Friday, May 31, 2013

Rebekah's Choice

Many and many a year ago, a man named Abraham sent his best employee out into the world to find a bride for his son, Isaac.
Things were different then, don't ya know. Kids were not just left on their own to make such decisions. This may sound crazy to us postmoderns, but then a lot of what we do could be called crazy also.
Abraham instructed his employee, Eliezar, specifically, in how he wanted Isaac's prospective bride to be found. This involved a simple mission: Eliezar was instructed to travel to a certain, distant place to seek out a particular kind of honorable woman. When Eliezar arrived at the appointed destination, it being a long distance from Abraham's chosen home, Eliezar stopped at a water well to refresh himself and his camels.
Eliezar, a very intuitive fellow, decided to make this oasis-stop a part of his selection process. He began immediately to scope out the place where he had paused, with the intention to spot a young woman whose qualities were appropriate for marriage to his boss' son. He decided that he would make a request of any young, suitable woman who happened to be at the well. He would ask her to use her jar to obtain some water for him from the well.
He also determined that the woman who would demonstrate kindness and hospitable behavior by offering to also draw water his camels--she would be the one.
A find young lady, Rebekah, stopped at the well, and she did exactly that.
So Eliezar spoke his request to her, and she was favorable to it. He gave her some lovely bling and they went to her father to complete the consent process for marriage between Rebekah and Isaac.
When Eliezar presented the proposal to her dad, Laban, he agreed, and suggested that Rebekah should spend about ten days at home before leaving to join her future husband. They agreed to this.
After these plans had been worked out, they called Rebekah and said to her:
"Will you go with this man?"

And she said:
"I will go."

Glass half-Full

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hey you.

During the dark middle years of our Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln went to a battlefield in Pennsylvania where thousands of soldiers had died in defense of our nation, while fighting to preserve what we Americans stand for.

Mr. Lincoln spoke very briefly that day, November 19, 1863. He spoke gravely, as a leader who deeply understood, and grieved at, the terrible, bloody price being paid for our freedom. What he said has filled and inspired the consciousness of us who have, over these last 150 years, benefited from the sacrifice of those brave men at Gettysburg. Here is a small shrapnel of what he said:

"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we cannot hallow-- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Nowadays, we may ask ourselves what were those men struggling for? What have all our soldiers, past and present, lived and died fighting for? Mr. Lincoln's final sentence that day reinforced it:

. . . that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

This Memorial Day, we should remind ourselves of this principle too--government by the people-- as we remember the men and women who have died on battlefields all around the world for us people, so that we can live free.

Are you actually making the best use of that freedom that these brave soldiers fought for? Or is your power to act favorably-- on behalf of yourself and those you love-- is that power, your personal initiative, your energy, buried in the ground somewhere on some lapsed battleground of your life? Is your impulse to serve others hiding in a bag of potato chips? or a carton of beer? Is it taking refuge behind the glass of a flat screen tv?

You, you who are reading this, ask yourself:

Am I a person? Am I one of those "people" whose responsibility is to govern?

Or have I abdicated? Have I ceded my personal responsibilities as an American to some other person or agency? Is my freedom to act and prosper locked in a harddrive, on a desktop, somewhere in Washington, DC? Or in my state's capital? Have I signed off on my freedom to act?

98 years after President Lincoln addressed, at Gettysburg, the heart issues of our nation's purpose--government by the people-- President John Kennedy said:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

This, too, we need to remember, and act upon, instead of looking for handouts or unearned entitlements, instead of waiting for superman to bail us out of whatever couch-potato cushion we are stuck in. Are you doing your part to keep our United States of America a nation of free citizens, who are willing and capable to act on your own so that you and all the rest of us may benefit?

What have you done this week to make our country a better place? Did you do your job? Did you look for a job? Did you read something worthwhile? Did you break a sweat, hammer a nail, or cook a meal? Did you pick up your own trash, clean your plate after the meal, help load the dishwasher? Did you speak kindly to someone? Did you speak correction to yourself or your best friend? Did you plant a seed. I mean, it is spring. We can get out now and see what the real world looks like.

What's going on out there? And what does it mean that "the people," govern? Do I get a fancy desk and a legislative vote-on-the-bill button to push? Probably not. But you and I, as people, do have certain responsibilities thrust upon us, lest our great ship of state plunge to the depths of lethargy.

Although we cannot, as President Lincoln said, truly consecrate that hallowed ground at Gettysburg, there is something we can and should do.

Are you doing your part in governing this great nation? Many men and women have died so that you could exercise that privelege. Use it. Find something that needs to be done and do it, whether you're getting paid for it or not.

Glass half-Full

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Human Cloning Thing

Chances are at some point you're going to die. As for how that may happen, most people don't know.

Some people have an idea of maybe how their time will come. Maybe they have heart problems, or immune-deficiency, or lung problems, or a failing liver, or some dreaded disease or whatever.

If you know, for instance that you've got a weak liver, then perhaps you have a feeling that it will be liver failure that will do you in. Maybe you know this because you have drank too much beer over the years, or maybe other life choices you have made have placed the good condition of your liver at risk. Or maybe you were just born with a liver that is weaker than most.

Each one of us will have our own particular life-threatening set of body-failure probabilities to deal with.

So maybe, when your time draweth nigh, you will want to call upon the medical profession to bail you out of the inevitable deathly situation; you may seek the doc's help in extending your time on earth.

Maybe you would, for instance, want to get a liver transplant so that you can live longer, or a heart transplant if that's what the issue is, or some brand-new, cancer-free bone marrow so you don't die of leukemia, if that is your problem.

If the weak link in your bodily chain of organs is, let's say, your liver, perhaps the doctor would say that you could be a candidate for a liver transplant. Or if your heart has some defect, then the transplant would we be a new heart.

Now the problem with that medical remedy is that your body may reject the liver, or heart, that has been grown in someone else's (the donor's) body. And I think this complication arises mainly from the reality that the donor's DNA makes their liver uniquely equipped, on a cellular level, for that person's body, not your body. The doctors, if they are going to insert someone else's liver in your body, need to all sorts of pharma tricks with baling wire and duct tape just to get the transplanted organ to "take" inside your gut.

Think of it like a car. Maybe your old chevy needs a new fuel pump. No problem. Just mozy on down to the dealership and pickup a new fuel pump. But of course you can't just buy any old fuel pump. It has to be the one that was made for your particular impala or chevelle or whatever chevy model you have. Or Fiesta or Fairlane or Focus if you're a Ford guy. And even more specific than that, the new part has to be selected according to the year in which your car was manufactured.

Same thing for your liver. Your very own, personal DNA-delivered liver has been humming right along all these years because it has the same genetic identity as every other cell in your body. You've been cruisin with a custom job all these years and maybe didn't even realize it, because it looks so much like the mass-produced version. But now, if your liver is worn-out, you're looking for a replacement. But the replacement for your old '57 chevy liver will not be found in the body of some accident victim 2011 Volt or Caprice.

So what if you could get your very own, personal DNA-delivered liver, manufactured especially for your you?

That's what this human cloning is mostly all about: generating, under laboratory conditions, organs and regenerative cells to help your body live longer. If you've got the money, honey, the labs will have the time, and the technology, and the treatment-- custom-tailored for you in a petri dish somewhere in Baltimore or Boston, Baton Rouge, Bakersfield or Bellevue.

This is called therapeutic cloning, not reproductive cloning. These are two different basic cloning objectives, although I think the procedures are very similar in the very earliest phases of the nuclear transfer process. The objective for therapeutic cloning is, according to my layman's understanding of it, to generate patient-compatible pluripotent stem cells that can be used to grow new healthy tissue in the recipient's body.

Now the researchers who have been working on and/or monitoring these research developments are for the most part, I think, agreed that reproductive cloning is not a good idea; some would even perhaps use the word "immoral," or "ethically inappropriate," or some such euphemism as that.

But this is a brand new can of worms that the scientific community, the medical community, and the general public will be dealing with as the years roll by and budgets are written while dollars are spent and the people come and go talking of michelangelo or donatello or mutant ninja turtles or chimerae or whatever. And everyone will make their own decisions about such things based on their own info base, financial base and moral compass and so forth and so on.

With this announcement, last week, of a successful human embryo being cloned in Oregon, the "cat" is, so to speak, out of bag. We're in a brave, new world, just as Aldous Huxley anticipated many years ago.

Uncharted territory.

And though the scientific community may generally have the best intentions to regulate cloning procedures and outcomes to direct them within channels of therapeutic application, we all know how the human race is, and what will probably happen.

Not only is the cat out of the bag, but pandora has opened her box, and sooner or later some renegade Dr. Frankenhoo will do the reproductive thing and then he won't be able to resist letting all the world know and everybody will gasp when the first human clone shows up in a playground somewhere in Beijing or Ankara or Brussels or LA or Godonlyknows where.

And there will be prosperous folks who want to clone themselves and they will have the money to have it done and it will happen. Welcome to our 21st-century can of ethically-challenged worms. Will all our human-carnival predisposition for vanities and manipulations and exploitation and avarice and under-the-table dealings, back-alley abortofreaks, black-market, after-market, post-market, postpartum proclivities just take a back seat to the benefits of having therapeutic-cloned body parts?

Probably not, but then again maybe. Whatever beneficial things can happen will most likely be duplicated by somebody. You know how copies are; their quality depends on the equipment you use. So anything can happen and most likely will. Copy this message to someone if you think about it.

Glass Chimera

Sunday, May 5, 2013

From Golden Gate to Golden Door

In 1903, we Americans erected the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The great bronze sculpture had been presented to us as a gift by France. On the inside of Lady Liberty's pedestal, these words, composed by Emma Lazarus in 1883, are engraved:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These words still ring true to the American spirit. I am greatly inspired by the poem, which Emma had named The Great Colossus. But times have changed in the 133 years that passed since she was inspired to write it; and our nation has changed greatly since the sonnet became an anthem that came to express so profoundly our exceptional American optimism and generosity.

With tender admiration for Emma Lazarus, and for the her verse, and with great respect for all that Lady Liberty represents to so many Americans, especially the millions who first glimpsed her freedom torch as new immigrants, I submit an update. I hope it may appropriately express a challenge that yet looms on our bright horizons.

It's not like a political hack with vengeful fights,

and regulative burdens to constrict our plans.

No. Here within our yawning, paved-o'er shores still stands

a beneficent nation with bright hope , whose lights

form the grid and net of a people free, and this our name:

America. From our electrified sands

glows bold goodwill; our vibrant enterprise, our busy hands

will in time restore this great worn infrastructure's frame.

"Lose, o ye couch-potato louts, our cultivated TV sloth!" we must say.

"Stand aside, but hey!" Give us, instead, your energetic poor,

your troubled masses yearning to work their poverty away,

along the rusted refuse of our landfill'd shore.

Send these working folks, recession-toss'd, our way,

We'll renew it all, from Golden Gate to Golden Door!

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress