Monday, September 25, 2006


Eyeglass Screwdrivers But Not Swords

Homeland Security has announced a liberalization of the carry on rules. You can now carry on travel size liquids, gels, and aerosals, up to 3 ounces, as long as they all fit in a quart plastic bag. You must put this quart bag in a separate tray for screening. This includes, specifically, bubble bath balls, which has been a real trouble item. They are a little more liberal on cough syrup, eye drops, and "personal lubricants", which can go to 4 ounces.

In the potential weapons catagory, you can now carry on those little screwdrivers that come with the eyeglass repair kits, toy weapons as long as they don't look real, and, thankfully, toy transformer robots. Specifically prohibited are ice picks, sabers, meat cleavers, and swords. Also banned were bows and arrows, spear guns, hatchets, billy clubs, throwing stars and nunchakus. You know how people are, you let them on with those eyeglass screwdrivers and pretty soon someone has a nunchakus or two in their brief case. Spears were not specifically covered, but may be passable if less than 7 inches long and not sharp (reasoning from the screwdriver rule).

Monday, September 04, 2006


Parents Choosing Intelligent Design Over Natural Selection

The intelligent design folks are vague as to who or what the designer might be, aliens, FSM, whatever (see posts 1/3 and 1/8), but it is a sure bet they weren’t expecting it to be the parents. But there it is. More and more the parents are selecting the genetic makeup of their children, or at least selecting among the various possible offspring to avoid undesirable genes. It is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, P.G.D., and here is how it works.

The parents elect in vitro fertilization (that is a down side right there) so that a number of fertilized eggs can be grown in a petri dish. The embryos divide for three days, 2-cell, 4-cell, 8-cell. At the 8-cell stage one cell, called a blastomere, is removed from each embryo and tested for its genetic makeup. The ones with the desired makeup are implanted or frozen for possible future use. The culls are thrown away or used for research if permitted by President Bush, i.e. no federal funding. Currently the procedure is believed to be used primarily to avoid children carrying defective genes that cause or predispose to serious disease such as Huntington’s or cancer. Experts expect that growing acceptance of genetic selection will lead to use of P.G.D to select for less serious defects and perhaps even matters of preference such as sex, height, blondes and so on. Of course, the genetic makeup for many traits, such as good wheels, is currently unknown.

Of course, the array of ethical issues is expected to grow along with the embryo screening menu. First, there is this persistent problem of the rich having more than the poor. The rich are already healthier and live longer than the poor, and P.G.D., which can cost $25,000, threatens to widen this gap. Some critics fear this is the first step toward a genetic caste system based upon genetic purity. Second, P.G.D. has been accused of being “unnatural selection”, as opposed to, presumably, “natural selection”. For the critics that also prefer I.D. over natural selection, this could become a real head scratcher. Religious confusion can be as deleterious as poverty. Not to hang on labels, it is probably just the feeling that these parents should take the crap shoot re the health of their children like the rest of us.

Then there is discrimination. Critics say P.G.D. could be used to select against homosexuals, women, people with disabilities, against all sorts of people who would have been born with perceived imperfections. And the critics that say the Plan B pill is an abortion will obviously have to attack P.G.D., since those culled bundles of blastomeres have been fertilized. The standard dodge is to freeze them “for future use” but if there are a dozen or so, it gets a little thin. Finally, there is the worry that removal of that blastomere, being 1/8 of the action at that point, might cause a mental deficiency in the resultant individual.

While some countries have responded to these concerns by outlawing the procedure, in the U.S. the technology is not regulated and the decisions are currently being left to the doctors and their patients. However, given the Terry Schiavo Congress and the recent Bush veto on stem cell research, stay tuned. There may be more people operating one blastomere short of a full deck than commonly thought. Unfortunately, having to go to Singapore for this procedure will just add to the cost and the unfair advantages of being rich over being poor.

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