Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No Middle Ground

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters has some pithy thoughts on the recent Israeli raid on the Syrian nuclear station, or whatever it was:

Between July and September, weeks of high-level talks took place [between the U.S. and Israel]. The Israelis wanted to destroy the facility immediately, and had some support from the American intelligence community that had managed to miss this development. However, Condoleezza Rice and others did not. They wanted to "confront" the Syrians first -- as the Jerusalem Post puts it, to scold Assad publicly for operating a nuclear facility.

Yes, I'm sure that would have been effective. Publicly scolding them over the Hariri assassination only resulted in five more car-bomb assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon since then. Fingerwagging has done so much to curtail their material support for Hezbollah, too.

The Israelis, who actually originated the "Bush doctrine" decades ago, appear to be the only nation still using it. They probably have concluded that they cannot rely on American will to protect them from Syria and Iran any longer, especially after this episode. The US opposed the raid up to the moment it occurred, afraid of destabilizing the region. Israel, more worried about the consequences of a nuclear Syria -- something that should worry us as well -- simply ignored Washington after weeks of argument and acted in its own self-interest.

If Morrissey is correct what he writes demonstrates the futility of trying to talk people out of doing what they're determined to do. In this case our State Department talkers no doubt told Syria that if they don't give up their plans to finish this facility they would lose it and Syria no doubt thought they could stop any attack with their new Russian air defense system (which proved totally useless). But here's the point, nothing deters these people except the credible threat of annihilation. There are things we could do short of war - sanctions, blockades, etc. - but all of these ultimately lead to war. Not Iraq under Saddam, not Syria under Assad, not Iran under the mullahs and A'Jad could be, or will be, deterred from their determination to establish radical Islamic hegemony throughout the entire Middle East and eventually the world apart from war or credible threat of war.

The tragic truth appears to be that we either accept a nuclear armed Syria and Iran or be prepared to go to war with them to prevent them from having nuclear weapons. Both options are fraught with danger and calamity, but in the end the Islamists seem determined to leave us no middle ground.


Re: Cold Case Smear

My friend Steve offers an eloquent defense of Cold Case and urges that the series not be judged on the basis of one episode that may, or may not, have wandered out of bounds. I've posted his response here and on our feedback page:

My wife and I might be the only parents in America who actually have to beg our 3-year-old son to watch tv from time to time. He really doesn't know how to watch it because it's almost never on in our house. But there is one show my wife and I have watched steadily for more than three years now: Cold Case.

I was traveling recently and missed the controversial show referenced in this blog in which some renegade Christians stone a girl to death. I'll definitely need to see that one before I comment at all on it. But as a Roman Catholic, I've always found Cold Case's portrayal of religious faith, particularly Catholicism, to be sensitive, insightful and quite compelling. My wife and I watch this show largely because of its very powerful storytelling. Its characters are complex, and the show is relentless in exploring the awful capacity for evil that humans have as well as the toughness and goodness that allows us to endure horrible things and try to right them.

Religion is of course a major part of our society, so Cold Case is bound to take on themes of faith in some episodes. When it does, the depiction of religion has frankly been overwhelmingly positive. If you watch the show consistenly as I have, you learn that the police lieutenant who serves as the boss for the show's detectives has a brother who is a Catholic priest - and he's quite proud of that. During one show, when a detective suggests that a young boy might have been murdered years before by a priest, the lieutenant snaps, "Just because he's a priest doesn't mean he's a pedophile." And by the end of the show, it turns out the priest is the good guy. In other episodes, a young girl in mortal danger from her father is left by her mother in a Catholic church that takes care of her. In another show about drug trafficking, a flawed but fearless Latin American priest stands up bravely for Latino women against savage drug dealers. There are other examples along these lines, but you get the idea: Cold Case takes religious faith very seriously.

I don't know much about the background of the show's producers and writers, but my guess is that at least some of them are religious themselves. Cold Case is rich in religious symbolism, and its stories are largely about evil, love and forgiveness. It sometimes shows us things we don't want to see or think about, but it does so artfully and memorably. Even if the show went astray a bit with its recent controversial episode - and I'll need to see it first to decide - it has a long track record of being a friend of faith. And in our modern television culture, the faithful among us need all the friends we can find.

Good points, all. So, has anyone actually seen the episode that the article our post was based upon made reference to? If so, was it as bad as the article claimed? Please share your thoughts with us.


Man-Made DNA

The Guardian has a story that sends the needle on our hype detector soaring into the red zone. According to the article Dr. Craig Venter, a DNA researcher:

"is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth...The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes."

The technical achievement seems quite impressive, but it seems somewhat of a stretch to claim that Dr. Venter's lab has created a new life form. What Dr. Venter has done, and we don't minimize the achievement, is to construct a chromosome out of the raw chemical materials of DNA and insert it into a bacterium. This is a notable technical accomplishment, but it's a long way from creating a new form of life. The Guardian continues:

The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome ... is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form.

It will not be a new life form. It will still be a bacterium. It may, if the synthetic chromosome can successfully integrate with the cell's biochemical machinery, have different characteristics than any bacterium that existed before, but that no more makes it a "new life form" than a new variety of roses is a new life form.

The Guardian seems to recognize that it has overstated things a bit and tries to pull back somewhat from its earlier claim:

The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

In other words, what Dr. Venter will be doing is a bit like inserting a new operating system into a computer. This is not the same as inventing a whole new kind of computer. It's not clear from the article that the new chromosome will even function in the cell, but if it does what Dr. Venter has done will be to have designed a program for a computer that will make the computer do things it didn't do before.

The Guardian then adds this disturbing quote from Dr. Venter:

"We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking," he said. "We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can't expect everybody to be happy."

A new value system for life? What does that mean? Aldous Huxley must be smiling.