Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Opinion Piece V

Below is another mediation essay - one of the three major assignments in my writing course.

Human Genetics Research – Cautious Approach Needed
(Mediation between Francis Fukuyama and Gregory Stock)

… After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.…I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.… No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success.
- M. Shelly, “Frankenstein”

I can imagine a scientist today feeling the same way at his discovery…an enthusiasm at being the first to accomplish a task or discovering a truth about the environment that surrounds us. Add to this possible event that the discovery is within the field of genetics however, and the picture becomes a bit more sinister. It is inevitable that gene therapy, altered genes in foods, human cloning and a myriad of other research areas that fall under genetics conjure up images of Frankenstein’s monster and mad scientists. This is a future that Francis Fukuyama, a professor at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, portrays in his essay, “In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human”

His argument is compelling and deals with a common sense approach that calls for the strictest of regulation overseeing genetic research. His premise is that the human genome (and the genetic make-up of higher animals) is too complex for effective gene therapies to ever be developed and that altering these genetic structures that are not fully understood could have dire consequences. He continues to argue that when it comes to complex systems, human beings have a long history of suffering negative consequences when we attempt to alter an ecosystem in which our understanding is lacking. He argues,

If there is one thing that the environmental movement has taught us in the past couple of generations, it is that nature is a complex whole. The different parts of an ecosystem are mutually interdependent in ways that we often fail to understand; human efforts to manipulate certain parts of it will produce a host of unintended consequences that will come back to haunt us. (2)

He continues his argument by sharing statistics that there are fewer genes than originally thought and because of this fact, many human capabilities or behaviors must be attributed to gene interactions, not specific genes. (4) It is because of this fact, that we cannot understand the effects of altering a gene. Yes, we may obtain the positive result that we expected by changing a single gene, but it is likely that we will also suffer the unintended and unknown effects of changing that gene, as well. He states, “the victim of a failed experiment…a human child whose parents, seeking to give her greater intelligence, will saddle her with a greater propensity for cancer, of prolonged debility in old age, or some other completely unexpected side effect that may emerge only after the experimenters have passed from the scene.” (5)

Fukuyama then proceeds to argue that it is our very human nature that is at stake. It is our genes that have given us unique abilities and that we cannot begin to understand the make-up of this genetic ecosystem. Furthermore, he argues that because it is our human genetic make-up that makes us uniquely “human” and that this needs to be protected – to protect our very essence. He proposes, “A biotechnology that seeks to manipulate human nature not only risks unforeseen consequences, but can undermine the very basis of equal democratic rights as well.” (7)

Fukuyama finishes his essay by calling on the strictest of governmental oversight over biotechnology. He uses European countries as examples of the types of agencies and regulation that the United States to create. He goes so far as to advocate the creation of international legislation by the United Nations. (9)

On the extreme opposite side of this argument is Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the University of California at Los Angeles. He argues that biotechnologies will advance regardless of the legislation in place to control and that legislation will likely hinder our progress in “improving the future health and well-being of our descendents.” (1) He continues to argue that genetic manipulation is already occurring in animals and that improved approaches will be safe and have the potential for enormous gains in medicine and ultimately in the human condition. He envisions improvements in avoiding cancer, in anti-aging therapies, and in any improvements that are “best for our children”. (12)

Stock continues, stating that current limits on research and cloning are “premature, futile, extremely misguided, and just plain wrong” (19) in that “[a ban] would not significantly delay the arrival of reproductive cloning, which in my view is almost certain to occur within this decade somewhere in the world.” (19) Furthermore, illogical bans have eroded the leadership position of the United States in biotechnology and has delayed the discoveries of therapies that could have improved the human condition. Stock proposes that the fears of Frankenstein’s monster are caused by the “strangeness” (21) of the possibilities and that this fear is a poor reason for restrictive legislation.

Finally, in direct opposition to Fukuyama, Stock proposes that advances in genetic research will be “democratizing” (24) because we will be able to use these advancements to the benefit of the masses – namely, they will level the playing field. He argues that it will be much easier to raise the IQ of a person with a 70 to a 100, than it will be to raise the IQ of someone from 150 to 160. (24) He continues to rebut against Fukuyama in arguing that we would not lose our humanity, rather we would maintain it, even if what that meant changes. He uses the example of life spans doubling…this wouldn’t make us less human, rather it would change what it meant to be human, something that occurs with regularity today. (27)

Although both Stock and Fukuyama put forth compelling arguments, they both seem to miss the point. In their extreme positions, they have argued themselves into a corner which forces us to reject their hypotheses. I cannot back Fukuyama as he seems to deny the amazing advances that biotechnology could provide. Stock, on the other hand, must also be rejected, as he fails to acknowledge to awesome potential for mistakes, or worse, misuse from which biotechnology could suffer.

I completely agree that we could never fully understand the human genome and how multiple genes interact to create our personalities, abilities, etc. This, however, is not a good enough reason not to try. Yes, humanity has a long history of making a mess of those things we do not completely understand (look at the environment for a readymade example). However, Fukuyama seems to deny that there could be enormous benefits to biotechnology and that dire consequences of research in this area is not a given. Would Fukuyama deny that practical applications of gene altering in agriculture have not produced crops that are better capable of feeding the masses? His argument would say that even this technology is so potentially damaging that we should abandon it. Although the possibility of damaging the food chain seems remote, Fukuyama would seem to imply that because the possibility exists, we should abandon the research. What about genes that cause cancer? Should be not try to alter them and make them benign? This seems to be of too great a potential benefit to humanity to abandon. Even with my objections to his argument, I do agree that we should carefully legislate controls into what we can do. In contrast to Stocks argument, it is obvious given the enormous propensity to cause suffering; the government must create the appropriate controls.

Stock’s argument fares no better. Does he truly believe that we should try to control something that we cannot succeed in controlling? This argument would be similar to the argument that speed limits should be abolished because no one heeds them anyway. His argument is that if the United States restricts biotechnology, then other countries will allow it and take leadership positions. Again, he misses the point. Would he argue that we shouldn’t restrict something we know is wrong because it is allowed somewhere else? I would postulate that the United States should take a leadership position in the forming of international rules that clearly define the parameters in which research and application can be done. Lastly, his argument that current restrictions may have delayed the discovery of treatments for some of humanities worst maladies. Again, however, I question his logic. Should we proceed with medical tests on convicts or invalids? According to an extension of Stock’s argument, it would be acceptable to do so if the benefits to doing so are reached. Again, a preposterous statement, and one that I believe Stock would be forced to deny.

Clearly, Fukuyama and Stock paint themselves into a corner in which their arguments have no defensible position. It is because of this, that I believe it is fairly obvious that a middle of the road position in required. The benefits of gene therapies and treatment advancement are just too great…even though the possible abuses and consequences are great, as well. But this fact makes some intuitive sense – the greater the risks, the greater the rewards. It is for this very reason that very close monitoring through peer-review, governmental oversight, and international standards are required. The United States could, in fact should, take a leadership position in helping form international standards that closely governs biotechnology research. Additionally, ethics panels should be created that help frame ongoing oversight requirements and sanctions. These panels should include leading scientists, philosophers, legislators and futurists. By engaging the international community, we can hope to gain consensus as to what the parameters are, as well as develop strong international condemnation for those that do not participate within these parameters. The essence of the human race is at stake and clearly calls for all of humanity’s involvement.

Works Cited
Fukuyama, Francis. “In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human.” World Watch July-August 2002. Rpt. in The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell. McGraw Hill, 2006. 668-670.
Stock, Gregory. “Choosing Our Genes.” The Futurist. July-August 2002. Rpt. in The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell. McGraw Hill, 2006. 672-677.

Monday, October 29, 2007

We Made It

We joined Angie last night for the closing ceremonies for the 3-day walk that her and her friends just completed. It was very inspiring as over 2400 women completed the walk. In fact, the organization has raised almost $1B for breast cancer research since it has started. Angie's team all completed the walk, and have raised over $22K so far. Angie was understandably very proud of her accomplishment, and she should be. She walked more than 53 miles over the three days. Although she hasn't walked 53 steps today, she is actually doing pretty well - taking full advantage of her jet tub, her foot massager and her hubby. No worries there - she deserves it.

As for me...we had a great weekend with the kids. The highlight - playing mousetrap and trouble on the kitchen table on Saturday afternoon. Just shows you that spending time with the kids can be simple, cheap AND fun. We'll all do it again soon - without the monster walk.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Three Days - Can I Make It?

Angie begun her 3-Day Walk for Cancer Research today. In fact, I just got off the phone with her. They are at their pit stop (about halfway point for the day) and she has walked over 8 miles already today. She's doing well, but was appreciative of the couple of team members who are walking slow purposefully to stay with her.

I think I'd rather be walking 60 miles than doing her job this weekend. I am just not wired to sit in line picking up kids from school. Don't get me wrong, I love when I have to kids to myself. We spend some real quality time together that I don't always get to have with them and we do things that I don't do with the regularly. In fact, even though my day started at 4:30 today when Angie got up, my day REALLY starts at 2:00 after my last conference call today.

After I hang up from that call, I go to Cassie's school to volunteer in her classroom. I stuff the Friday folders and then help her teacher with the remaining class. At 3:00, Cassie gets out and we leave together. We will then get Marissa and Dylan at 3:50. We'll have Snack-Attack Friday, where we'll go somewhere and get a snack. The kids love that. Then Marissa has pictures and a Volleyball game, and then she's off to a Halloween party. Me, Dylan and Cassie will hangout until Marissa gets home at 10:30. We'll end our day with popcorn and a movie.

Saturday will be errands, seeing mom and a spectator section of her walk, a birthday party (hopefully) and a ball game. We'll end our day the same way - a movie and snacks.

Sunday - church, lunch, cleaning and picking up mom.

I can't wait till she's home - already


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bored Sick

I was in Raleigh yesterday for an important operational review. In fact, since my interviews back in January, I've had two very important meetings with my boss and his boss (among others). The first was my recommendation for vendor selection (one of the reasons I was hired). The second (yesterday) was to review how that vendor has been doing.

As before every important meeting, I get nervous. Besides preparation, the other way I get ready for these meetings is to pray - I pray to God to help me say the right things and to represent Him properly. I also ask those close to me to pray for the same. So, when I called Angie before the meeting to ask her to pray for me, she informed me that Cassie was sick with a cold and wasn't going to school today (her first missed day). I know how well she is doing in school, so I wasn't overly concerned.

We had our meeting, which went very long due to the great discussion (yes, it went very well) and at my first opportunity I called home to inform Angie. When I got no answer, I became a little concerned - perhaps Cassie got worse and they went to the doctor. I couldn't imagine them doing anything else if Cassie was ill. I tried Angie on her cell phone.

When she answered, I could tell she was out. I asked where, and she informed me she was picking up some items for her three day walk this weekend. I asked how Cassie was, and she informed me that she was at school....

"At school", I inquired.

"Yes, at school. She was bored and asked me to take her to school. She went about 9:30AM."

I couldn't believe my ears. All of the kids know that if they stay home from school, the have to stay in bed or on the couch and that they cannot do anything else for the day. I guess watching Disney Channel all day was worse than sitting in class, so off to school she went.

Does anyone else find that amazing?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

D-Troop Redux

Our First Meeting

Last night we had our first meeting of Daisy Girl Scout Troop 8459. The girls arrived and we decorated name tags. Cassie had made me one earlier in the day, so the girls worked on theirs, coloring and drawing pictures on index cards that had their name printed on front and the promise on the back. We laminated them, and put some yarn on them (as a lanyard) and we were good to go. The room was real quiet.

The next activity was out meeting opening. We practiced the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Sign in our friendship circle. I introduced the girls to scouting, the circle and what we would be working on. I introduced the girls to the quiet sign, but it was unnecessary as the girls still haven't spoken.

Next, the girls traced each other on large craft paper and then finished their self portraits by adding eyes, hair, noses and mouths, and whatever else they wanted. The girls started to open up a little bit.

We then had snack - yummy rice krispy treats and punch. The girls helped me clean up and then we ended the meeting with a friendship circle. It was quiet, but the girls were eating.

We had 6 girls participate and all seemed to have a great time. It was fun, and we are looking forward to our next meeting in a couple of weeks. I just hope the girls make some noise next time. I want to have to use my quiet sign.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Separated At Birth...

...Peter Frampton and my great Uncle Tony.

I should have known by the age of the crowd...I should have known by the fact that my sister was in love with him (in the 70's)...I should have known, but I didn't expect this. Peter Frampton (the guy with the crazy fro on his album cover) has gotten old. And I mean old. When he came out on stage at I was struck how much he reminded me of my uncle Tony. I made jokes about him not being able to play guitar because of arthritis, or that I was afraid he was going to stroke out on stage, or perhaps even break a hip. He even joked at one point that he and his bassist have been playing together since 1847.

Truth be told, the guy can rock. He is one amazing guitar player. When he covered Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun, I knew I liked this guy.

Angie had received tickets to see him at Billy Bob's (the World's Largest Honky Tonk) in Forth Worth. We made an evening of it and spent the night there, had a great Mexican food dinner at Mercado Juarez (perhaps the best Mexican we've ever had - better than the Goose, even) and enjoyed some time with each other - some much needed time as I've been in school for the last three weekends and she has her three day walk coming up.

Ultimately, we had a fantastic time at the concert. I think I'm going to have to bring her to more, because she leaned over to me during the show and said to me, "I want to go to more concerts!" I've been asking her to be more clear about what she wants, and she definitely did.

Anyone know the number for ticketmaster?


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Garbage Sale

That's right...not GARAGE sale, but garbage sale.

It is amazing to see the constant flow of people stop at our driveway to rummage through our garbage. Angie is having a garage sale today and Saturday to get rid of some of our clutter, junk, not used items, etc. The proceeds are going to buy her some of her remaining equipment for the three day walk.

When I look at the stuff on the driveway, I see garbage. Old shoes, clothes, furniture, house items, and toys. I guess others see a deal. The first lady who stopped (she arrived at the house even before I had the signs up in the neighborhood) bought $35 worth of Angie's old clothes. A pile of maybe 30 pair of shoes is already half gone, and she's been out there less than an hour. It is amazing. I haven't seen anyone walk away empty handed.

This is on top of the garage sale that her 3-day team had several weeks ago and made more than $1000. I guess there is a market for other peoples garbage. If you are local, come on by...there is still a mirror, a bottle of bubbles or some coffee mugs still available. But you better hurry, another car just pulled up.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Girl Scout Daisy Troop 8459 had our first official meeting last night, as parents of five of the girls met at our house for some information sharing. We have a total of 8 girls signed up, but two couldn't make it and I've been unable to reach one. We discussed the structure of the troop, service unit and council, as well as, the goals and probable activities that we can do during this next year.

I am very confident that we have the makings of a good troop. All of the parents were motivated and all were willing to help.

Our focus this year will be on:
1) The Girl Scout Promise and Girl Scout Law
2) Earning Daisy Petals
3) The Program Goals for Girl Scouts, and

Cassie and one of the other girls played while we met - apparently Cassie told her that she is her new best friend...that was quick, but I hope it points to the fact that she is excited and will enjoy being a scout.

Too bad Daisies can't sell cookies. That's what I am going to enjoy.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thank God For Friends

Response to April. See her comment to my last post and her post on her blog, Another Place to Think...

It's nice to know that I have good friends...friends that care about me to tell me when I'm doing good, and more importantly, when I'm not doing so good. April's post is an example of what I'm talking about.

The truth of the matter is that I have an eating it a disorder, call it weakness, call it whatever you want - just don't call me late to dinner!!! All kidding aside, I know that I shouldn't be eating certain foods and certain amounts of different foods, but in many instances, I just can't help it - and yes, I despise that within myself. I am such a control freak, and make efforts to control so much about my environment, that I see the inability to do this as an significant weakness - in myself and others.

I've blogged about my judgmental thoughts of others, and this area is no different. I project the despair I have onto others, and judge them for my sin...

Thinking about it, though - maybe being aware of these facts and keeping April's post in perspective are part of the battle. If I acknowledge my inability in this area (and allow others to have that same freedom), I would be defeating the judgment and would be on my way to recovery. I don't know, but in other areas of my life that the good Lord has provided healing, it's happened in a similar way.

It will be an interesting journey, one that I will post about often.

Thanks, April. As I learn to love my neighbors more, perhaps I'll learn a little more about loving myself.


Monday, October 08, 2007

It's Monday, Where's The Update?

When I look back at previous entries, I see a trail of posts about getting in shape and quitting smoking. They are hard to read, mostly because they represent an area of my life which is just an incredibly difficult struggle. It's not all bad news (As of Oct 5, it's been five months since I smoked a cigarette), but when it comes to my weight it's been starts and stops. This time is no different - the busy-ness of life (and my own lack of discipline and laziness) seem to have gotten me off track again.

I haven't been to the gym in over a week, and my diet has died. As school has ramped, as work has gotten busier and as the kids have gotten involved in activities, it seems as though I just jump from one thing to the other, and taking care of myself is lost in the wake. It's hard to eat right when you have five minutes before you have to leave for something. It's hard to eat right when you spend all weekend in a fast-track class (I started a third class this semester that lasts three weeks as we meet on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for five hours per day). It's hard to get up to go work out when you are so tired to begin with.

I've felt good about the progress I made in the few short weeks, especially in the gym. I'm going to make an extra effort to continue that - even if it means that I go early in the morning and not with Angie at 8:15. Please pray for my success, and let me know if you've been successful in this area - and how you've done it.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Opinion Piece IV

The following is a mediation piece that I wrote for my writing course. A mediation is an essay that attempts to propose a compromise solution to two polar opposites. The difficult part of this type of writing assignment is that you may not actually agree with the position you are advocating.

American Imperialism…Extremes Don’t Work
(A mediation of Ivo H. Daalder’s and James M. Lindsay’s, “The Bush Revolution”)

Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double.
So come on and let me know.
-The Clash

There have been two camps historically within the American foreign policy debate, those that believe the United States should look inwardly and not get involved in international affairs (“isolationists”) and those that believe that American hegemony is the only effective method of supporting our interests (“imperialists”). This debate has been going on nearly as long as there has been a United States, as George Washington was presented a difficult decision when France went to war with England a mere four years after the Constitution was signed (Daalder). Isolationism ruled American politics for many years until the end of the Spanish American war (Daalder) as it was believed that a new nation like the United States would be unable to defend itself (both militarily and culturally). Once it was proven that the US could defend herself, the imperialists took over. With Woodrow Wilson, American foreign policy began to justify getting involved internationally through a moral imperative (Daalder). In fact, when he declared war on Germany kicking off America’s involvement in World War I, he did so be claiming that the “world must be made safe for democracy”.

This imperialistic frame of thought took us through the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the rest of the cold war. However, with the end of the cold war, and for all intensive purposes the defeat of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer had a great enemy. In fact, the U.S. no longer had any institution or world power in which could control its actions. Basically, the imperialists lost their controls and foreign policy took on a new spirit – that the United States had “freedom of action” (Daalder). The Bush Administration took full advantage of this arrangement. According to Daalder and Lindsay, this set up the Bush presidency for three claims to his foreign policy:

1) Constraints on actions were shed.
2) An unbound America should use its strength to change the status quo.
3) We should use our power to force regime change in rogue states.

The problem with uncontrolled power is that it has a tendency to be used inappropriately. In this case the old saying rings true, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this case, our unbound ability to do whatever we wanted resulted in a global perception change of America that adversely affects all Americans. Instead of the moral imperative that we should be defending, we are seen as bullies trying to inflict our culture on the rest of the world. Worse yet, much of the rest of the world sees us as only interested in defending our economic interests elsewhere, even at the cost of human lives.

It is clear to see that both an uncontrolled isolationism and an unbound imperialism neither works nor is sustainable. Ask yourself, is the United States more secure now than before September 11? Although we have not been directly attacked since then, it is obvious that more people in this world hate us than ever before. I would argue that this is due to the uncontrolled imperialism of the last several years and that to repair the damage done, we must return to a spirit of moderation, justified by the moral imperative, within our foreign policy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bad News Travels Fast

From This: To This:
I've been on suicide watch since yesterday. Angie has taken away my shoelaces, belt and anything else that I might try to hurt myself with...

You see, the Mets season as again ended in despair. If you remember last year, I blogged about their lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. This year, it is much more devastating. In fact, the Mets are now the owners of the biggest/fastest collapse in baseball history, and truth be told, the last couple of weeks have been very difficult to watch. The Mets lost 12 of their last 17 games to give up a 7 game lead to the Phillies. These are the same Phillies who have on their team Jimmy Rollins who predicted in January that the Phillies were the team to beat, not the Mets.

It's interesting to see the national sports coverage of the New York media today. The headlines from the rags in New York (Daily News, Post) are really funny. A friend sent me the picture of a drunken Mr. Met with a tagline that's a play on the Met's motto, "You Gotta Believe".

I am "bereaving", but I am given solace with another popular Met slogan - "There's always next year!"