Thursday, December 28, 2006

On why getting your PhD doesn't preserve you from being sophomoric

Selections from an article entitled "Embryo Ethics--the Moral Logic of Stem Cell Research" in the New England Journal of Medicine. The author, Michael Sandel, teaches government at Harvard University. For the full text click here. Dr. Sandel is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

"At first glance, the case for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research seems too obvious to need defending. Why should the government refuse to support research that holds promise for the treatment and cure of devastating conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and spinal cord injury?"

This is a rather presumptive, biased beginning. Clearly there are many people who don't think the case is "too obvious to need defending" or it wouldn't be a controversial issue, now would it?

"Critics of stem-cell research offer two main objections: some hold that despite its worthy ends, stem-cell research is wrong because it involves the destruction of human embryos; others worry that even if research on embryos is not wrong in itself, it will open the way to a slippery slope of dehumanizing practices, such as embryo farms, cloned babies, the use of fetuses for spare parts, and the commodification of human life. Neither objection is ultimately persuasive, though each raises questions that proponents of stem-cell research should take seriously."

Seriously in what sense? By dismissing them with flippant, flimsy arguments and condescension?

"The notion that an embryo in a petri dish has the same moral status as a person can be challenged on further grounds. Perhaps the best way to see its implausibility is to play out its full implications. First, if harvesting stem cells from a blastocyst were truly on a par with harvesting organs from a baby, then the morally responsible policy would be to ban it, not merely deny it federal funding. If some doctors made a practice of killing children to get organs for transplantation, no one would take the position that the infanticide should be ineligible for federal funding but allowed to continue in the private sector. If we were persuaded that embryonic stem-cell research were tantamount to infanticide, we would not only ban it but treat it as a grisly form of murder and subject scientists who performed it to criminal punishment. Second, viewing the embryo as a person rules out not only stem-cell research, but all fertility treatments that involve the creation and discarding of excess embryos. In order to increase pregnancy rates and spare women the ordeal of repeated attempts, most in vitro fertilization clinics create more fertilized eggs than are ultimately implanted. Excess embryos are typically frozen indefinitely or discarded. (A small number are donated for stem-cell research.) But if it is immoral to sacrifice embryos for the sake of curing or treating devastating diseases, it is also immoral to sacrifice them for the sake of treating infertility."

Oh, really? I hadn't realized what my position meant. Perhaps that is why the opposition gets so fired up about these issues, Mr. Philosopher. Because we truly do believe that human life is being destroyed.

" Third, defenders of in vitro fertilization point out that embryo loss in assisted reproduction is less frequent than in natural pregnancy, in which more than half of all fertilized eggs either fail to implant or are otherwise lost. This fact highlights a further difficulty with the view that equates embryos and persons. If natural procreation entails the loss of some embryos for every successful birth, perhaps we should worry less about the loss of embryos that occurs in in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research. Those who view embryos as persons might reply that high infant mortality would not justify infanticide. But the way we respond to the natural loss of embryos suggests that we do not regard this event as the moral or religious equivalent of the death of infants. Even those religious traditions that are the most solicitous of nascent human life do not mandate the same burial rituals and mourning rites for the loss of an embryo as for the death of a child. "

I can see that you would be a wonderful person to comfort a woman who has lost a pregnancy. I'm sure with your superior knowledge that you would help her to understand that she hasn't lost a child and she has no reason to grieve. What a wonderful comforter you would be, Mr. Ph.D. Any woman who has had a miscarriage could tell you that the grief is just as real as any death whether it is recognized by anyone else or not. In fact, that is often part of the pain-- feeling that others don't recognize the loss.

"Moreover, if the embryo loss that accompanies natural procreation were the moral equivalent of infant death, then pregnancy would have to be regarded as a public health crisis of epidemic proportions; alleviating natural embryo loss would be a more urgent moral cause than abortion, in vitro fertilization, and stem-cell research combined."

Pregnancy and childbirth are natural, wonderful processes that I (being in the opposition) certainly do support. It is tragic when something goes wrong, and I think it would be wonderful if doctors were more interested in sustaining early pregnancies. In my experience, there is almost an attitude that babies in the first trimester of pregnancy are disposable. While I do think that we should be concerned with preserving these lives from the earliest days, it does not follow that I have to regard pregnancy as a "public health crisis". People dying from natural causes is quite different than people being killed through acts of commission or omission.

When I read this article I was not surprised by the agruments, but rather by who made them. I was surprised that a professional scholar would write such weak crap for a medical journal. I'm used to reading poorly reasoned and overtly biased articles on blogs and in newspapers, but this man is writing for doctors and helping form Presidential policy! You would think that he would at least try to be even-handed. I don't expect him to agree with me, but he needn't characterize my position as that of a blind religious ignoramus. I've been doing research on this topic all week without incident but this guy came off so dissmissive and smug that I just had to vent my steam somewhere. That's what blogs are for, right?

Our trip to Middle Farm

Last week we got a chance to visit a working farm. We had lots of fun wandering around and seeing the animals. Iain found them a bit mystifying, but fascinating. We were very glad that we had our wellies, because it was very mucky!

There was a nice playground area with swings and things to climb on, and Iain got to "ride" this tractor.

Apparently there was an important poultry meeting on. We weren't quite sure what these birds were. There is one chicken under the table. Perhaps the others are pheasant or quail?

Brian made friends with this horse after he fed him an illicit apple. Before that, Mr. Horse was quite aloof and stayed in the corner.

It's too bad you can't see this chicken better, because they are the craziest lookinganimals I have ever seen. She has feathers protruding from the top of her head. You couldn't even see their eyes. I thought it looked their little heads had exploded!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Iain's first Christmas present

Jordan put our Christmas presents "under" our tree today. Our tree's so small that it's more around the tree than under it. We thought Iain was too young to care much, but was barely able to take his eyes off them! So we decided to let him open one, and he loved every moment of it. Here he his opening his first-ever Christmas present:

For some reason, the sound is almost always slightly behind the picture when we post a video to YouTube. It's frustrating, but we hope you enjoy this anyway:

Hey Allan, do you recognize that song playing in the background?

Our home - a tour

Brian here again: We've been promising since we moved in that we'd post some pictures of our flat. Say you were to come for a visit; you'd first walk up this row of buildings, which is called Park Village (note the Downs right at the end of our complex!).

You would stop at building 40-41, which is on the right.

Ours is flat number 41B, right there on the first floor. (An aside: since we are in Britain, this is really the 'ground floor'. The 'first floor' is what an American would call the second, the 'second floor' would be the third in the US, etc.)

Once inside, you'd be in the first of our two rooms. Immediately to the left of the door is our kitchen. That's our washer-dryer under the cabinet.

The rest of the room serves as a sitting/eating area(notice all your cards & letters on the bulletin board!) . . .

. . . and a work area with desk & bookcase.

The second room in our flat is the bedroom . . .

. . . which connects to the bathroom--that's our amazing new shower there mounted on the wall!

And that's pretty much it! The only thing better than seeing pictures would be to see it in person, so why not come for a visit?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Grand Day Out

Today we rode the bus into London. It was really great because it was organized by the University, so it was a free trip! It took about an hour and a half to get to South Kensington, which is a wealthy area of London. Iain did great on the bus trip, as usual. We are so blessed that he is such a good little traveller. We were dropped out near three free museums, so we spent the day "museum-ing" and didn't really scope out the neighborhood. Maybe next time. No matter how long we spend here in the UK, there will always be more to see.

We visited the Natural History Museum first and spent most of the day there. Here is the Diplodicous skeleton which you see immediately on entering the museum. They have a pretty good collection of dinosaur bones and fossils which is probably the most interesting part of the museum.

Here I am with the Triceratops. I wonder what these creatures looked like when they were alive and what killed them. Such a puzzle.

After the dinosaurs we saw some neat Earth science displays about volcanos and earthquakes. After that we went over to the Biology exhibit to see what they had about fetal development, but it was very limited and a bit of a disappointment.

Then we went outside to check out the little Christmas fair and ice rink they had set up. The vendors all had little wooden huts and I enjoyed strolling about enjoying the sights and smells (there was a marvelous little shop that smelled SO Christmassy). We didn't skate since it was a very organized, regimented and expensive affair. But we did enjoy watching everyone else.

After that we headed off the the Science Museum. They had a bunch of steam engines (not trains, but the kind that powered factories during the Industrial Revolution) that were cool. They had lots of old computer equipment, plus a big history of mathmatics display, and antique ship equipment and old radios. If you know any techies that like to walk down memory lane, this the museum for them. We were pretty tired by this point, but Brian did enjoy seeing the avaiation display, especially the Spitfire.

The Spitfire was one of the planes used by Britain in World War II. Britain was Hitler's last obstacle to conquering Europe and his Luftwaffe planes were relentlessly bombing the UK and especially London. There were only 740 of them made, but they managed to frustrate the Germans despite being at a terrible disadvantage. It makes you think of Churchill, doesn't it? I'll leave you with this:

"I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." --Winston Churchill June 4, 1940, at the House of Commons

Wanna know more about the Battle of Britain? Click here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Some of our friends

Brian here again: As we've said before, we're blessed with some wonderful friends here in England. Last night we were treated to our first real English Christmas dinner by Sophie, a fellow history student. Here's our happy little group after a lovely dinner, from left to right: Kim (a history MA student), Kim's boyfriend Kristian, Rowena (history MA student), Sophie (history MA student), Sophie's boyfriend Darren, Lizzie's boyfriend Paul, Lizzie (history DPhil student), and Jordan.

Iain was passed around as always. Here he is with Kim:

And with Rowena:

Then tonight we had two guys from church, Anthony and Mark, up to our flat. Anthony is one of Iain's two favorite people at church--Anthony can get a smile out of Iain even when he's in a bad mood.

This is Mark and me. Mark is the 'associate worker' at church--basically the same intern-type position that I had at our last church. He's a wonderful guy who has lived all over the world, including Cuba. I envy him much for that. Someday I'll visit Cuba, too.

We had a great time, as you can see from the picture below. Anthony is trying on Iain's reindeer hat in the spirit of the season. It's official (because the hat says so): Anthony is Santa's favorite reindeer.

(Sorry for posting that one, Anthony. . . . Not really, I guess. If I was, I wouldn't have posted it.)

Praise God for good friends! Especially since we're so far away from our family and friends back home, it is a tremendous blessing to spend time with these lovely people.

Tomorrow we're going to a couple museums in London . . . for free! Right now it's time for bed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Meditations: Christ's First Coming

Why lies he thus in mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian, fear, for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you:

Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

I often wonder why God doesn’t just proclaim himself. Why does He allow men to mock him? Why doesn’t He just show everyone once and for all who the boss is? Then I realized that day is coming, but it isn’t going to be a happy one for a lot of people. Mercy stays God’s hand.

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:5-7

This is the thing that boggles my mind about Christmas. Christ’s first coming was one of humility and mercy. He came and had no place to lay his head and healed people of their physical and spiritual diseases. He created the world and had no place to lay his head? The owner of the cattle on a thousand hills living as a homeless wanderer? As John writes so poignantly of Jesus:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:10-13

How could he love us? How could he die for us? I would have wanted to crush anyone who dared to oppose me. Yet he was mocked, beaten, questioned, and killed.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God,

smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.
Isaiah 53:3-7

How amazing that he who without whom nothing was made should go through this for his people. How patient and kind God is, and how great and precious the sacrifice that was made. How can we dare to defy him after the overflowing kindness that he has shown? I’m not trying to be dramatic, but just really thinking about what it means that the supreme benefactor who has given us everything would suffer and die to pay for our mistakes, and then we go and kick it back in his face saying that we don’t need him?

Lord, preserve us from folly and pride and help us to fall on our faces before you in worship. Help us to remember the cost of Christmas and not presume upon your patience and mercy forever, but to come before you in repentance. Amen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iain & Papa reading together

Papa reads with his eyes, but Iain reads with his mouth.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas parties

Brian here again: It's been a good week. Everyone's been in the Christmas spirit, and we've gone to a couple Christmas parties. The first was on Thursday night; the Christian Union had Christmas dinner out at a very nice and inexpensive restaurant called Pablo's down in the heart of Brighton. About forty people attended, and everyone had a great time. The Christian Union really has been one of our biggest blessings here. Here are a couple photos of our group of CU friends:

Iain loves people; he's a rather sociable little guy. He got to sit in a high chair for the first time while we were at the party. As you can see, he liked the idea. He got passed around the crowd quite a bit and enjoyed every minute of it.

'Christmas crackers' are quite the tradition here. I thought that meant something like crackers and cheese, but this is a Christmas cracker:

You pull both ends of it, it makes a loud pop like a cap gun, and there is a paper Christmas crown and a small toy inside, the kind you'd get in a crackerjack box.

As you can see, my toy was a lovely (but tiny) plastic ring. Iain got a fake moustache!

Jordan got a paperclip--how lame is that?! It did come in useful, though, for resizing Iain's crown.

A truly wonderful time was had by all--God has really blessed us with some good friends here at Sussex, and many of them are members of the Christian Union.

This afternoon we went to a smaller Christmas party at the home of my doctoral supervisor, Knud Haakonssen. He has a lovely home in Eastbourne, which is quite appropriately up the coast to the east of us. We took the train to Eastbourne with our very good friend Lizzie, who is Knud's only other full-time doctoral student. His wife prepared a whole host of Scandinavian goodies (Knud is Danish and his wife, Åsa, is Swedish) that were absolutely delectable! And the mulled wine was incredible--the best we've tried of this traditional English (and apparently Scandinavian) holiday drink.

This is Lizzie, Iain, Knud, Åsa, and me.

Iain was passed around at Knud's house as well. He's a pretty popular guy--much more so than me.

We had a delightful time at Knud's, and it's always a joy to spend time with Lizzie. She is one of the most personable and thoughtful people I've ever met.

The campus is ready for Christmas, too. Several of the buildings have decorations and even a tree inside, but the best one is out on the quad between Falmer House, the Library, Arts A, and the Meeting House. It looks truly wonderful at night, especially at dawn or dusk.

We really are blessed to be here, and we really are blessed to have such good friends on both sides of the Atlantic. We miss you all so much that it sometimes brings tears to our eyes, but we won't be over here forever, and we thank God for the blessings he's given us here.

And now tonight--which is an especially cold one--I am going to settle into our nice warm flat, enjoy the company of my wife & son, and partake of a massive doner kebab prepared by my friend Massoud, an Afghani who works at a local kebab shop. Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 08, 2006


It is a Christmas tradition to make candy buckeyes at my house. They are super yummy and never seem to last long, so it isn't good to make them too early! And in case you are wondering what a buckeye is, I found this picture for you.

e it is, the famous Ohio Buckeye Recipe:

4 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 3/4 cup peanut butter
2 sticks margerine or butter (1 cup)
10-12 oz. bag chocolate chips
1/4 cake paraffin wax

Mix powdered sugar, peanut butter & butter. Mix by hand--will be stiff. Form into walnut sized balls, place on wax paper & chill. Put choc. chips & paraffin in double boiler to melt. Dip each ball in melted choc/paraffin mixture until almost covered. Put on waxed paper & chill.