Sunday, April 28, 2002


Yes, I am obsessing about this issue. I think there's nothing more important to the future success and happiness of mankind than the full exploration of this science. Here are some further recent articles and my replies:

The Weekly Standard:
There sure IS debate over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research; just because "Bush has spoken" does not mean the question is closed. Of course, as you neglect to mention, what is at stake in the congress right now is not federal funding, but an outright ban on cloning. Talk about vague political speech. I'm glad that you mentioned that Harry and Louise originated in opposition to the Clintons' nationalized health care, because it highlights a point you seem to be missing. The Clinton plan was rejected by, not just insurers and doctors, but by Americans who did not want the government involved in their health care. Cloning opponents like to paint supporters of research cloning as part of the "biotech lobby", "Hollywood", or as forsaking morality in a rush to embrace the benefits of genetic science. They insist embryos have moral standing. That is NOT the only morally informed view. Many see an early stage embryo for what it is: a few to a few hundred cells with no brain function, no self-awareness, no soul. We rebel against the anti-cloning position, because equating a zygote to a human being is in itself morally grotesque. Laying the scientific and logical bankruptcy of the "embryo equals person" position aside, the equiviancy argument offends at its core the idea of what it is to be a human being. We are more than biology. Should we mourn the loss of an early term pregnancy as we do that of a three-year old child? The discarding of an embryo after research should cause the streets of London to fill as when the Queen Mother passed? Should Whitman have written "Oh Zygote, Oh Zygote"? Should we celebrate the abortion of an "evil embryo" (if we learn to detect such) as we will when Charles Manson finally chokes on his own bile? The barbarism lies not merely in foreclosing the benefits of embryonic research. The greater obscenity results from twisting the meaning of "human being" to include embryos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002


...make delightful fodder for the screamingly funny Larry Miller, but he misses a small point, as I lay out in this letter to him:

I wish I could write that well, hammered. I would have never left the frat house.

Greta, of course, is proof that the shiboleth about only good looking folks getting on TV is false. Wait, so are you, Larry. At least you don't have a laydown malpractice suit against your plastic surgeon. Wait, do you? Perhaps I can get on TV!

As a trial lawyer -- could you guess? -- I have to take issue with your condemning Cohen for representing these vermin (although I sure as hell wouldn't). Say it with me one more time: everyone, no matter how vile, has the right to counsel; that's what makes it America. And Jewish lawyers, you know, have a tradition of representing the grossly unpopular ( I cannot bring myself to apply the term "underdog" here; how about just "dog"?). If the principles we live by have meaning, then they apply to the most heinous.

Your remarks about drinking remind me of the bit you used to do (maybe still, but I didn't have a coupon for the last time you did stand-up in Houston) about being out on a school night and, as the clock spins, telling yourself repeatedly that as long as you get ___ hours of sleep, you'd be cool. A classic! I howl everytime I watch my Napster-supplied illicit download of it.

Give Greta a break and remember she's a short-term phenomenon. Absent some blind guy's friends playing a cruel joke on him, she's unlikely to reproduce


Wesley Smith weighs in on the side of adult stem cell research. Facts are always welcome, but what does it prove? Here's what I wrote him:

Mr. Smith once again catalogues adult stem cell successes and thus adds much to the debate, although his implicit thesis: that the media pushes embryonic stem cell research because it wants to promote the destruction of embryos as part of some sort of institutional agenda to denigrate the view that such are human life with moral standing, strikes me as insuppportable.

As a lawyer -- and Mr. Smith was a successful one before he became a pundit -- one learns to cast the debate in terms that favor ones client's side, and Mr. Smith, it seems, is indulging in just that when he discusses stem cells and their promise only in terms of regenerative medicine, i.e., cures for existing conditions. He ignores the larger issue of genetic medicine applied at or before the point of conception to remove/deactivate genes causing birth defects, congenital illnesses, etc., or add/activate genes promoting desirable characteristics (general robustness, intelligence, etc.), and whether promise in that area is linked to embryonic or adult stem cells.

In so doing, he joins President Bush and other opponents of pre-birth genetic medicine in defining what are acceptable goals for genetic science in advance of the development of the science. The end result these opponents frankly seek is to foreclose individuals' choosing to utilize such science for their children-to-be. This is being accomplished. not by seeing what is and is not possible first, then making appropriate judgments, but, through enforced ignorance, delaying at all costs the development of the science so no one can have its (arguable) benefits.

That is simply barbaric.

Thursday, April 18, 2002


There's a report in today's Houston Chronicle on a speech Tom DeLay gave at a church urging parents not to send their kids to A&M or Baylor if they want them to get a Christian education. While I'd ordinarily applaud any advice that keeps kids out of College Station, I can't subscribe to DeLay's reasoning. Seems the failure to teach creationism, combined with the fact that some students have sex in the dorms (how shocking!), makes these campuses un-Christian. Wake up, Tommy. Some of us Christians can get our minds around the fact that God could just as easily have created man through evolution as out of a lump of clay (and the former is perhaps more miraculous than the latter). Some of us can even understand that the scientific method rests on proof, not faith, and that we do not betray our faith by embracing science to explain the state of this world.

The Chron dug up an old quote of DeLay's linking, with the subtle, clever sarcasm only a true wordsmith can muster, the Columbine tragedy with the teaching of evolution. As a bonus, he makes up a word ("evolutionized") in the process.

I shouldn't be surprised at Delay; after all, there's a picture of him next to "dogmatic" in the dictionary. I was interested to hear that his daughter, who went to A&M, "had horrible experiences with coed dorms and guys who spent the weekends in the rooms with girls." What horrible experience could this refer to? Walking in on a roommate and her boyfriend? Not getting any herself? Wait, I forgot she was Tom DeLay's daughter. Her problem must be with the fact that someone, somewhere (it just happened to be on her campus) was doing something of which she disapproved, and by God, they needed to be stopped. Good thing such an intolerant, silly little girl is not in a position of influence in this country. Whoops.

A DeLay hatchet man -- er, staffer -- reacted decisively, reminding us that the recording of the speech was unauthorized (after all, is it the public's damn business what the third most powerfull man in the House says to a gathering of hundreds?) and that the offending taper is a former member of the ACLU whose organization is to the left of Hillary Clinton. How he forgot to take a swipe at the trial lawyers, I don't know.

Yuo sure have to hand it to DeLay for being forward looking though. He reminded the crowd that there were "still some Christian schools out there -- good, solid schools. Now, they may be little, they may not be as prestigious as Stanford, but your kids will get a good, solid, godly education." Bob Jones University, maybe? Frankly, I think this recommendation was a master stroke. By urging parents to send their kids off to these schools, he promotes the creation of more narrow-minded conformists that blindly obey authority -- his very constituency!

As for where to send your kids to college, how about this? First, teach them right from wrong and to think critically about whatever they see and hear, in class and out. Then send them to the most intellectually rigorous college you can afford and they can get into. If you've done the groundwork, they won't come back crazy, or corrupted, but educated. And that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002


Anyone else troubled by the recent news of the indictment of the lawyer for convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman? She's accused of assisting him in passing messages to his cohorts outside prison. Now, let me first say that if she did it, she needs to be shot. The familiar and maddening idea of a gang leader/Mafia boss continuing to control his criminal empire from "inside" is all the more horrific when applied to terrorists.

However, under a justice department directive adopted post-September 11, the attorney general -- that guardian of your civil liberties, John Ashcroft -- can monitor otherwise privileged conversations if he merely suspects wrongdoing. Here's an idea: why not have a third party, say an official who is not beholden to the Justioce Department or the administration, pass on whether the AG's suspicions justify eavesdropping on privileged conversations? Say someone whose status is protected by Article III of the Constitution, i.e., a federal judge? Lord knows the application for surveillance could be ex parte, and the GOP has enough law and order zealots who skipped Constitutional Law 101 on the bench that complying with such a requirement should minimally inconvenience any legitimate investigation. At least we could sleep better knowing some attention was being paid before we violate a privilege that's one of the cornerstones of our system of justice.

Monday, April 08, 2002


...according to this article by John Derbyshire at National Review Online. I agree, but find his blaming lawyers and lawsuits (imagine that, from a conservative publication) not credible. Here's what I wrote him:

I enjoyed your piece. Thank you for writing it. I'm 45, and was raised in Houston (where I still live) by parents for whom politeness in children was not an option, but an imperative. Yes Sir, No Ma'am, Mr., Mrs./Miss (both pronounced, in the southern manner, Miz; cf. the odious Ms.), please, thank you.

My father is remarried and I have brothers 13 and 7, both of whom are getting similar instruction. It appears to be taking.

Sadly, though, by and large, things are as you report. I find myself angered at tradespeople on the phone calling my by my first name, uninvited, not to mention cheeky waiters. My last trip to California I wanted to throttle several youngsters who called me "Joe". I could go on.

I must disagree with your laying the blame for this phenomenon at the feet of the rule of law and its enforcement by "ingenious lawyers". For one thing, a suit over bad manners is always laughed out of court, if you can find a lawyer green enough or hungry enough to take it. We must draw a distinction between rudeness, which ladies in the workplace regrettably must sometimes put up with, and groping, or conditioning continued employment or advancement on sexual favors, or others acts which I'm sure we agree ought to carry a penalty more severe than a reprimand from the manners police.

There are many plausible sources of the decline in manners: the breakdown and rebellion against class distinctions ("Why should I address you politely just because you are older, my boss, a person of authority, etc.? I'm just as good as you."); the ubiquitousness of technology which makes communications instantaneous and often impersonal; the concentration of population which both increases the frequency of unintended encounters with ones fellow citizens and the likelihood that one will never see most who he comes into contact with again, lowering the cost of rudeness (this reason applies particularly to rude driving).

I'm glad you mentioned the Lampoon. It was a favorite. Many of the best old articles are on the website; I just finished rereading the classic "Foreigners Around the World."

Let me close with a question that I hope you won't find impolite. Do you NR writers receive a per instance fee from the insurance industry and big business for negative references to lawyers and lawsuits, or is it an annual lump sum?