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Monday, August 28, 2006

Bait and Switch

"In lab rats, "Who's your daddy?" can now yield a surprising answer. Scientists have generated rats from mice that developed rat sperm.The breakthrough marks the first time researchers produced healthy offspring [Photo] from sperm cells fostered in a different species. The hope is this method could help generate sperm from endangered species or prize bulls."

So begins the article on Live Science. But, given how hard it is to get ova from women, my money is that science uses the new technique to generate an enormous number of human gametes without the need for donor permission. The beauty is, they can use aborted female babies to get the egg-producers, and thus won't technically need anyone's permission. They'll use the resulting embryos for stem cell research to prove technique, then throw everything and everyone away at the end so the gene pool isn't contaminated.

I give them no more than five years.

Friday, August 25, 2006

New TOB translation?

(the above link has been "memory-holed" - try this link instead:

Could anyone tell me how these two sentences, drawn from the article above, go together?
Call me foolish, but I perceive some dissonance.
The new translation is the work of Dr. Michael M. Waldstein , Director of the International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Gaming, Austria.Based on that conviction, Dr. Waldstein decided to delve into the John Paul II archives in Rome's Casa Polacca. Not knowing Polish, he took with him a Polish colleague, Fr. Wojtek Janusiewicz.
The translation may be marvelous, for all I know. I just can't figure out how someone who doesn't read Polish could have made a new, more accurate translation of a Polish document into English.
“The biggest difference my translation provides is the rigor of the Pope’s thinking and the clear order of thought throughout the work. The task of the translator is to disappear as much as possible,” says Dr. Waldstein.
Yeah, he disappeared so much that he doesn't even mention he didn't actually do the translation from the Polish.

Are Women Actually Chickens? and Other Conundrums

Back in the 1970’s and early 80’s, one of the popular rallying cries of the pro-abortion movement was exactly the comparison made in the essay title: if America forced women to carry their own unborn children to term, then America was treating women like chickens, that is, we valued women only for their eggs and their ability to be broody hens.

By purest coincidence, the pro-aborts began to grow strangely silent on this point in 1978, the year the first test tube baby was born. At the very moment the scientific establishment began to treat women as egg-laying machines, it suddenly became acceptable to treat women as egg-layers and as broody hens (the professional term is “surrogate mothers”). Today, the chickens have come home to roost. Despite the enormous health risks involved in egg harvesting, IVF and stem cell researchers make no secret of their desire to pay women for their egg production, and the use of their wombs. And no one has used the “broody hen” argument in twenty years.

But pro-aborts are not the only ones who grow strangely silent at times. Many Christians are wroth because President George Bush sees no problem with legalizing Plan B for use without a prescription. As one NPR reporter noted today, Plan B kills embryos that are exactly as old as the embryos used in embryonic stem cell research, which George and the rest of Christianity opposes.

Christians are in high dudgeon: George is inconsistent! Well, yes, but no more than most other Christians.

Plan B, you see, is simply a high-dose version of the popular birth control pill. Every hormonal contraceptive is exactly as abortifacient as Plan B is because Plan B contains exactly the same set of drugs found in any other hormonal contraceptive. So, when we say Plan B causes chemical abortions - and it does - we should simultaneously acknowledge that all hormonal contraceptives cause abortions, because they do.

Christians, by and large, insist on the first point and refuse to acknowledge the second., even though contraceptives don’t just abort children, they abort marriages. Today’s Christians, upset at the power of the homosexual lobby, have begun to blame the acceptance of homosexual marriage on the pre-existing acceptance of no-fault divorce among the heterosexual Christians. However, they conspicuously fail to note that contraception drives no-fault divorce. The pill makes the occasional fling and the purposely child-less marriage possible. It helps each spouse treat the other as an object to be used, not a person to be cherished. Wherever legal contraception is introduced, divorce and abortion increase. But like broody pro-aborts, righteous Christians do not permit themselves to draw that conclusion.

After all, logical conclusions are painful, as the case of circumcision shows. The World Health Organization now has several studies demonstrating that circumcision greatly reduces the transmission of AIDS in Africa. Listening to a CDC researcher explain the findings to an incredulous reporter was like listening to Galileo explain heliocentrism to the university professors at Padua. First, the reporter questioned the veracity of the news. Upon being assured it was true, he responded by saying, “Well, then circumcision campaigns for children will begin?” The researcher replied in the negative - African men were flocking to clinics to have the surgery. The reporter’s perplexity was palpable. He couldn’t imagine why an adult male would seek to reduce risk of disease by reducing pleasure. It sounded too much like some kind of twisted abstinence program.

For this reporter, as for most everyone else, lack of imagination combines with a lack of logical thought lies at the root of the problem. The difficulty is most obvious in pedophilia. Now that sex is divorced from procreation, the whole idea that we need an adult ability to consent to sex really goes by the wayside. Why do we say that a child cannot consent to sex? Sex is just about pleasure, right? A child can consent to the pleasure of eating an ice cream cone. A child can consent to the pleasure of going on an amusement ride. The idea that sex requires special, adult ability to consent is predicated on the idea that sex entails or creates adult responsibility - but if there is no procreative aspect to sex, then what adult responsibility is there?

There is as much chance of catching disease from an amusement ride or prepared food as there is in having sex. Pregnancy is not even a possibility for prepubescent girls and boys. In this respect pedophilia is, like homosexuality, a wonderful form of pleasure-filled contraception. So why does someone who accepts contraception or homosexual marriage insist on the need for adult consent from children?

The separation of procreation and sex is the ultimate no-fault divorce, in which the parties separate but neither side wants custody of the children - morality, ethics, and values. As I have pointed out elsewhere, sex doesn’t just create children – it also creates parents. The same mentality that drives homosexuals to desire the honor of marriage without the reality that marriage is about conceiving children, drive others to desire the title of parent without the difficulty of having actual children. Thus, it is not hard to find those who insist pregnancy begins at implantation, while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge their redefinition of reality means sex doesn’t create children (only gestation does) and men are therefore no longer fathers (since they don’t gestate).

In every case, the parties described above are operating from a set of inconsistent premises, an incoherent world-view. They continue to rely on the moral suasion of superseded definitions, despite having discarded the very definitions that created the moral suasion. Christians and non-Christians alike thrash in thin air, suspended only by the noose of their own logic after they have kicked away the foundation upon which they used to stand.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Successes of Jihad

The convergence of terrorism and technology may lead to the collapse of air travel, and that will have interesting repurcussions for the global village concept.

Most airlines rely on business passengers for the bulk of their revenues. Business travellers are becoming increasingly unhappy with the difficulties involved in air travel. Given the ability to video conference, the cost of air travel may easily become prohibitive for them. Businessmen without laptops are like fish without water - they get eaten for lunch.

The jihadist goal is to disrupt the economies of their opponents, thereby putting their opposition on the same footing they themselves are on.

In WWI, the Germans attempted to economically disrupt England through U-boat combat, and they very nearly succeeded. True, the Germans often had to target "civilian" ships in order to sink the armaments those unarmed ships carried in their cargo holds, but these attacks on civilians were generally limited. Still, the U-boats sunk enough shipping to put all of England on starvation rations. If Kaiser Wilhelm had built 30 or 40 more subs before the beginning of combat operations, he would have won the war.

In WWII Allied Bomber Command tried to disrupt Germany and Japan from the air. Unfortunately, no one had very precise bombing techniques - analysis demonstrated that bombs fell an average of one mile from their intended industrial targets. But that wasn't a bad thing from the perspective of the airmen. They were killing the factory workers in the suburbs, which they argued would idle the factories nearly as effectively as blowing up the equipment.

Thus, by 1943, American bombers were deliberately targeting civilian populations, arguing that there is no such thing as a civilian when you are waging economic warfare. We burned out entire cities in Germany and Japan. Indeed, the atomic bomb was not desirable for its radiation effects - they took too long to kill the enemy - it was desirable for the marvelous firestorms it created, which rendered the need for precision obsolete.

In the event, the Allied bombing killed enormous numbers of civilians, but did little to affect production. German factories, for instance, steadily increased production in every year of the war, right up through 1945, despite the steadily increased bombing. But it did set a precedent.

Today, jihadists wishing to shut down the Euro-American economy have very wisely chosen to concentrate on air travel. True, a certain number of civilians are killed, but precedent has already established that civilians may be targeted in war as long as you can make the argument that the targeted civilians are part of the economy you intend to disrupt.

When the Allies bombed Dresden, Germany, they did not intend to create a firestorm in the heart of the city. That was just luck. But once the firestorm happened, the Allies were so pleased with the amount of death and destruction that they set out to deliberately replicate the effect elsewhere - work which eventually led to the atomic bomb.

Jihadists pursuing their quest to destroy America's economy may have lucked into a similar situation. They may have figured out how to destroy America's public image and self-image.

If they successfully drive the airlines out of business, or close to it, international travel will become a thing of the past, especially for the United States. Europeans, Asians and Africans will eventually come to believe that every American is a soldier, because they will never see any Americans except soldiers. Whether we are Sparta or not, we will be perceived to be Sparta - that perception is taking hold even as I type this.

From this perspective, the war is going very well for the jihadists. Like Islam, the American ideals will be associated with extreme levels of surveillance and violence as we attempt to make the world safe for those same ideals.

Islam is trying to re-make us in their image. It will be interesting to see if they succeed.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reality Check

Since I moved to Dallas, I have had the occasion to listen to a much greater variety of radio on my morning drive to work. Among the host of new commentators available, one Mark Davis is clearly prominent. Though virtually unknown north of the Mason-Dixon line, Mr. Davis is a libertarian commentator who is rather popular in North Texas. His name enters the discussion because one of his positions is as common as it is absurd – the idea that human life does not begin until implantation.

According to Mr. Davis, the “implantation of the fertilized egg” (sic) is the beginning of human life, but not of the human person. Rather, implantation is when the “building blocks” first become available. A human person emerges only weeks later in the process. As a result, Mr. Davis is four-score in support of abortion “during a very narrow window” of pregnancy.

Mr. Davis’ position fails on a number of levels, and it is worthwhile to consider how complete a failure it is.

From a biological viewpoint, Mark Davis is simply out of step with the science.

First, as I’ve pointed out in detail elsewhere, it is never the case that a fertilized egg implants in the womb. Only embryos are capable of implanting in the womb.

Second, the redefinition of pregnancy occurred only after science discovered how to manipulate embryos in Petri dishes. Prior to developing that skill in the mid-1980's, science had always considered pregnancy to begin at conception. The definition of pregnancy changed not because the reality within a woman changed, but because the skill set of a scientist who happened to be standing near the woman changed.

Third, embryologists - the men and women who actually study embryos - universally reject the implantation definition. The only people who accept such an absurdity are people interested in taking a newly conceived, rapidly growing little one and tearing her to pieces.

But the biological arguments are boring. Let’s consider the other problems the implantation definition creates.

From a moral perspective, the statement that pregnancy begins at implantation and that personhood follows afterwards creates all kinds of moral problems.

For instance, if pregnancy begins at implantation, then it is not clear why the act of sex would create responsibility in any man having sex.

After all, while the woman has no control over whether or not she releases an egg, she does normally control who may release sperm within her. The man likewise controls in whom he releases his sperm.

So, if pregnancy begins at conception, then the act of sperm release creates responsibility. Since both persons are equally involved in when and where this release occurs, both bear equal responsibility in what happens as a result of that release. In this scenario, sex creates equal responsibilities towards the child in both partners.

But, if pregnancy begins at implantation, the scenario is different. The man cannot control when implantation occurs. The woman, however, through the use of various drugs and chemicals, can control when and whether implantation occurs. Thus, responsibility for the resulting pregnancy is no longer equal, rather, it resides entirely with the woman. Given this scenario, it is not clear that sex creates responsibility in the man at all.

If sex does not necessarily create duties in the man towards a future child, then redefining the biological reality necessarily obliterates fatherhood. Fathers conceive children. They bear responsibility towards children. According to the new definition, men do neither.

With the new definition, men can never be considered fathers. This definition insists that children are created by gestation, not by the act of having sex. Men do not gestate. In fact, they never do more than have sex. Thus, by this definition, men do not create children. Men are not fathers.

Indeed, one could make a strong argument that an IVF lab technician is much more of a biological parent than a man having sex can ever be. After all, the conception event can take place hours, even days after having sperm release. But if pregnancy is predicated not on sperm release, but on implantation, then the dynamic has changed.

An IVF lab technician is actually directly involved in the conception of the child – he or she actually combines the egg and sperm. That technician makes sure the fertilized egg grows into an embryo suitable for implantation. That technician might even place the embryo in the womb, ensuring implantation. The one who conceives a child and/or helps it grow is called a parent. It is difficult to see why the IVF technician is not a parent.

But the biology has been redefined. Today, sex doesn’t create children. Gestation does. Redefining the biology necessarily redefines the morality. Because the new definition focuses on implantation, not sperm release, the act of sex – the act which is intended to release sperm – becomes a peripheral act, both physically and morally.

Mark Davis doesn’t understand this. Unfortunately, he has a lot of company.