Thursday, October 11, 2007

Worried About Global Warming?

Changing your lifestyle to save the planet? Here's a new one for you. Greenpeace says, "Eat more kangaroo!!" It's your low-gas nutrition alternative. Apparently, kangaroos don't have the flatulence problem that cows and sheep do. Flatulence is, as we know, a major greenhouse gas producer, and, short of giving Beano to all our hamburger-on-the-hoof, there's not much we can do about it--if we want to remain carnivores, that is. Greenpeace's solution is to suggest we stop raising cattle and start harvesting the hoppers. Of course, if you don't live down under, there's all that fuel oil it'll take to get this methane-efficient meal to your dinner plate, but hey, anything for the cause, right? Then again, maybe Beano for livestock isn't such a bad idea after all...

Hat tip: Best of the Web

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

From The Kitchen To The Supreme Court

This "How'd she get there from here?" moment, brought to you by ramblers anonymous.

Hello from flaky blogger central. Apologies and self-abasement to anyone who requires them for my random approach to posting since I returned from my summer hiatus. To be honest, I'm not particularly inspired to write much right now. I don't really have anything to say or share that isn't available from a plethora of other sources far more erudite and articulate than I, and it seems rather a waste of your time for me to spout off uninspired, when a Google search will lead you to a treasure trove of information, news and opinions on your topic of choice. My two cents seem overwhelmingly redundant these days, and not very shiny.

Further inhibiting my spouter's itch, I'm getting all domestic with the onset of fall. I've got sewing projects going, and autumn is cooking season here in Meowville (the only time of year that I actually have some personal inclination to camp out in the kitchen.) This foray into the wonderful world of cookery never lasts long--usually about as long as spring fever keeps me interested in gardening--a couple months, max. I'm not interested enough in food to keep up the culinary enthusiasm much past the first weeks of morning chill and changing leaves, but it's fun for a little while to fill the kitchen with warm, homey smells after the long heats of summer have ceased, and the very thought of turning on the oven doesn't oppress me. For the moment, the thought of homemade mac and cheese, with ham and sauteed onions, a side of green beans, and fresh-baked bread is all sorts of appealing. The big fall bonus is that I know I'll make Ked happy while the cooking bug lasts. I know, though, that it's only a matter of time (a very brief time at that) until nanobots win out over warm, buttery biscuits, and the opinion-spouter in me wins out over the dread of redundancy.

Another time-consumer in the land of Meow is some committee work Ked and I are doing at church. Our pastor is being called on to a different ministry, and now comes the task of finding someone to fill his sizable shoes. As part of the search committee, we have lots of papers and procedures to review and revise, so we've all got our editorial pens out as the committee wrestles with the job of searching for the right replacement. To be honest, I'm really not fond of committee work in general, and my personal motto is "I want no power of any kind," so I didn't sign up for this gig on a volunteer basis. My husband and I were asked to participate, and we prayerfully considered the choice before committing. So far, I'm glad we said yes. We will miss our current pastor dreadfully, but, despite myself, I'm finding it interesting work. The committee is formulating advertisements, questionnaires and interview questions, and discussing ways to determine who will be the right fit. The English major and blogger in me enjoys the writing tasks, and I'm fascinated by the group discussions of who we are as a church, what we want our church to be in future, and how to convey those ideas to prospective pastoral candidates.

Okay, that wraps up the State of the Meow Address for October 9, 2007. I had an awful lot to say for someone who said that they didn't have anything to say right now, didn't I? Apparently, my two cents are shinier than I thought, at least to myself anyway. Having rendered my long-winded, and possibly unnecessary excuses for bloggish flakery, I'm going to toss out another quick link for anyone who might be interested. I read an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that was quite informative and interesting. (I warned you that I was somehow going to get from the kitchen to the Supreme Court.) The recent release of Justice Thomas' memoirs has set tongues awagging throughout pundit-dom, and John Yoo, "a professor at the Law School of the University of California at Berkeley, and a former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Thomas," examines some of Thomas' opinions and history. If SCOTUS is your bag, have a look. It's worth your time.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Health Decision Nightmares the making. Oh, and while we've got the medicine cabinet open, let's talk about doctors grilling kids for dirt on their parents, shall we? ("Spy Kids" link via Instapundit)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shades Of Gattaca

Remember the movie Gattaca? Ethan Hawke played a non-genetically modified human in the midst of an entire society of genetically enhanced over-achievers. His parents made the dire mistake of letting God decide who their child would be, rather than laboratory eugenics, and Vincent (Hawke's character) payed the price for that indiscretion. His genetically tweaked younger brother was taller, smarter, healthier and much more socially acceptable in a world where a DNA sequencing served as a job interview, and human potential was just a line on a bar graph. Vincent, limited by his poor vision and weak heart, as well as his otherwise unacceptable DNA, became the dregs of society, an "invalid," a man whose only value to the people around him was as a janitor, allowed by their benevolence to earn his keep by picking up their trash, as was fitting a "God-child" in their world of scientific perfection.

The movie's plot centers around Vincent's attempts to buck the system and overcome his genetic limitations, fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut and travelling to another world--all the while pretending to be someone with the right genetic profile for the job. The challenge for Vincent is not only overcoming his physical limitations, but fooling all the perfected humanity around him into thinking he is one of their own. Of course, in the end, the movie is about the triumph of the human spirit and Vincent's victory over the cold, hard world around him--an offering of comfort to all of us living here on the edge of our own scientific hurdle into this "brave new world."

This is just a movie, though, right? We aren't really all that close to choosing how smart, or how tall our kids will be, are we? Well, let's see how far off the mark this particular piece of science fiction is, shall we? We all know that genetic tests for Down Syndrome are routine in pregnancies where the mother is over thirty-five, and fetuses are regularly aborted for that genetic abnormality. There are also many people in countries such as India and China who are already pre-selecting for gender, aborting their girl babies in favor of boys, leading to an imbalance in gender ratios, and an increase in social aberrations like wife-sharing (via Futurismic.) So, we can see that we already select, in some cases, for intelligence, health and gender. Alarmingly, James D. Miller writes at TCS Daily that we are just not all that far from moving on to selecting for these and other traits on a much larger scale. Want to raise a baby Einstein? Science may soon give you much better odds than God and nature ever did:

By some predictions, within five years the cost of sequencing DNA will be "affordable enough that personal genomics will be integrated into routine clinical care." Once millions of people have their DNA sequenced researchers may quickly determine which combination of genes gives people the best chance of having a high IQ. Parents using embryo selection could, therefore, screen their embryos and pick the one with the greatest intellectual potential.

A recent advance in gathering eggs from women will make it much easier for choosey moms to give birth to geniuses. Two British fertility clinics have found a way of safely obtaining thousands of eggs from a woman. Fertility clinics, therefore, will soon be able to give a couple thousands of embryos to pick from. So let's say that a certain couple's genes mean that normally they have only a 1% chance of conceiving a child with the genetic potential to reach a genius IQ. With the ability to select among thousands of embryos, however, this couple could now almost guarantee that their offspring has the genetic potential of a genius.

Some people might look at this as a wonderful breakthrough, a boon to the future of humanity. Who wouldn't benefit from having a world full of Smart People? However, I am not nearly so sanguine about the prospects. Setting aside for now the embryos that will be created simply so someone can pick their favorite, putting babies on the level of shoes in a department store (except that the unwanted shoes, unlike the embryos, don't get destroyed when a particular shopper decides they aren't the right style), what happens when an ambitious nation decides that part of their future military and expansionist plans include raising swarms of state-controlled super-smarties, capable of shifting the balance of power in the world, simply by virtue of their superior intellects and numbers? Miller presents a China scenario that doesn't give me much comfort:

Embryo selection gets even more interesting when we consider how a nation such as China might use it. Imagine that in ten years China forces all its college students to get genetic tests. Students with intelligence genes in the top 1% of the top 1% of humankind are then forced to donate sperm or eggs. China then uses the sperm and eggs to create a billion embryos each year. The genetic intellectual potential of all these embryos is checked. Those in the top 10,000 are implanted into women. Each of these embryos has the intellectual potential to be in the top one-billionth of humankind. Now because of environmental factors many of these embryos won't turn into intellectual titans. But let's say that one in ten does. This means that each year 1,000 people with the scientific ability of Einstein will be born. By 2035 they will become adults and start doing scientific research. I imagine these Einsteins will be rather helpful to China's economy and military.

I'd love to cling to the message of Gattaca, the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, physical and mental limitations and all that--Stephen Hawking is a shimmering, glowing star in the mental firmament, after all--but the whole notion of mankind genetically manipulating our potential sends up red flags all over the place for me. I acknowledge that every parent on the planet would want to give birth to healthy babies, and that, even if I would not do the same, many of them would think that genetic profiling was a reasonable way to achieve that end for their child, but in a non-personal, non-specific-individual way, many of our potential problems in the world are held in check by the fact that lots of people who have evil plans simply can't carry them out yet. I do not like the notion of an entire generation of enhanced nuclear scientists growing up in Iran, for example, or a crop of bio-weapons experts-in-the-making springing up in Pakistan. Equally repugnant is the notion of a whole generation of Islamic women bred to be subservient by nature (or in this case design), or a slave-class enhanced for their endurance. Don't tell me that there aren't societies in the world that would pursue these goals. Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, Nazi Germany, and even today's China, among others, put the lie to such thinking.

These are not desirable outcomes to scientific "advancement" if you ask me, and yet, is there really any way to prevent the undesirable in the quest for the arguably desirable--healthier, smarter children? As seemingly heartless as it is to want to limit parents' abilities to produce the best children possible, this is one area of "progress" I would rather see slowed, hindered, and even halted altogether than continue on to an unavoidably negative end. However, is there anything that will prevent this science from its inexorable march into the future, with both the good and bad it holds in its hands? I can't see a way to separate them, nor can I see the scientific community having the wisdom to refrain from following this particular yellow brick road. The technology will continue to advance, unless God himself chooses to halt the momentum.

I love science. I really do, and I'm thrilled as can be with the giant leaps that science has made in medicine, agriculture, bio-pharming, environmental protection, tech toys, space travel--you name it, but I really don't like to see the world presented in Gattaca coming to pass. Give me a whole world full of God-children. He is a designer who is not out to fulfill some selfish need, or evil scheme of His own, and the beauty of a Stephen Hawking comes not from any form of perfection, but from the understanding we gain from his example that our struggles define us just as much as our giftings. Our character comes, in part, from the effort we have to put into overcoming life's challenges. A person is not made more precious by virtue of more "perfect" DNA. I have no profound thoughts to offer here, and no answers to help mankind pursue its own improvement while avoiding the pitfalls that are inherent to high-tech eugenics, just a warning that, unless a way can be found to separate the good from the bad, this is an area best left alone. Designer people won't make the world a better place. They'll only fill the world with more potential for human abuses.

Hat tip: Instapundit