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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Wednesday, June 05, 2002  
THE MANIPULATION OF LANGUAGE. I was disappointed to see that President Ford wrote a column in the Washington Post defending "therapeutic cloning." While Ford spends much of his time repeating the familiar argument that therapeutic cloning could improve or extend the lives of millions, the portion of the article that struck me the most was his attempt to distinguish between "reproductive cloning" (which he opposes) and therapeutic cloning:

"At the same time, this legislation [referring to proposed legislation that would outlaw reproductive cloning] would allow continued research into therapeutic cloning -- more precisely known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or nuclear transportation -- a very different branch of science that holds limitless potential to improve or extend life for 130 million Americans now suffering from some chronic or debilitating condition."

Although there are numerous things wrong with this paragraph, I will focus on only one -- the use of unfamiliar scientific terminology to obscure or confuse our common-sense understanding of reality. Ford says that therapeutic cloning (allegedly a "very different branch of science") is "more precisely" called "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or "nuclear transportation." While these words may be scientifically accurate, they are singularly unhelpful to resolving the debate over the morality and ethics of human cloning.

During my days at Harvard, I can recall pro-choice activists incredulously asking me if I really believed that a "blastocyst" or "fertilized egg" or "embryo" had as many rights as a "person" like them. Scientific terms were used to de-humanize the unborn child ("It's not a person; it's a blastocyst"). Yet all these terms were nothing other than scientific descriptions of the same thing: an unborn human life at an early stage of development -- a very, very young child.

Similarly, when a therapeutic cloning activist speaks of "nuclear transportation" or "somatic cell nuclear transfer," they are describing -- in science-speak -- how a cloner creates a human life. As this site explains, "both 'therapeutic' cloning and normal fertilization result in the production of an embryo." Although the cloned embryo is created by complex scientific methods rather than by the "natural" fertilization of an egg by a sperm, the result is still the same -- a human embryo, a distinct human life.

So, when someone is amazed at the fact that you have a moral objection to "somatic cell nuclear transfer," you can answer in the same way you would when questioned why you care about the fate of a "blastocyst." Every human life -- regardless of stage of development or method of conception or even term of description -- is precious and worthy of protection.

President Ford (and other cloning advocates), if you are going to speak in favor of cloning, please speak plainly. You believe that it is a moral imperative that certain human lives should be created then terminated -- so long as those lives are being terminated for the right kind of research.

No wonder Ford talks about "somatic cell nuclear transfer." In plain English, therapeutic cloning sounds a lot like experimental killing.

12:05 PM

Tuesday, June 04, 2002  
TRUSTING THE NEWS. Some weeks ago, I read a seemingly thorough -- and dispiriting -- Washington Post critique of the largely Christian-led slavery redemption movement in Sudan. According to the article, money that was intended to be used to buy captive Sudanese Christians out of slavery was frequently going to con artists who were "redeeming" individuals who had, in fact, never been slaves. The article was particularly dispiriting because it contained many of the hallmarks of a well-researched piece: it was in a reputable paper, a variety of sources were interviewed (including some on the ground in Sudan), and there was apparent corroboration of some of the article's essential allegations from even pro-redemption sources.

After I finished the piece, I was left with the feeling that one of Christian America's most well-intentioned programs -- a program that was building bridges between black and white Christian communities -- was seriously flawed and possibly even counterproductive.

Then I went to today's edition of National Review Online. In a rebuttal to the Washington Post, Charles Jacobs, President of the American Anti-Slavery Group, noted that the paper's article contained numerous flaws:

"The WP [Washington Post] never witnessed any slave-redemption activity.

"The WP never interviewed any redeemed slaves or slave retrievers, or any of the community leaders in Sudan whom they accuse of wrongdoing.

"The WP never found, identified, or produced a single false slave from among the 60,000-plus slaves CSI [Christian Solidarity International] has redeemed.

"The WP intentionally suppressed or ignored an abundance of credible evidence, from eyewitnesses and other sources, that confirm the validity of CSI's slave-liberation program — including numerous filmed interviews by visiting journalists who independently verified Arabic and Dinka interview translations.

"The WP turned down invitations to observe the Sudanese "Underground Railroad" in operation.

"In the midst of a political power struggle in the southern Sudanese leadership, the WP relied almost exclusively on remote sources who never witnessed CSI activity, but who had political axes to grind against the local leadership in the province most affected by slave-raiding.

"The WP suggested that thousands of illiterate black women and children, together with their chiefs and religious leaders, are crafty, conspiratorial liars.

"The WP relied solely on a single itinerant Italian Catholic priest, Fr. Mario Riva, who claimed that an (anonymous) black translator purposely mistranslated. What witnesses did the WP ignore? Fellows from Oxford and Yale universities; reporters from the Boston Globe, New York Times, Associated Press, and Oxygen; and native Arabic speakers from German state television."

When read again with these facts in mind, the Washington Post article now appears to be a virtual "hatchet job" against a good-hearted (though controversial) Christian outreach program. Although many Curve readers may not be familiar with the Sudanese slave redemption efforts -- or even really care about the effectiveness of those efforts or the public perception of the Christian ministries involved -- this miniature media scandal demonstrates once again how we must be proactive in our quest for truth. We cannot simply rely on the allegations of one newspaper (no matter how reputable), one network or one radio commentator. If we truly care about separating fact from fiction, we have to be persistent in our quest for information. There is, quite often, a "rest of the story."

I would submit that a generation of news-gathering passivity -- a generation of Americans who look to Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw -- as their "trusted" source for news has led Americans to view world events through a limited -- often biased -- prism. To understand the implications of various moves in the War on Terror, we have to do our homework. To truly understand the Culture War, we have to step outside mainstream media.

President Reagan had a saying when it came to America's dealings with the Soviet Union: "Trust, but verify." With respect to information from the mainstream media, this motto should be modified. There is no trust. The command is simple: "Verify."

11:26 AM

Monday, June 03, 2002  
CHILDREN'S GAMES -- FROM THE RELIGION OF PEACE. At my house, we entertain the kids with Veggie Tales. Some Muslim families, on the other hand, choose Islamic Fun -- a game that in addition to giving children opportunities to allow bears to fish and bunnies to race (the games are designed for ages as young as 5-7) also lets them engage in cute role-playing exercises like this: "You are a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading zionists."

In the game's "Resistance" module, every time you answer a question about the Koran or Muslim history correctly, you get a chance to kill Israeli soldiers. Glenn Reynolds' response is perfect: "If it were made up as a parody by Americans it would be called a viciously bigoted slur on a religion of peace. Since it's by and for Muslims, it's not even noticed. Apparently, some things are beyond parody."

8:19 AM

INDIA/PAKISTAN UPDATE. The wider world appears to finally understand the looming nightmare it faces on the subcontinent and is now working frantically to head off war. China and Russia have joined the United States and Britain's efforts to broker peace in the region, and multiple parties are calling on the leaders of India and Pakistan to meet face-to-face at this week's regional security summit.

As various parties call for dialogue, the Washington Post (in yet has another excellent article) has explained one of the reasons why the crisis is particularly dangerous -- India's military superiority superiority is so overwhelming that India's leaders may believe that war their best option.

As any serious student of history knows, the modern adage "violence never solved anything" is stupid and false. Violence solved Hitler and Tojo. Violence solved slavery in America, and violence solved the question of our nation's independence. While it is true that violence is sometimes pointless, it is equally true that it is sometimes necessary and prudent.

The status quo is unacceptable to India. It is routinely victimized by terrorist attacks, and India knows that many of these attacks come from terrorists that are housed, trained and based in Pakistan. Thus far, Pakistan has done very little to discourage these attacks or even to limit the movements of anti-Indian militants. Years of diplomacy have brought only more violence to Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Thus, India logically believes that it faces a choice between more talk (which has resulted in unacceptable levels of terrorist violence) or military action. Because India is militarily superior, it is reasonable for it to believe that it could rout the terrorists and end cross-border incursions from Pakistan. The only question is the cost. In other words, war -- while necessary (as the only way) to accomplish India's goals -- may not be prudent. I would submit that the only reason India has not already attacked Pakistan is the nuclear fear -- the fear that a Pakistani nuclear attack would make military action far more costly than even a hundred years of terrorist violence. However, if India believes that its overwhelming conventional military superiority would allow it to destroy the Pakistani terror infrastructure without having to launch a massive assault into the Pakistani heartland, then it may believe that it could contain any military action without giving Pakistan the excuse (like fear of national destruction) to launch its nuclear weapons.

This, I believe, is the real debate within India. Can it strike Pakistan and accomplish its military goals without facing nuclear retaliation? If India believes the answer to that question is yes, then there will be war -- no matter what the what the world wants.

7:57 AM

PARTICIPATING IN THE CULTURE OF SENSITIVITY. Over the weekend, the New York Times revealed that New York state public school officials were printing censored excerpts of literary works on New York's standardized tests. In other words, New York state officials had taken it upon themselves to cleanse various great books of "offensive" language before asking public school children to read and answer questions regarding the text. When I first began reading the Times piece, I assumed that I was going to be reading yet another story of P. C. excess -- one more story about how the cultural left imposes its racial and sexual vision on America. I was only partially correct.

The censored excerpts reveal the unmistakable influence of the cultural left and the cultural right:

"In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages -- drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others -- had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason. Students had to write essays and answer questions based on these doctored versions -- versions that were clearly marked as the work of the widely known authors." (emphasis added).

From years of experience in the P. C. bastions of Harvard, Cornell and New York City, I can see the left's fingerprints on the exclusion of any references to race, religion or ethnicity. However, only cultural conservatives (most likely, religious conservatives) would fight to exclude references to "sex, nudity, alcohol [and] even the mildest profanity." No wonder a large percentage of Americans see very little difference between the PC totalitarians on the left and religious conservatives on the right. They see no difference because -- in some ways -- there is no difference. We both seem to prefer imposition to persuasion.

I am tired of religious conservatives who want to shun the free (and sometimes offensive) marketplace of ideas in favor of a sanitized version of education and reality. If we want our children to be critical thinkers, to be able to engage the world, then they have to have some understanding of the world's thoughts. It's almost as if we -- in response to the excesses on the Left -- have pitched a childish fit and said, "Well, if they get to exclude anything racial, then we should get to exclude anything profane. It's only fair."

Please. We need to grow up . . . and get a thick skin. Let's separate ourselves from the culture of sensitivity and indoctrination. Instead, lets' argue for the the free and robust exchange of ideas, acknowledging that sometimes we'll hear things that we don't like. If we truly believe that we have the message of Ultimate Truth -- a message that is supported, enriched and empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, then we don't need help from the censors at the local public school board to transform a culture. We need only courage and the opportunity to speak.

Engage the world. It's fine to be offended. Suck it up, and respond with Christ-like love, courage and conviction.

Oh, and get your self-righteous hands off other people's writing. If you want literature to be transformed, change the writer's heart, don't rewrite his words.

7:24 AM

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