Wednesday, October 17, 2007

new mode of birth control, genetic manipulation of eggs, in the works

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/17/genetics

This would, if I understand it properly, deactivate fertile eggs. I'm not married and have no kids but this kind of thing creeps me out. It's not exactly that some people don't want kid. I get that. some don't. It's that directly shutting down fertile eggs by means of genetic manipulation of humans worries me. It seems that even in the case of modifying poplar trees I can get what the goal is but I can't help being cautious about the possibility of unintended side effects. A regular medication or genetic alteration that is supposed to promote infertility might work TOO well. Franky Idiocracy doesn't seem all that far fetched sometimes, even though I know it's a satire based on completely improbable events.

a prelude to the poems of Wallace Stevens

http://www.slate.com/id/2175940/entry/2176033/

Well, not really, but the idea that language and perceptive are like a cognitive lens through which we can see the world around us reminds me of his poems. I wrote a few poems a couple of years ago using water as a metaphor both for how it distorts and refracts light and how it is necessary for survival. My old poem "hand me your big black umbrella" had a line about being blinded by the tumbling clearness (i.e. water), or not, because of the umbrella. There are things we need that simultaneously limit but clarify our perception.

Since I go through most of my life seeing the world through one eye rather than two (the second one works, mind you, but I've never had truly binocular vision) the idea that what we perceive is not necessarily what is is not a new concept for me.

Plus this article explains why Yoda is a moron. ;)

Would someone stop Lucas, please?

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/1401AP_People_Lucas.html

Can the franchise just die now? The best thing to happen in the Star Wars franchise was a recent Robot Chicken special. And before that the only thing that was actually cool about the franchise's recent entries was the animated Clone Wars series and even that, I must confess, too warming up to. 'Twas Gendy, though, and a guy who made Samurai Jack and directed oodles of Powerpuff Girls episodes was naturally going to make Star Wars cooler than Lucas has made it in the last decade.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Genetically modified poplar trees being designed for soil cleaning

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/335572_transgenic16.html

And some of the researchers, not incidentally, have been firebombed for make the effort. Splicing and dicing genetic material has already been happening for centuries in the form of developing particular breeds of dog and cat (i.e. pitbulls verses collies and main coons verses tabbies and Russian blues) but these modifications have been through traditional hybridization breeding. So people feel quite a bit more comfortable with that because mutations that can't survive won't. Developing new variations on species may provide a big "yuck" factor not just becasue the artificial nature of the hybrid is so apparent but also because it goes against all normal statistically proven ways of arriving at hybrids or new species, e.g. conventional microevolutionary processes leading to new speciation.

In terms of theology this would seem to go back to the prohibition against mixtures of crops but since in Christ the law was considered abolished and fulfilled at the same time how does a Christian investigate this matter? On the one hand Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Law and set aside as an obstacle barring entry of the Gentiles into God's kingdom so doing. It may be there is a purpose to such laws that is preserved even though the law itself is no longer an impediment to Gentile entry into the kingdom of God.

Deut 22:

6 If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. 7 You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.

9 Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled.
10 Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
11 Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.

These are the passages that, conceivably, might prohibit genetic engineering. The extrapolation is rather broad and probably forced, though. On the other hand, it is a pattern that can be extrapolated from these. Verse 9 warns that any intermingling of crops within a vineyard defiles all the fruit of the vineyard. It was against Mosaic law to plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together, which implicity argues that only two oxen should be yoked together. The matter that clothes of wool and linen woven together probably speaks for itself as a prohibition but conceptually the verse cumulatively speak against treating things as though they could be intermingled against their normal pattern.

In this respect a person could make the case that dog breeding does not violate the principle behidn these laws because dogs are simply being bred after their kind. hybridization of crops within a family would not be considered bad but interpolating genetic material from a rabbit into a tree would. INterestingly scientists have said they interpolated the rabbit gene because they have been unable to locate the gene within the tree's genome itself that performs a similar function. Would Christians object if scientists figured out how to activate the tree's own genetic capability of filtering toxins or would this still be playing God? I can see how both might be the case.

Conversely, if the tree is having its own genetic material shuffled or activated or deactivated or reactivated to cleanse the soil would that be wrong? Would it be wrong on principle or wrong because it could be considered a substitute for polluting less. Besides not polluting less could we genetically re-engineer the world to purify the environment of the toxins we pour into the world around us? If that's the case then I suppose a century from now Miyazaki's manga Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind could still be pertinent to these ethical debates, since Nausicaa must in the end confront the grim reality that the world she is trying to save was genetically re-engineered from the ground up by long lost generations of men not only to cleanse the world of the pollution humanity but to run its course and then self-destruct so that the humans who polluted the world to begin with could come back and reclaim it as their own. For a comic book two decades old it poses some ethical questions that are still pretty interesting (questions that really never come up in the anime).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Condi is back to what the administration talked about before 9/11

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1107AP_Mideast_Rice.html?source=mypi

Namely pushing for a separate Palestinian state. If certain terrorist attacks hadn't happened there might not have been a six year gap between the last serious overture toward a separate Paelstinian state (if no more than in pro forma diplo-speak) and now. Not that this means a Palestinian state will happen or that it's even necessarily a good idea but Clinton didn't set one up thanks to Arafat not wanting anything less than "complete" success, as opposed to 90% success. Of course if success is annihilating Israel as opposed to an actual Palestinian state that's another matter, too.

Since I'm not a dispensationalist/futurist I don't particularly care if this is seen by the Hal Lindsey/Jack van Impe troupe as a sign of the coming apocalypse that has been set to happen within the generation that settled Israel for three generations.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

honor as an extrinsic quality in biblical literature, a sloppy rumination

Luke 14: 7-11

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

And after this, of course, there is Jesus' retort by way of parable to the one who said, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast of God." Jesus more or less says, "Oh yeah but it's not who you think it may be."

Both parables deal with the matter of honor, where it comes from, who it comes from, and what Jesus has to say about that. It seems that honor is a basically extrinsic thing here, something that can only be received and is not inherent. We can accept honor that comes from God or, more often, reject it, just as we can accept honor that comes from men or reject it or, alternately accept it or even obsess over it.

Whoever said that it would be an honor to feast with God gave Jesus the perfect opportunity to mention that the honor has been rejected by those who were initially invited and so the invitation goes out to anyone and everyone who was not first invited. The eschatological and national implications are so obvious as to need no explanation, but as a continuation of teaching about seeking honor for oneself it is interesting to consider how the honor that God gaves us through Christ we can often refuse while the honor we seek for ourselves distances us from God.

As Proverbs puts it, it's bad to eat too much sugar and it is dishonorable to seek your own honor. Let another praise you and not your own mouth, someone else and not your own lips. A crucible is for silver and a furnace for gold but a man is tested by the praise he receives.

It seems as though things like honor and integrity are things that should speak for themselves through action or not at all. When the apostles defended the gospel they were not necessarily defending themselves. Jesus did not defend himself when he went to trial. When Paul defended his apostolic vocation he did it by boasting in his weakness and the physical punishment he received for being a minister of the Gospel, and pointed to his credibility as a Jew among Jews only to say that his credentials by themselves were actually demerits in the sense of securing any true favor with the Lord.

When Paul defends his position as an apostle he repeatedly says he is speaking as a fool, suggesting that to even defend his reputation might as well render his reputation null and void. He stoops to it only because he is tired of being compared to the super-apostles and inverts the measure of honor and glory by appealing to his sharing in the suffering of Christ rather than the greatness of his prose or learning. He does not even really appeal to his own character but to what Christ providentially brings to him that allows him to share in the suffering of Christ. He even boasts in a prayer that God refused to answer and answered with the explanation that His strength is made perfect in weakness. An apostle boasting of a prayer that God didn't answer is a strange boast indeed! And that is what Paul does when he feels that he has to redefine what greatness is.

So even in his boasting Paul says it is acting like a fool and chooses to boast in what Christ has given him through suffering rather than in his learning or the power of the Spirit given to him to cast out demons or raise people from the dead or to be bitten by venomous snakes. He doesn't boast about any of these things when defending his apostolic credentials. And he does not boast of anything that he chose to do or appeal to them as a measure of what he should boast about, only about the things done to him in opposition to his taking a stand for the Gospel and the things he faced from persecution at the hands of Jews and Gentiles alike.

Yet in the end Paul also argues that there is finally nothing to boast about even in this, essentially, saying "Woe to me if I don't preach the good news." It is not even something to boast about since it was what he was called to do. Despite Paul's sometimes harsh or hectoring tone in polemics he can be a startlingly self-negating man in his letters.

Any attempt we make to defend our reputation has limits to what it can accomplish, and since honor is bestowed upon us by men or by God or possibly by both we cannot defend for ourselves what can only be given. There is, in a sense, not much point in defending that which we feel we are due but cannot receive except providentially by God's hand. By violence of some kind we can reach out and grasp at what we feel we deserve and in the process lose the very thing we felt was our due, and perhaps that simply proves we do not deserve the honor that we crave.

And if Jesus taught us that we are blessed if we are reviled and persecuted for bearing his name and having false things said about us then perhaps it is in part to tell us that what the world considers honor is not especially important. He spoke against those who prized the honored seats at synagogues. Those who seek honor for themselves or prize it have some opposition from the Lord. Those who do not seek it, paradoxically, receive it.

In the end one's reputation is only important in so much as Christ is revealed in it and beyond that it is of no value whatsoever. Certainly a person's reputation is of value but it can be valued in the wrong way. The Psalmist in various laments appeals to God as his vindicator even when he trusts he is blameless in a matter because he understood that the honor that comes from God is more valuable than the honor that comes from men, even if that latter honor is not entirely without some value among God's people. After all, he writes that the godly men and women of the land were heroes to him. But this is enough rambling on a topic.

editing music, part 4

Battling other things than dead printers this time, like updates that I couldn't get for my computer because the wi-fi wasn't working so well.

Been revisiting some of my favorite comics lately, Takahashi stuff, and mulling over how as a general leitmotif across her serialized work she explores what might easily be called the embarrassment of attachment, how we become more attached to people, places, and things than we are comfortable admitting to ourselves, let alone others. It's interesting (and since I'm talking about Rumiko Takahashi, hilarious) that she has gotten thirty years worth of mileage out of such a simple observation about the human condition.

But mainly I am also thinking about editing music scores and reading the Bible a bit, particularly 1 Peter, Isaiah, and the Psalms. I could write more but at this point I don't feel a need to.