Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Voodoo Doughnut

My time in Portland ended better than it began. The snow finally melted (off the roads, anyway), and that enabled me to get out and visit friends, do a little shopping, and patronize the world-famous Voodoo Doughnut & Wedding Chapel, where I enjoyed a Bacon Maple Bar. It was my first time to Voodoo Donut, but it won't be the last. Two and a half minutes:

Want more? Here's a 6-minute video that profiles several of the classics, including the late, lamented Nyquil and Pepto-Bismol Donuts:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Plants Have Rights, Too (?)

When I was a kid, we were told that houseplants would grow better if we would talk to them nicely, but this is getting ridiculous. Back in October, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature that aptly illustrates how far environmentalist nonsense can go. If anyone wonders why I've railed so often against global warming pseudo-science, it's because, left unchecked, we'll end up degrading the primacy of mankind by emphasizing the "rights" of rivers, plants, and for all I know, toenail fungus.

Judge for yourself. Here's an abridged version of the article, which you should be able to read in its entirety here.

OCTOBER 10, 2008
Switzerland's Green Power Revolution: Ethicists Ponder Plants' Rights
Who Is to Say Flora Don't Have Feelings? Figuring Out What Wheat Would Want

ZURICH -- For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That's a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant's dignity.

"Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously," Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. "It's one more constraint on doing genetic research."

Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn't "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants. He eventually got the green light.

The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora's dignity.

"We couldn't start laughing and tell the government we're not going to do anything about it," says Markus Schefer, a member of the ethics panel and a professor of law at the University of Basel. "The constitution requires it."

In April, the team published a 22-page treatise on "the moral consideration of plants for their own sake." It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, "decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason."

On the question of genetic modification, most of the panel argued that the dignity of plants could be safeguarded "as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptive ability, are ensured." In other words: It's wrong to genetically alter a plant and render it sterile.

Many scientists interpret the dignity rule as applying mainly to field trials like Dr. Keller's, but some worry it may one day apply to lab studies as well. Another gripe: While Switzerland's stern laws defend lab animals and now plants from genetic tweaking, similar protections haven't been granted to snails and drosophila flies, which are commonly used in genetic experiments.

It also begs an obvious, if unrelated question: For a carrot, is there a more mortifying fate than being peeled, chopped and dropped into boiling water?

"Where does it stop?" asks Yves Poirier, a molecular biologist at the laboratory of plant biotechnology at the University of Lausanne. "Should we now defend the dignity of microbes and viruses?"


Several years ago, when Christof Sautter, a botanist at Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology, failed to get permission to do a local field trial on transgenic wheat, he moved the experiment to the U.S. He's too embarrassed to mention the new dignity rule to his American colleagues. "They'll think Swiss people are crazy," he says.

Defenders of the law argue that it reflects a broader, progressive effort to protect the sanctity of living things. Last month, Switzerland granted new rights to all "social animals." Prospective dog owners must take a four-hour course on pet care before they can buy a canine companion, while anglers must learn to catch fish humanely. Fish can't be kept in aquariums that are transparent on all sides. The fish need some shelter. Nor can goldfish be flushed down a toilet to an inglorious end; they must first be anesthetized with special chemicals, and then killed.


Dr. Keller in Zurich has more mundane concerns. He wants to breed wheat that can resist powdery mildew. In lab experiments, Dr. Keller found that by transferring certain genes from barley to wheat, he could make the wheat resistant to disease.

When applying for a larger field trial, he ran into the thorny question of plant dignity. Plants don't have a nervous system and probably can't feel pain, but no one knows for sure. So Dr. Keller argued that by protecting wheat from fungus he was actually helping the plant, not violating its dignity -- and helping society in the process.

One morning recently, he stood by a field near Zurich where the three-year trial with transgenic wheat is under way. His observations suggest that the transgenic wheat does well in the wild. Yet Dr. Keller's troubles aren't over.

In June, about 35 members of a group opposed to the genetic modification of crops, invaded the test field. Clad in white overalls and masks, they scythed and trampled the plants, causing plenty of damage.

"They just cut them," says Dr. Keller, gesturing to wheat stumps left in the field. "Where's the dignity in that?"

Want more? Here's an official document from the (Swiss) Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology, with the subtitle, "Moral Consideration of Plants for their Own Sake." If you can read it without incredulity, then you are the kind of person who scares me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Christmas Art Ever?

(I have no idea as to the original source of this. If you know, please clue me in.)

I am Not an Imposition, Part 5

I’m still in Portland, and still snowbound until probably tomorrow. Now that Portland has officially recorded the snowiest December on record - 16 inches, so far (and a drift of 21 inches outside my mom’s front door) - it seems like a good time to continue my series on environmentalism, a series that obviously has relevance to global warming and how we talk about it.

I’ve been offering excerpts from the book, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. The previous installment can be found here.

Here’s the conclusion of the Jewish point of view:

If…there is a God, then everything changes. If there is a God who has created us, then each and every human person has infinite value, and none can be sacrificed for the sake of nature or some abstract cause. (p. 31)
The chapter on the Catholic view offers this:

Nowhere does revelation suggest (as do some contemporary religious and secular environmentalists) that creation, undisturbed by human intervention, is the final order God intended…. The human person and the natural world are never ascribed the same dignity.

Some would argue that if man refrains from exercising dominion over nature, nature would be better off. Yet the issue bearing the greatest importance is whether man would be better off. When man does not exercise dominion over nature, nature will exercise dominion over man and cause tremendous suffering for the human family….We alone, of all God’s earthly creatures, have the power, intelligence, and responsibility to help order the world in accord with divine providence and thus minimize the effects of natural evil. (pp. 39-40)
And this comes from the Protestant/Evangelical view:

Some environmentalists, especially those in the “Deep Ecology” movement, divinize the earth and insist on “biological egalitarianism,” the equal value and rights of all life forms, in the mistaken notion that this will raise human respect for the earth. Instead, this philosophy negates the biblical affirmation of the human person’s unique role as steward and eliminates the very rationale for human care for creation. The quest for the humane treatment of beasts by lowering people to the level of nimals leads only to the beastly treatment of humans. (p. 69)

In the three months since my previous installment from this book, it seems that the clamor about global warming has subsided. The current economic crisis has shown that the environmental “emergency” has become less of one in the face of joblessness and recession. But I have little doubt that the subject will heat up again once the economy does, too. Here are some of the key points I wish we’d keep in mind as the discussion continues:

  • Man(kind) is the pinnacle of God’s creation.
  • As such, we are superior to all plants and all animals. We have value, dignity, and eternal consequence that nothing else in creation has.
  • We have been given earth to manage for the benefit of mankind; we do not manage the earth for the benefit of the earth, per se.
  • All environmental discussions should consider the cost to humans of recommended policies.
  • Some costs are in fact too much to pay.

    I’m sure that’s not all, but it’s a good start.

And since this is Christmas, let's consider: Does not the incarnation of Christ itself say something about the exalted status of mankind in creation?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Worse Before Better

It's still snowing in Portland. Amazing. Already it's a record (over a foot), with another 3 inches or so today. This evening or tomorrow, it's supposed to turn to rain. Who knows how long it'll take until all the roads are passable again?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So Much for Global Warming

I arrived in Portland, Oregon, earlier today (Saturday). I was supposed to arrive yesterday, but Delta cancelled my flight. They were nice enough to add a nonstop makeup flight this morning - and put me in first class - so I have nothing to complain about...except the weather.

It's snowing. And when it's not snowing, there's freezing rain. The temperature is 20 degrees and may not go above freezing until Wednesday. In my mom's neighborhood, the snow/ice on the roads is several inches deep, with drifts knee-high. The DOT requires chains on all state routes, but even chains aren't enough to guarantee traction.

So we're homebound for at least the next couple days.
(In case you didn't know, the typical highs this time of year are about 40 degrees. A little global warming right now would be nice.)

Photo: Found online on , taken in my part of town earlier this evening.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crime Mashup

Sorry I haven't been posting much, lately. Things have been crazy busy. But here's something to keep you entertained for a while: a website that mashes up police reports with Google maps.

Just go to, enter your address, and if your police department is participating, you'll see a graphic representation of what crimes have appeared where. You can manipulate the display to change time periods or types of crimes displayed. Very cool. And free.

So far, I've figured out that my part of Sandy Springs (GA) is pretty safe, but my mother in Portland (OR) seems to be living in mortal danger. Maybe I should get her a gun for Christmas...but considering she refuses to use a cellphone and doesn't know how to adjust her thermostat, that's not gonna happen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Things You Don't Hear in Every Discipleship Group (But You Will Hear in Mine)

We have some great discussions in the discipleship group I'm co-leading this year. I appreciate the honesty and the engagement level of each one of the guys. But we're all a bit quirky (who isn't, once you get to know them?), so some unusual things can get said during the course of the evening. Here's a gem from last night:

I almost feel like, "If none of this is true, how come I'm not eating people?"

Photo: Jeffrey Dahmer, murderer, necrophiliac, cannibal. A prison video of him professing a newfound faith in Christ can be found here (5 minutes).