Friday, November 23, 2007

The day-after-Thanksgiving Scalpel

Since my home computer is annoyingly slow, today I will do a Stiletto-esque compilation post rather than a series. Poll: Do you readers like this format better than individual posts, or not?

BIOLOGY

On age A13 of today's WSJ, Professors Maureen Condic and Markus Grompe write a more fleshed-out editorial about stem cells (see Wednesday's post about the front-page article). I won't repeat all the details, but they do explain the process of obtaining "induced pluripotent state cells (iPSCs)": Grow skin-biopsy cells, treat "with a combination of four reprogramming factors, inserted into the adult cells with a gene-therapy virus."

Not only do these iPSCs have "all the relevant properties that make embryonic stem cells so attractive," but they also avoid the whole issue of immune rejection. However...

It should be cautioned that this astonishing breakthrough will not produce immediate cures...The risk for tumor formation (a feature common to all pluripotent stem cells) is a grave concern, and the risk may be higher in iPSCs than in embryo-derived stem cells, because the genes used for reprogramming remain inserted in the cell.

There's still a lot of good news--not just for patients, but for researchers: since iPSCs are grown in the lab, scientists can "observe how human organs and tissues form. The insights garnered from such studies are likely to lead to the development of new drugs and strategies which can benefit human health."

Best of all: "This new finding offers the best possible outcome to a debate that for too long pitted science and ethics against each other."

POLITICS

On the same page, MI attorney general Mike Cox writes about the Supreme Court case in progress, Parker v. D.C., concerning the individual's right to bear arms (see this post by The Stiletto from November 9). Cox argues, based on the principles of original intent/context and of grammar, that the militia is not the only party to "keep and bear arms."

Reason 1: The rest of the Bill of Rights clearly says that "the right of the people" does not refer to the collective people of America, but rather to "an individual right...The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right [sic] are individual."

Reason 2: "Consider the grammar. The Second Amendment is about the right to 'keep and bear arms.' Before the conjunction 'and' there is a right to 'keep,' meaning to possess. This word would be superfluous if the Second Amendment were only about bearing arms as part of the state militia."

Reason 3: it's colonial history, stupid!

Our Founding Fathers lived in an era where there were arms in virtually every household. Most of America was rural or, even more accurately, frontier. The idea that in the 1780s the common man, living in the remote woods of the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania and Virginia, would depend on the indulgence of his individual state or colony--not to mention the new federal government--to possess and use arms in order to defend himself is ludicrous. From the Minutemen of Concord and Lexington to the irregulars at Yorktown, members of the militias marched into battle with privately-owned weapons.

Lastly: Guns don't kill people, criminals with guns kill law-abiding citizens who aren't allowed to own guns themselves.

RELIGION

In the Church today, not to mention in other religions, is a large controversy over tithing (W1 by Suzanne Sataline). Some denominations require the full 10% (disclosure: Give your firstfruits and live within your means. I do); others merely exhort their parishioners to give whatever they feel like. Mormonism uses the 10% marker as a bar to "temples where ceremonies take place." Islam requires the zakat (2.5% per year of "the market value of a believer's assets"). Judaism has membership fees (!). So why is this such a big deal?

Opponents of tithing give several reasons not to adhere to the 10%-minimum standard. NJ lawyer John Magrino says that "It's my money to do with what I want." (Really? "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" - Ps. 24:1, NIV) According to professor Andreas Kostenberger (Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC), "if you add up all taxes paid by the ancient Israelites, they exceed 10%, and that in the New Testament there's no percentage rule."

Pro-tithers cite "giving till it hurts" as a marker of God's blessing; a Rev. John Hagee in Texas teaches, "'If you obey God and you tithe, God will return it to you 30, 60, 100 fold.'" In addition, since churches are not tax-supported, "If everyone gives 2% of their income because that's what they feel like giving, you aren't going to have money to pay the light bill and keep the doors open," according to Duane Rice of the Evangelical Friends International.

My take: Since all that you have is God's anyway, joyfully give at least 10%. This article coincides nicely with my church's emphasis on knowing and increasing your "spiritual numbers" - i.e. time (singing in the church choir, going to Bible study, etc.), talents (e.g. using your mechanical skills to fix the church's A/C), and treasures (money and/or possessions). Too many people can't give 6/10 of 1% of their time (one hour out of 168 per week) to even go to church.

One small sidetrack: "Many Christians who don't read the Bible literally say that by tithing they are not misreading the text, but rather interpreting it differently." Really? There's more than one *interpretation* of Scripture? (Note: "Interpretation" does not mean "application" or "fulfillment," as in several prophecies fulfilled at the time given and also later.)

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