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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Free ranging chicken sense

The weirdest job I ever had was working in a lab that made vaccine for Marek's disease, a contagious form of cancer that infects chickens. Because commercial chicken "production" is done on a mass scale, chickens are kept in cages in close proximity. The cages are several tiers high, making chickens urinate and defecate on their fellow product, in business terms ("product" is the "in" term for goods a business sells. It is grammatically singular, but plural in meaning.)

I didn't see anything of chicken production in the lab. Just eggs. Several hundred would arrive from a farmer every Thursday, and would be incubated for a week. The eggs were fertilized, and part of my job was to check for dead embryos by putting a small flashlight against the eggs. I could see inside the egg, and tell whether the embryo was alive or dead.

Fridays were "egg cracking" days. The eggs brought in eight days earlier were brought to the room where they were cracked, the embryos separated from the albumen, and each embryo put in a large bottle where it was mixed with a diluent, and stored in a warm room where cell culture takes place. The cells in the embryo multiply, and were infected with cells of Marek's disease. Cell culture was then done on the infected mix, and the resulting liquid was the vaccine. It was then put in small vials and frozen in liquid nitrogen. In this frozen state the vaccine was sold around the world.

The production process was weird enough, but the management of the operation bordered on insanity. The lab was run by a husband and wife team, and both of them were hysterical personalities. One has to wonder how they found each other. When I interviewed for the job the husband told me he hired mostly women who had never been to college. He could then "mold them into practical microbiologists!" He had a crazed look on his face when he said this, not unlike the Dr. Frankenstein seen in movies. Needing the job, I overlooked his obvious insanity.

In a nutshell, the job became increasingly dysfunctional, the quality of the product declined, the husband and wife became increasingly hysterical, the wife had a brain aneurism and died, and the lab shut down. By complaining to corporate management I inspired some of the women to do the same, and rather than replace the mad scientist, they closed the place. The mad scientist was "kicked upstairs." He was reassigned to the poultry division headquarters. Such is corporate life.

What made me think about this job was Bush's veto of a bill for funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells are primal cells that are capable of multiplying, and it is hoped that they offer cures for many diseases.

The procedures for growing stem cells is similar to what I participated in at the chicken vaccine lab. The difference, of course, is that human embryos are involved: cells that result from the union of human sperm and egg.

The "leftist" argument is that the cells are mere "blastocysts," a sterile term that for them reduces the issue to one of science. For "right to lifers," the cells are human lives, and to make cell cultures of them is heinous.

Actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve have been used as examples of people who could have been helped by embryonic stem cell research. Fox has Parkinson's disease, and Reeve died in 2004 from effects of a broken neck he incurred when he was thrown from a horse. As popular movie actors Fox and Reeve have been powerful examples, providing much emotional appeal.

I gave money to two Senate candidates last fall - Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill. My vast support, under $100, no doubt turned the elections in their favor. I donated to Webb before the "Macaca" incident, based on what I knew of him from his past service as Secretary of the Navy, and that he has been a longtime adversary of the criminal Oliver North. Claire McCaskill has been a proponent of stem-cell research, and her victory was credited to Rush Limbaugh's mimicking of Michael J. Fox.

You would think that I would be in favor of embryonic stem cell research, having donated to McCaskill's campaign, but I'm not. I agree alsmost completely with the "right to lifers." There's something creepy about doing cell culture on any animal form, I can attest, and doing it with a growing human life is very creepy. It is on a similar level to Nazi medical experiments during World War II. A reading of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World would provide insight into the kind of future we can expect if we follow this direction.

It is near-comedic that "leftists" argue that embryonic stem cell research is needed because of its potential in curing disease. What they are saying is that the end justifies the means. The end justifying the means is the same reasoning they accuse "right wingers" of employing to justify any number of criminal acts.

Whether we pursue embryonic stem cell research or not, we are all going to die. Death is part of life. There is a certain myth in "American" popular culture that the purpose of human life is to live as long as possible. Please. I'm 62 now. It gets harder every day. No amount of research, cures, therapies, or treatments are going to make the aging process last forever. Auto accidents alone ought to give us pause. Tornados, hurricanes, storms, floods, and earthquakes should give further pause. And, of course, wars.

Reckless sociopaths like Hitler, Stalin, and Bush should give more than pause. They sould give us a strong sense of vulnerability. Any "country," or the entire planet could be seized by such a mass murderer.

It is a strange irony that I would have the same view of stem cell research as the criminal Bush. There is a difference. Bush is a phony and a criminal sociopath. His opposition to embryonic stem cell research is not real, but political - meant to placate his support "base." A further irony is that I sent money to Claire McCaskill. I have no problem with this. Her opponent was a grandstander, and worse, a "Republican." Many evil schemes go with electing a "Republican."

Just in terms of politics alone, "Democrats" and "leftists" would do well to reconsider their support of embryonic stem cell research. They could take Bush's base right out from under him, and usher in his removal from office, were they not so swayed by "leftist" dogma.

I wrote about abortion previously, in Avidya Democrats could further secure the "conservative" base by at least engaging in dialogue with "right to lifers." In some places this is already being done.

What is called for, I believe, is a sense of priority. All "issues" are not the same. The top priority should be to get out of "Iraq." It will reverse the momentum of the Bush crime family's empire dream, and especially will prevent his attack on "Iran." Then he should be removed from office, and incarcerated for the rest of his life.

Once we have established a sense of right and wrong, we can move on to other issues, like climate change, the sustainability of our infinite growth economic system, health care, and distributive justice.

If we start solving these problems, the myth of living forever will be seen for what it is: a diversion, an illusion, and a waste of resources. The real goal of embryonic stem cell research is money. Money for the researchers, the Universities, and the corporations (who will be the ultimate beneficiaries, and already are), and of course, the politicians.

Somewhere along the way, maybe we can treat chickens better.

Here's a little update: Click


Blogger Betsy said...

If you have a gut feeling that it is wrong to mess around with "life" you are not alone. Many others do not feel that way although surprisingly younger people are more reluctant to accept abortion than older women. Why does one have a gut reaction? What if you don't? Can you be made to? But how? It appears we should be weeping every day for Darfur but we use another part of our brain. Bugs

6/24/2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

I'm not sure what "messing around with 'life'" means. Sex in the proverbial back seat of a Chevy is messing around with life. The torture experiments in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are also messing around with life. In my linked post Avidya I apparently didn't make my view on abortion clear enough. By itself, abortion is not a good thing. Neither is open-heart surgery. But in the context of a pregnant woman's life, an abortion may be the best choice. Open-heart surgery may be necessary to save a person's life. The person in question and the medical professional involved decide this between them. In both cases, it's nobody else's business.

With embryonic stem cell research, as with other concerns of the day, I suppose my perspective started with something akin to a "gut reaction." The mass production of human embryos is a movement down a path that has been taken before. The Tuskegee syphilis experiments are one example. The "CIA" has a long history of injecting people with hallucinogens, diseases, and poisons, to say nothing of secret sprayings of metropolitan areas.

I should write about Darfur one of these days. I can say in a nutshell that it's an allegory - vulnerable people being massacred by a state-sanctioned invader, oil wealth and greed the underlying motivation, and major "powers" juggling alliances and interests, actively doing little. If the rich and powerful had the intention of helping anyone anywhere, they would do it in Darfur. Ergo, they comprehensively have other intentions.

6/25/2007 10:12 AM  

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