart , which started with this conveniently accessible concept:

For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

to which my friend had also added:

 “The sovereign creativity of God to bring forth what to us would have been unthinkable is staggering.  This artistic endeavor of the Divine is used to illustrate the similar work of enlightening my heart.”

Wherefore, I in my lay-like confusion decided to just go with that, call it a day, and hit the hay, where my wife was so peacefully sleeping in preparation for today’s nursing duties. I had found a universal incarnation that I could wrap my weary mind around. Now this morning, the sun shines brightly on snow out in the back .40. Thank God for a beautiful winter day here in the inexplicable universe. Ignorance is, as they say, bliss. Grits is good too, for breakfast, with cheese.

Glass half-Full

Severity

January 10, 2012

Just because I grew up with you

doesn’t mean

I have to condone your way of doing things,

your slackery get down party hard irrelevance,

because your slatherin relativity

will wither

in the hot wind of rigid sharia shakedown.

 

Just because I hunker down

at the onslaught of your slitherin sitcom triviality

doesn’t mean

I have to concede to your casting spells,

because your broadcast of splinterin smithereens

will splatter

on the heartless blade of swaggerin sword.

 

Just because we part ways,

you to broad and me to narrow,

doesn’t mean

I don’t love you,

‘though your stumble on slippery slope

will sever

our simple serfish slavery.

 

But when you strive to crucify

the likes of me

then don’t be surprised at what’s to come thereafter.

Selah.

Glass Chimera

Foundation for Debt Ceiling Research

January 8, 2012

Now is the time for all top dawgs to come to the aid of their country, y’all.

I’m talking about heavy hitters like Warren Buffett and Donald Trump, people whose impact can really make a difference.  If Donald and Warren want to contribute their money-gathering expertise to our national improvement, I propose they should organize three great charitable fundraising events. I’m suggesting that these guys do it because I’m just, like, one little guy with a big idea. But these two have the real wherewithal to get something done in the interests of balanced fiscality.

So, the first  fundraiser would be a prize-fight in Atlantic City featuring George Soros v. David Koch.

The second would be a fight in Las Vegas between Bill Ayers and Charles Koch.

The third would be a tag-team wrestling match with the four heavyweights in Chicago.

Referees would be Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

Rush Limbaugh and Chris Matthews would serve as the official voices of USA Spurts.

All proceeds would go to the brand-new Foundation for Debt Ceiling Research, to be fiduciarially managed  jointly by Goldman Sachs and ACORN.

So Warren and Donald, when you get a minute, give me a call and we’ll get going on this thing.

Glass Chimera

a little Czech wisdom

January 8, 2012

“The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.”

Jan Patocka, spoken to Vaclav Havel, both of whom were spokesmen for

Charter ’77, in Czechoslovakia

Glass half-Full

a little Vaclav Havel family history

January 5, 2012

Almost 23 years ago, Vaclav Havel led the people of Czechoslovakia in a revolution that ousted four decades of Soviet communist rule. Early in his life, Vaclav had been a dissident playwright; When the Soviet was rejected in 1989, he became, despite persecution and imprisonment,  President of liberated Czechoslovakia, and in 1993 President of the Czech Republic.

Vaclav Havel died a few weeks ago, on Dec. 18.

Vaclev had come from a good family. His grandfather, Vacslav Havel, had held a venerable role as a civic leader in Prague during the the first decade of the 20th century.  A notable component of Vacslav’s (with an “s” in the middle) legacy, and the legacy of his family, was a grandiose Prague landmark, called the Lucerna Palace, the construction of which was begun in 1907.

Consider this historical account of what happened to the Havel family’s creatively constructed heritage,  before and after a communist government nationalized it in 1949.

From page 37 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

http://www.amazon.com/Vaclav-Havel-Authorized-Eda-Kriseova/dp/0312103174

“Vacslav Havel, Vaclav’s grandfather, built Prague’s Lucerna Palace, an arts and entertainment center that was on a par with that of any great European city. It was his life’s work. He loved Prague and wanted to do something that would promote Prague from an Austro-Hungarian provincial town to a great city…

“…and from time to time, he consulted his wife, Emilie. In his memoirs, Vaclav’s father writes: ‘When his (Vacslav’s) project was finished, he showed my mother his suggestion for the facade on Vodickova Street. As soon as she saw it, she exclaimed that it was like a great big lucerna, or lantern. May father jumped at her remark, saying: That’s a good name for the whole building, Lucerna, It is a Czech word that even a foreigner could pronounce well.’ ”

“During the first stage of development from 1907 to 1908, they built the building on Vodickova Street and its courtyard wing. Grandfather Havel built Lucerna in three stages at his own expense with the help of bonds and mortgages. He and his wife, Emilie, guaranteed the repayment of the loans with all their property as collateral.”

Continuing, from page 38 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

“The ambitious concept of a single enterprise for entertainment, haute cuisine, and culture was crowned by the construction and inauguration of the Great Hall in 1920. The hall was submerged three stories below ground; above it stood a seven-story building. It was the largest underground concert hall in Prague. For the construction of the hall, Vacslav Havel innovated the use of steel-reinforced concrete for the pillars and ceilings, designed and engineered by Stanislav Bechyne, later a member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The construction was a worldwide rarity.

“…after the war (World War II), the Communists nationalized the Lucerna Palace.”

But 18 years before World War II, When Vacslav had died in 1921, ownership of the Lucerna had passed to his son Vaclav (senior, father of the late President Vaclav), from whose possession it was later taken when the communists took over in 1949. From page 84 of Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

“According to Vaclav’s father’s memoirs, 1952 was the family’s most difficult year. Mr Havel had to leave the Lucerna. It had not belonged to him for three years, but they had allowed him to work there. He worked well and his employers liked him. The final parting was hard for him, because he was attached to the business by countless emotional ties, by his family tradition, by his whole life.”

Something tells me that this is not the way things should happen. A family was robbed of its legacy by a communist government. The government later allowed the former owner to work as an employee.

If you care to know more about this Lucerna Palace of Prague and the Havel family who built and managed it until it was taken from them, then look it up, or google it. My point here is that there have been times in human history when the hard-earned legacy of an enterprising family was absconded by a redistributive totalitarian government. Among the many forms of injustice in history, this misappropriation is one of them. It happens  when a meddlesome State steals property from the so-called bourgoisie (merchant class), or when a statist government, for purposes of leveling income inequality, occupies the assets of “the rich.”

Here in America, we value and constitutionally protect the rights of individual citizens and families to own private property and manage it as they deem necessary. Let’s keep it that way.

Glass half-Full

We have some choices.

January 2, 2012

So what we have here in a finite world of limited resources but unlimited potential is a set of questions about who gets what, how they get it, what they do with it, and how others are then affected by it and what happens as a result.

Not to mention that old bugaboo colonialism and its modernized morphosis, imperialism, which leads to the questions of corporatism vs. statism, exploitation, nationalization, banana republic, democratic republic, wealth generation, wall street and main street, city and country, urb and suburb, resource distribution, income redistribution, socialism capitalism communism fascism naziism islamism  theism atheism existentialism nihilism  modern- and postmodernism, vassal and free, serf and freedman, indentured or not, enslaved or liberated, liberal or conservative, liberal and neoliberal, conservative and neocon, collectivist or free marketeer, giver or taker, regulator or regulated, revolutionary or reactionary, propheteer or pamphleteer, opportunist or freeloader,  work or  disability, employment or un-,  welfare or entrepreneurware… shades of gray, white, black, good and bad, sheep and shearer, lambs and wolves, law-abiders and anarchists, law-enforcers and criminals, guards and prisoners, cops and robbers, good cop bad cop,  preppies and greasers, achievers and slackers. movers, shakers, slouches, pacifists, soldiers, warlords or house of lords, life and death situations, to be or not-to-be,  and everything in between, fish or cut bait.

And whether property will be private or public, and what you can do with it, and whether the government will take on all responsibilities for everybody’s welfare, or whether individuals will hold themselves responsible, or some blend thereof.

These are the choices that challenge us in 2012. Good luck with that. Be warm and prosper, and whatever you choose to do, vaya con Dios.

Glass half-Full