eNews For The Week Of November 22, 2011
In This Week’s Issue
- Iran Should Have Gone Solar - (Read)
- Genetic Engineering: Toward The Super Human? - (Read)
- Child Abuse Scandal And The Court Of Public Opinion - (Read)
Memory Verse of the Week
Important News Headlines
Mariano Rajoy's Partido Popular has won a thumping victory in Spain: nearly eleven million votes to the Socialists' seven million, 186 seats to their 110. Spain has entrusted her future wholly to the conservatives. Only three per cent of EU nationals now live under Left-led governments. Yet spending continues to rise (except on defence), bureaucracies continue to grow, powers continue to shift from national capitals to Brussels. Which brings us up against a hard truth. As long as most laws come from Brussels, and as long as economic policy comes from Frankfurt, it doesn't seem to matter much how Europe votes. We'll see.
This Week’s 66/40 Radio Broadcast
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What are Christians called to do during these turbulent times?
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Articles And Commentary
IRAN SHOULD HAVE GONE SOLAR
The United States, United Kingdom and Canada are making another effort to force Iran to shut down its developing nuclear program through a series of new sanctions against its petrochemical industry. If half the world refuses to buy Iranian refined oil and gas, Tehran will be forced to negotiate lower prices with the remaining buyers, which will pinch its penny purse. If it were really all about developing a source of energy, Iran would have done better to pursue an alternative like hi-we-live-in-the-desert solar power.
Solar energy has sat simmering on the back burner for decades because of its expense, despite its reputation for being clean, safe, and renewable. Unlike nuclear power however, solar power doesn't provide the constant headache of radioactive waste disposal, potential meltdowns that mutate the local squirrel and rabbit populations, superpower boycotts, or unpleasant explosions care of Israel.
Solar power is finally beginning to take off, with kudos to Germany. Germany now gets 20 percent of its power through renewable energy, and because of its heavy investment in solar power, it has helped reduce the cost of solar power for the rest of the world's buyers. That's the problem with any new technology; it remains expensive until the masses whip out their wallets consistently enough to make it cost effective to bring the price down. Solar power has finally become almost affordable in part because of Germany's willingness to support solar photovoltaic technology.
In fact, home builders are finally getting into gear and designing solar-power friendly homes. KB Homes, one of America's largest home building companies, now offers solar energy systems to home buyers in search of reducing their electric bills. The company advertises its homes as highly energy efficient to begin with, but it also started installing 1.4 kWp SunPower systems in ten of its new communities in Southern California in March, 2011. The company now has 28 participating communities, with more than half using up to 2.25 kWp or 3.15 kWp systems as standard.
Solar power can do more than just harness the sun's energy to run our toasters, though. For decades, scientists have sought to "split water" and use the resulting free hydrogen for energy, but the process has proved slow and expensive. Solar technology company HyperSolar Inc. has filed to patent a technology that uses solar nanoparticles to separate out hydrogen from wastewater. The water itself is not split. There is no molecular oxygen (O2) produced. The tiny self-contained photoelectrochemical systems contain a solar absorber that photo-oxidizes organic wastewater using some of the basic chemistry that plants use in photosynthesis so that molecular hydrogen and clean water are both produced at the same time, and byproducts are left behind. The pure hydrogen is then reacted with carbon dioxide through the Sabatier process, which produces methane and water as an end result.
There is great appeal in the prospect of using wastewater to produce a replacement for natural gas. Every municipality has wastewater. If energy can be produced using clean, carbon neutral methane from local wastewater treatment facilities without fracking or drilling it from the ground, converting much-maligned carbon dioxide at the same time, it would certainly mitigate the energy crisis. Every little bit helps.
There are difficulties associated with any form of energy production, and solar power is no different. Solar photovoltaic technology provides clean energy from the sun, but the panels themselves are fragile and require maintenance and replacement. The panels also take up space, and a large number of panels are required to produce a useful amount of energy. American PV companies are running into competition with China now, which will help cut prices for consumers, but will also pinch the United States PV industry.
Yet, there is a great deal of room for expansion both in America and across the world. PV panels on rooftops would provide energy inside rather than a heat island effect outside. We should appreciate the many little things that can be done to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
If Iran were truly interested in energy, going solar would be a good way to decrease the animosity of the rest of the world and free it from the heavy pile of sanctions harming its economy. It seems clear, however, that Iran's leadership has not focused on using nuclear technology just to make energy. It has recently been revealed that Iran has been studying the explosion of nuclear bombs via computer models as well as doing research on mounting nuclear warheads on its Shahab-3 long-range missiles. That's not encouraging. It's reasonable to assume that ultimately, Iran's leaders don't simply want more energy; they want more power.
GENETIC ENGINEERING: TOWARD THE SUPER HUMAN?
"We're going to make synthetic human genomes and edit them, and we're going to end up with IVF technologies that can boot them. It will make cloning look organic, and the ways we have babies today quaint." - Singularity University bioinformatics and biotechnology co-chair Andrew Hessel
Super human soldiers. They could run fifty miles at top speed, far outpacing even well-trained, experienced runners. They could endure freezing cold or blistering heat. They wouldn't have to worry about obesity, and they would outlive all of us.
We're not aware of any that exist right now, but they are not out of the realm of possibility. The technology to build a designer genome is no longer beyond the stretch of our fingertips. Like a cook throwing together different ingredients in a bowl, today's biochemists have the ability to toss this bit and that bit of genetic code together in order to make creatures that run faster and longer and defy the normal aging process. The problem is no longer, "Can we?" As serious as it's ever been asked before, the question of, "Should we?" must be carefully answered.
Genetic massaging has become widespread. Students at the University of Washington won a genetic engineering contest in early November after they built an enzyme that can convert simple carbohydrates into diesel. They plugged the enzyme into bacteria and set the bugs to consuming sugar. Another UW project genetically engineered bacteria to help people digest gluten.
Genetic engineering has offered a wide array of useful applications, however bizarre and questionable the changes to their genetic codes. Goats have had spider-silk protein genes inserted into them so that their milk produces large supplies of silk. Pigs have had spinach genes added to their code to make them less fat and supposedly healthier to eat.
Toward Eternal Youth:
Gene therapy is a burgeoning field of interest, and a multitude of genetically modified mice are being used as test subjects for therapies that could possibly one day help humans.
Earlier this month, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN released a study in which mice had been genetically modified so that their senescent cells self-destructed when the mice were dosed with a specific drug. Senescent cells are those which continue to survive after they've lost the ability to divide. These old cells accumulate in the aging tissues of the body; in arthritic hands and cataracts in the eyes. The immune system regularly removes senescent cells from tissues during an animal's life, but does so less efficiently as it grows older. Through gene engineering, researchers at the Mayo Clinic were able to purge the mice of their senescent cells, effectively slowing the aging effect these old cells have on the tissues. The mice did not develop cataracts, were able to run for longer periods on a treadmill at older ages, and retained the fat layers that would have otherwise thinned and caused the wrinkles we recognize in older people.
"I am very excited by the results," said Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, an expert on aging at the University of North Carolina. "It suggests therapies that might work in real patients," he said.
Some scientists consider the possibility of modifying the genetic code as a form of "forward evolution."
The Pentagon is pouring $400 million per year to find ways to physically improve American soldiers. Lockheed Martin has taken its own spin on Marvel Comics and produced a "Hulc" (Human Universal Load Carrier) for the military. It won't make our soldiers look quite like either the Hulk or Iron Man, but it is a battery-powered exoskeleton that helps humans carry 100kg weights and run with them at 10mph.
Still, soldiers have to sleep some time. What if we could build a race of stronger, tougher, faster super soldiers that could carry heavy loads long distances without requiring an expensive suit?
Just four years ago, in November 2007, biochemists at Case Western Reserve University at Cleveland produced a mouse that had been genetically engineered to run 20 meters per minute for five hours without stopping, encouraged onward simply by the smell of female pheromones at the end of the track. The comparison wild-type mouse gave up after about 10 minutes.
Researcher Richard Hanson described the colony of genetically altered mice, saying, "They are metabolically similar to Lance Armstrong biking up the Pyrenees. They utilize mainly fatty acids for energy and produce very little lactic acid. They are not eating or drinking and yet they can run for four or five hours. They are 10 times more active than ordinary mice in their home cage. They also live longer - up to three years of age - and are reproductively active for almost three years. In short, they are remarkable animals."
These mice were genetically modified so that they produce up to 100 times higher concentrations of the PEPCK-C enzyme in their muscles than wild-type mice. The PEPCK-C enzyme is usually found primarily in the liver and kidneys. The increase of this enzyme in their muscles vastly improved the metabolism of the genetically modified mice, so that even the babies, "popped around the cage like popcorn."
The Cleveland super mice might not have had to eat while they ran for five hours, but they did generally have massive appetites. They also had attitudes.
"On the downside," Hanson said, "they eat twice as much as control mice, but they are half the weight, and are very aggressive. Why this is the case, we are not really sure."
Human beings have the same gene to produce the higher concentrations of the PEPCK-C enzyme that the mice do, but we need to be extremely cautious before we try to "improve" the human genetic code. We run into serious ethical issues involved in the calculated act of piecing together a human being as though he were a machine. There are also practical issues. If we were able to produce test tube babies that have strength and stamina far beyond normal limits, it could be a problem if they turned out to be violent, stubborn sex maniacs who eat everything in the house and refuse to die.
CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL AND THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
The recent sex abuse scandal at Penn State University has brought to the forefront a polarizing conflict: How do we protect our children from sexual abuse, and at the same time avoid "witch hunts" based on premature or even false allegations that can ruin lives as surely as actual abuse cases?
Complicating the issue is the cultural construct of being "tried in the court of public opinion," in which the media often does more than the actual legal system to determine a person's fate.
The current Penn State scandal highlights the problem. Jerry Sandusky, a defensive coach for a two-time national championship football team and operator of Second Mile charity, stands accused of sexually assaulting eight boys. There is ample evidence that something was amiss, and the failure to report at least one incident cost PSU president Graham Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno their jobs.
In a telephone interview with Bob Costas last week, Sandusky himself admitted, "I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact." Still, Sandusky vehemently denies the allegations of sexual abuse or that he is sexually attracted to young boys.
Yet, it isn't the words of Sandusky himself, the apparent cover-up by PSU administration, or even the expectation that more victims will come forward that is the epicenter of the scandal. No, the real focus now is on something else. A book.
In 2000, Sandusky published his autobiography, Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story. A very public investigation has erupted to re-evaluate Sandusky's words eleven years after the fact in light of the recent allegations. Yet this is neither fair to Sandusky nor to his accusers. There's no hard and fast scientific method to determine whether or not the text is an introspective written by a depraved pedophile. Else, the red flags should have shot up over a decade ago when the book first came out.
Sandusky may have abused those boys, and the administration may have looked the other way. If it's all true, then the lives of trusting children have been forever tainted and innocence lost without recourse. The possibility that other adults suspected wrong doing and did nothing demonstrates a severe dereliction of responsibility, of common human decency. Something went seriously wrong.
At the same time, Sandusky has not yet been convicted of anything. We do not actually know what happened. And so, the media wrongly dissects his book, garnishing what is an already very public scandal in order to add "newsworthy" controversy.
As CNN reporter Ann O'Neill writes, "His book…provides a glimpse of a man who is not very introspective and admits to his own immaturity. Even the title, ‘Touched,' seems creepy in hindsight, considering the sex charges lodged against him and the tender years of his accusers."
"He talks a lot in that book about hugging kids, about loving to be around kids," Patriot News editor David Newhouse told CNN's Piers Morgan. "There's some chilling things in that book, and it's only when you put them together with the allegations that you can see, perhaps, what he meant."
Analyzing his words through the lens of an eleven-year gap combined with the recent allegations is hardly valid. Sandusky may in fact be guilty, but the media should not encourage people to read things that are not there, visualizing demons that may not exist. We want to foster an environment in which victims feel free to come forward and criminals are brought to justice. We do not want to encourage witch hunts that tear apart the lives of innocent people.
While child abuse continues to be a problem in America, its numbers actually appear to be on the decline. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), substantiated claims of child sexual abuse more than halved - from 65,964 cases in 2009 down from about 150,000 in 1992. NCANDS has also stipulated that there could be an increased reluctance to report child sexual abuse because of a so-called "child abuse backlash”, an unwillingness to be accused of wrongly reporting child abuse.
This brings us back to the Penn State scandal. Did Sandusky sexually abuse eight boys? Did the PSU administration purposefully cover it up? Is it possible that an entire community was subjected to a predator for the sake of the reputation of its beloved football team?
Perhaps the allegations are unfounded. Perhaps Sandusky acted inappropriately, but without sexual intent or malice. On the other hand, the administration could have been unwilling to face a "child abuse backlash." The victims may have been afraid, and so took a decade to come forward.
In any of these scenarios, it seems that while legally the outcome will be determined in court and through the justice system, in practical terms, much has already been determined. Spanier and Paterno's legacy has been unalterably tarnished by the scandal. Sandusky will undoubtedly be viewed as a pedophile no matter the outcome. The victims and their families will be forced to endure a public re-hashing of what can only be a very painful memory. False accusers will get their "fifteen minutes" of fame, complete with book deals and media appearances.
Yet through all of this, the basic question will remain obfuscated; did we fail to protect eight boys, or did we allow the media's "court of public opinion" to once again expose innocent lives to unwarranted public scrutiny, which will in turn encourage future administrators and future victims to keep real abuse cases to themselves rather than report them when they happen?
When forced to choose, which will we embrace, the eradication of sexual predation, or the satisfaction of voyeuristic entertainment presented as news?
Memory Verse Of The Week
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20 KJV
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