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August 14, 2005 - What Belief Buys You

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Another one of those front-page "backgrounders" you run it the left column and continue inside - this one letting the folks in DC know what's up the heartland.

In Heartland, Stem Cell Research Meets Fierce Opposition
Peter Slevin, Washington Post, Wednesday, August 10, 2005; Page A01


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The moral debate over embryonic stem cells stretches far beyond Capitol Hill to state capitals and research parks across the country, where a fierce competition is underway from Maryland to California for cutting-edge research and the profits that could follow.

In Maryland yesterday, advocates began a campaign to secure state money for stem cell research. A House of Delegates effort to spend $23 million a year on research died in the Senate earlier this year after a filibuster threat by Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Here in Missouri, a similar battle is raging over the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which has built a $300 million laboratory and stocked it with sophisticated machines for nearly 200 scientists recruited from as far afield as China and Argentina.

Yet social conservatives in the Missouri legislature are effectively blocking some of the most ambitious research envisioned by the Stowers staff, saying that research with embryonic stem cells is so immoral it should be a crime.


One thinks of Rogers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! - "Everything is up-to-date in Kansas City" (1937).  Ah, perhaps not.

Illinois? South Dakota? Same deal. They seems to be differentiating themselves from New York City (see below) and California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey –


… Just last month, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) announced that he had helped hide $10 million in the state budget that will now be used for embryonic stem cell research. Several leading Republicans criticized him for the move, and the Catholic Conference of Illinois said he "betrayed his own office, both morally and politically."
South Dakota forbids research on all embryos, yet New Jersey is bankrolling an embryonic stem cell program. In New York City, a private foundation recently gave $50 million to three medical institutions for early stem cell work to sustain the city's research credentials.

"The blue states have been rushing to embrace opportunities in stem cell research," said Patrick M. Kelly, vice president of state government relations at the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization. "California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, now Illinois. That has not been a phenomenon that has swept through the red states."


Yeah, well, don't be so sure about California.  Sure, Senate Majority Leader Frist may have changed his mind, the House may have already approved expanding stem cell research, but President Bush did restrict government funding to "a limited number of stem cell lines that existed in 2001" – and says he will veto any expansion.

And here is California?  California's stem cell institute?  Approved by a ballot initiative - but no progress yet.  Can't sell the bonds to finance the thing.  Problems.

Group files lawsuit to halt research at stem cell institute
Terri Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 6, 2005


A national anti-abortion group yesterday served the administrators of California's stem cell institute with a federal lawsuit seeking to stop their work on the grounds that the civil rights of frozen embryos are violated by stem cell research.

The lawsuit was delivered during a monthly meeting of the institute's oversight committee at the University of California San Diego. Around the same time it arrived, committee Chairman Robert Klein was announcing that several lawsuits filed in state court had been consolidated to be heard by one judge, in one county, on an expedited basis.

That litigation has blocked the sale of government-backed bonds to fund the institute, which is supposed to award $300 million annually for stem cell research.

The federal lawsuit, filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Preborn Children, could now further delay the sale of bonds.


National Association for the Advancement of Preborn Children?  Who are these folks, and what exactly is a "preborn child?"

Over at Pandagon you'll find this


The name of this group is both a way to mock the NAACP and an opportunity for wingnuts to pretend that their desire to control women's bodies puts them on the side of the angels. If they could only work in a way to claim the Islam is Satanic, it would be a trifecta of wingnuttery.

I say watch this group closely. If they open and close their meetings with a sincere-sounding rendition of "Every Sperm is Sacred" as if it were "Kumbaya," then we'll know for sure they are fucking with us.


No, they're real.  As far as I can tell the old Monty Python ensemble is long gone.  This is not an ironic skit, or some sort of performance art.  The lawsuit is quite real.

And what does it claim?


The suit was filed on behalf of Mary Scott Doe, a fictitious embryo produced by in vitro fertilization and then frozen and put into storage. Some of these embryos, which people have decided not to use in attempts to have children, have been donated for use in stem cell research, which involves destroying them.

The lawsuit claims the embryo is a person who should be given equal protection under the Constitution, and her destruction violates her right to freedom from slavery.


What?  Slavery?  Most curious, if not Python-like it its contentions.  But it happened.

Note: if an embryo is "a person" who should be given equal protection under the Constitution, then you must refer to it as either a "he" or a "she" - as Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune dutifully does here. Would the San Diego Union-Tribune also be sued if the writer referred to an embryo as an "it" in that last sentence? It would have been better had Somers put "her" in quotes, indicating the matter isn't yet settled.  A minor point, perhaps.

As for stopping the California Stem Cell Institute now, before it gets off the ground, is that good for California?  Kevin Drum in The Washington Monthly, who writes from Irvine - about halfway between Hollywood and San Diego - thinks blue states like California are so much richer and more culturally vibrant than red states


Technological development is at the core of increasing productivity, and everyone benefits from it regardless of where the basic research is done. Still, the places that do the research get the lion's share of the benefit, and if you were a scientist, where would you rather be? UCLA or Stanford on the one hand, or someplace where the locals try to ban the teaching of evolution and think that biotech laboratories are symbols of moral degeneracy? Seems like an easy choice.


Yeah, this isn't Kansas with its Son-of-Scopes Trial - those hearings to counter the teaching of evolution in the schools (last covered in these pages here in May).

But the rest of the country may have some misconceptions about the actual "blueness" of California.  A bunch of Hollywood, liberal nuts down south, and up north - Berkeley and Santa Cruz - a bunch of ex-hippies who still live in the sixties, smoking dope and grinning.  No.  We gave the nation the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan - and we happily elected the Austrian muscleman and movie star, the son of a Nazi, a man who doesn't like nuance or girlie-men - as our governor.  He's no leftie Democrat - and he's not much of a governor, but that's another matter.

The other California?  Shwarzenegger loves the armed citizen volunteers, the Minutemen - these vigilantes watching the border, taking care of those who would sneak in here illegally from Mexico, taking the law into their own hands.

What about that?  If you travel a few miles west from Kevin Drum's Irvine, you end up in Laguna Beach. Arts colony, big art festival each year - and that silly "Pageant of the Masters" thing.  It seems that on Saturday, July 30, in Laguna Beach, twenty-five Minutemen and Save Our State folks - and some neo-Nazis - put on a display of US, Confederate and Nazi flags in a protest of one of those sites where day laborers gather hoping for some work.  According this account these Minutemen guys were there for some good-natured harassment of the probably illegal day laborers - spitting on them and such - and more than a hundred of the locals thought that wasn't very nice, and it got ugly.  (A good picture of the guys waving the flags here.)

That's California too.


Well, putting aside this Minutemen business, this stem cell research issue is presenting difficulties all over the place - from Frist and Bush disagreeing to this California suit.

Is there some middle ground?  Since the Democrats don't matter in the discussion - as they control no part of the government and may never again control anything - is there a Republican middle ground?  See this from Morton Kondracke:


Political moderates predominate in the U.S. electorate, but the two parties are increasingly captives of their extremes. Will the moderates ever rise up and assert themselves?

In the Republican Party, they ought to do so by defending Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) against right-wing attacks for bucking President Bush (and Christian conservatives) over embryonic stem-cell research.

Republican moderates also ought to start speaking up for "emergency contraception" before the right makes banning it a litmus test of party loyalty. Someone in the GOP ought to tell Bush that "intelligent design" is not a true scientific theory on a par with evolution. And moderates need to fight at the state level to prevent "ID" from being required teaching in biology classes. ...


Someone tell Mort he isn't going to get his Party back.

And Kondracke also hints at something else that might be an issue - sex: "... there's ground for suspicion that some religious conservatives are as much about punishing illicit sexual activity as they are about saving 'life.'"

Yep.  Bush may be a dim-witted mean-spirited frat-boy who got us into a pointless war, but at least he wasn't messing around with chubby White House interns.  Sex matters.

A counter to that?  From Ramesh Ponnuru in the conservative National Review this objection: "It's the bit about sex where he [Kondracke] makes no sense at all. If punishing illicit sexual activity were the point, why would these religious conservatives care about embryonic stem-cell research at all? We're not talking about embryos created the old-fashioned way."

Kevin Drum


Exactly. And guess what? It turns out that embryos created in vitro and then discarded - as most of them are - cause no heartburn for religious conservatives. But if those embryos are genuine human lives, shouldn't the Christian right be picketing outside IVF clinics the same way they picket outside abortion clinics?

In fact, even stem cells themselves help make Mondracke's case. Religious conservatives are universally opposed to abortion, but stem cells are divisive even within the pro-life ranks, a division that's only growing with time. This is why George Bush had to fudge his original stem cell decision in 2001 and it's why Bill Frist decided to come out in favor of expanded stem cell research last week. If the embryo debate were really only about "life," opposition to stem cells among religious conservatives would be as monolithic as opposition to abortion.

So yes: illicit sexual activity is at the core of the abortion debate, and it's at the core of a lot of other conservative hot buttons too.


But not this one:

Evolution vs. Religion
Quit pretending they're compatible.
Jacob Weisberg - Posted Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005, at 12:30 PM PT SLATE.COM



President Bush used to be content to revel in his own ignorance. Now he wants to share it with America's schoolchildren.

I refer to his recent comments in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution. "Both sides ought to be properly taught … so people can understand what the debate is about," Bush told a group of Texas newspaper reporters who interviewed him on Aug. 1. "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones. Intelligent design, which asserts that gaps in evolutionary science prove God must have had a role in creation, may be… creationism in camouflage. Or it may be… a step in the creationist cave-in to evolution. But whatever it represents, intelligent design is a faith-based theory with no scientific validity or credibility.

If Bush had said schools should give equal time to the view that the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer, he'd have been laughed out of his office. The difference with evolution is that a large majority of Americans reject what scientists regard as equally well supported: that we're here because of random mutation and natural selection.


Of course this is followed by lots of polling data showing people here just don't believe the Darwin business, by and large.  Scientists do.  Most folks believe in God doing the heavy lifting, not random mutation over time eliminating the useless and things changing.  And that's the problem.  Darwinian science just can’t coexist with religion.


… let's be serious: Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world's great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well). Look at this 1993 NORC survey: In the United States, 63 percent of the public believed in God and 35 percent believed in evolution. In Great Britain, by comparison, 24 percent of people believed in God and 77 percent believed in evolution. You can believe in both - but not many people do.

That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument. It destroyed the faith of Darwin himself, who moved from Christianity to agnosticism as a result of his discoveries and was immediately recognized as a huge threat by his reverent contemporaries. In reviewing The Origin of Species in 1860, Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford, wrote that the religious view of man as a creature with free will was "utterly irreconcilable with the degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God." (The passage is quoted in Daniel C. Dennett's superb book Darwin's Dangerous Idea.)

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna, was saying nothing very different when he argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on July 7 that random evolution can't be harmonized with Catholic doctrine. To be sure, there are plenty of scientists who believe in God, and even Darwinists who call themselves Christians. But the acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence. Post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, which can explain the emergence of the first bacteria, doesn't even leave much room for a deist God whose minimal role might have been to flick the first switch.


No sex here.  But just as threatening.

And you might consider the implications.  The Korean cloned dog and all their research.  What we give up by undermining science.  Is it time "to focus more strongly on the practical consequences of resisting scientific reality?"

Well, California won't have its stem cell research center anytime soon now.  Don't want embryos forced in slavery and death, as they are citizens with rights too.  Don't want science showing that what is in this "good book" or that is flat-out wrong, or at best, metaphor.  Most folks won’t stand for that.

And we have those Confederate and Nazi flags in the streets here in Southern California.

The country is heading in an interesting direction.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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