Friday, July 29, 2005

Them Sell Research

Today I read an entirely troubling article.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if the author (William Saletan) is being brilliantly facetious or frighteningly moronic. Check it out and decide for yourself. For the sake of this post, I’m just going to take issue with the argument Saletan presents - whether he was serious or not.

The article is about stem cell research and “fetus farms”, a nickname attached to the reprehensible idea that fetuses will be “grown” for the harvesting of organs – both for research and organ replacement. The fear of fetus farms has led to a limit on the age of embryos which can be used in stem-cell research. Currently, no embryos older than 14 days can be used in scientific research. There were several reasons for this 14 day limit, chief among them was the belief that without a limit some would go ahead with fetus farming. Another was the belief that after 14 days an embryo’s utility – that is, their practical value in stem-cell research – plummeted significantly. Recent studies controvert the limited utility of older embryos. Saletan’s column starts with this premise: that research on embryos is useful until the 8th week, and argues that the ethical line for restricting research on embryos should be 8 weeks, rather than 14 days.

But don’t be mislead – Saletan doesn’t define “ethical” as synonymous with utility. Instead he sets his goal by reference to utility, and then goes about working out “ethical” to meet that goal. He presents real arguments for why we should allow research on embryos up to the age of 8 weeks, and they’re all legitimate arguments (distinguishing them from an argument which replaces the content of ethical with whatever utility dictates). The problem is, Saletan’s arguments are weak. He simply throws out a reason - for example, pain can’t be felt until there is a developed nervous system and there’s no developed nervous system until week 6 – and uses that reason as a stepping stone on his path to the 8th week. He never stops to consider the merits of his argument, but is simply satisfied by their mere existence.

This, my friends, is troubling. When we draw ethical lines our criteria should be the strongest arguments available – not simply convenient justifications. If our ethical convictions matter enough that we feel compelled to respond to them with bright line rules, why are we undermining our ethical views with deference to utility? We sacrifice our ethical integrity when we embrace the dehumanizing mechanics of utility. We can serve only one.

Of course, when the 14 day limit was laid out, it was also an ethical decision based on compromise and convenience. Ahhh, politics. (For more on why that was a bad decision see my article on the beginning of life).

Towards the end of his article Saletan writes “This matches the medical definition of an embryo: ‘the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception.’ By drawing a bright line between the embryo and the fetus, we avoid the moral perils of ‘fetus farming.’”

It’s this line that makes me think Saletan must be facetious in his writing. Because it doesn’t matter what we call it – “fetus farming” or “embryo farming” – the moral dilemma – the action itself – is the same. We don’t avoid the moral perils if the line we draw is as thin a day. There is no meaningful difference between selecting 8 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and selecting 9 weeks.

An arbitrary point on a continuum cannot give rise to an ethical “bright line.”
Whether he’s brilliantly sarcastic or offensively stupid, by pushing the issue, Saletan shows us just how absurd it can be to draw an ethical line without first devoting ourselves to discovering the strongest ethical position.

No matter which way you go
No matter which way you stay
You’re out of my mind

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

If I Only Had a Job

No, no Job as in employment, not the Biblical character.

Today I signed up for interviews with several firms, most of which were located in D.C.
I am hoping for two things. First, that I actually secure time slots with firms, and second, that by some fluke of nature, the interviews lead to call backs, which lead to job offers.

If, by some even stranger fluke of nature, a passing reader decides that starting next July/August (allowing a couple months for bar passage) they'd like to hire someone with a J.D. from the prestigious Georgetown University Law Center, I'd be happy to talk. I have been employed as a Summer Law Clerk for the prestigious USBancorp Business Equipment Finance Group, one of a number of prestigious subsidiaries of the prestigious US Bank. I have further held the prestigious position of Law Clerk for the prestigious institution of Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance. I should also note that I am one of the Annual Survey Editors on the prestigious American Criminal Law Review, that I was a member of the prestigious Georgetown Street Law Clinic through which I taught prestigious young rollas at the prestigious Dunbar Highschool, and that I hold a very prestigious license which certifies me to drive a fork lift.

I could while away the hours
Conferring with the flowers

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Out of This Blog

From now on what used to be called "Thoughtoids" will simply be untitled or titled after one of the individual random sections. I just don't like the word "Thoughtoids". Deal.

I think it would be awesome if the Twins traded for Melvin Mora. The Orioles need pitching, the Twins have it. Someone like Joe Mays (who is in the last year of his contract) could be perfect. Mays costs more this year than Mora, and so the Twins would like that part of it. Though Mora does have 2 years left on his contract, the Twins should still pull the trigger if the O's want the deal, because Mora has the potential to pay off well for this year and beyond. It might be that we'd have to give up a bullpen arm or reasonable prospect in addition to Mays, but I still think that it would be a good trade for both teams. Someone get me Terry Ryan's e-mail address.

It was recently announced that Minnesota hit an all-time low for abortions. This is good news, whether you're pro-life or not. Fewer abortions means we're doing a better job addressing the problems which lead children being unwanted. Key among the statistics was that 2,000 women who sought abortions changed their minds after receiving more complete information about the operation and alternatives, under the relatively new "Right to Know" bill. Minnesota is one of the latter states in passing such a bill, which gives women information about abortion, including details of the operation, the potential effects, harms, and alternatives. I shudder to think of all the abortions which were the result of uninformed decisions. Again, this is something I think everyone can get behind - pro-life and pro-choice - informing people before they make major medical decisions is a good thing.

I'm not going to review it, but everyone should go see Batman Begins. Best Batman movie ever. And not by a small amount either.

And finally, my summer job is going really well. But sometimes I get really strange tasks. The other day I was assigned to figure out the Statute of Limitations on contract claims for all the Canadian provinces. The information was not readily available, and at one point I was afraid that I would have to call Canada. I imagined it would go a little something like this:

"Hello, Canada?"
"Dis is Canadah, whacha callin aboot?"
"I was wondering if you could tell me the Statutes of Limitations for contract claims?"
"Fur which Prahvince, eh?"
"Um, for all of them."
"Yeah, ya know, I don't got dose here wit me, but uh, I cahn send ya some maaple syrup, eh?"

Unless of course I get the French speaking part of Canada, in which case the conversation will be more like:

"Hello, Canada?"

Go-cart Mozart was checkin' out the weather chart

Friday, July 01, 2005

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds is what you might call an A version of a B movie. The tension is high, and the effects are everywhere - as are the aliens - but there's surprisingly little explanation. We don't know why the aliens attack. We don't know where they come from. We don't know how we can stop them. I suppose in that way this movie depicts precisely what a real-life invasion would be like.

But for a movie, we need more. We're staring up at a screen, not a giant Tripod. We're camped out in our seats, not huddled under any structure left standing. We're snackers, not the snacks. And we need to know the story - at least for this type of movie we do. In his most famous alien-encounter movies Spielberg does an excellent job exploring the mind of the visitor. We understand ET because he's lost and lonely. We spend time getting to know the curious visitors in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. War of the Worlds is a completely different type of exploration all together - it's like exploring what we would do if we were thrown into a gigantic blender.

Of course, Spielberg knows his stuff, and the movie is big on fun and excitement. And, for that matter, it's slightly touching as well. Spielberg develops the relationship between a divorced father (Tom Cruise) and his two children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin). He's far from the perfect father - and for once, that's true at the end of the movie as well. Oh sure, he grows, and their relationships are better for it - but with one or two small exceptions - there's no big moment of revelation. Though there are certainly small, poignant moments, (watch for the scene on the boat), at no point does the father put it all together to become super-dad. It's a believable relationship. At least, as believable as can be expected when there's aliens running around.

With a depth of character - and a presumably enormous budget given the can't-miss status of Spielberg/Cruise - this movie transcends the typical sci-fi B movie realm. Sure, there are the late-night movie standbys - Tripods wreaking havoc, cities lying in ruins, mysterious landscapes, etc. - but War does them well.

[I'm going to digress for a second hear to mention another Sci-Fi movie that's in the works: The Tripods. It's expected for 2007, and based on a trilogy of books written by John Christopher. I'm not sure how quickly this will move forward now, because, having read the books long ago, it sure looked to me like Spielberg had read them too. But there's always new ways of doing things, so hopefully this project can still progress.]

Finally though, I should note, that when H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds he was creating something new and exciting, which gripped the imagination and became a classic. It would be difficult for anyone to capture the imagination in the same way, with the same material. Particularly in light of the many well-done Sci-Fi films which have come before this one. War of the Worlds as a book opened the door on a new possibility. War of the Worlds as a film only looks in to see that same possibility from a slightly different angle.

No, this film doesn't have the same power as the novel. And no this film won't become a classic like ET or Close Encounters or any other predecessor. But War of the Worlds is still an amazingly well done film. And it's one heck of a fun blender ride.
I give it a B+