Playing God

Almost three years ago I wrote an article, “On human-whatever-species-else hybrids” and in it I posed a question that states, “Can the evince of both species features be manipulated?”. A year later, I wrote another article on a similar topic, “On human-avian hybrids“. In it I managed to cite the “latest” on research on human-animal hybrids.

nucleus of a cow eggThe two articles somehow contradicted each other as one cites the creation of a 32-celled human-bovine embryo while the other one cites a quote that leans to the impossibility of combination. Today, almost two years later, the top search result on Google on this topic is an article from two years ago. The article is not even about a group which aims to create recombinant species but for medicine – their goal is “the development of new therapies for debilitating human conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke”. Clearly, not much progress has been made in this area of science.

Then again, we can’t know about “top-secret” and “highly confidential” information using the surface of the web.

So, now the question goes down from whether it will be possible to control the evince of the species features to whether it will be possible to create a complete recombinant creature. As from before, there can be two sides to ask from.

First, the highly biblical people. Recombinant lifeforms are creatures which are never mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, if we ask some of them, as I have done, they will simply cite verses in the Bible that states something about creatures reproducing according to its kind. Also, they will cite about there only being one Creator and that Creator is not among humans. Therefore, it won’t be possible for recombinant creatures to have existed or to be created.

Second, the highly scientific people. From the 1960’s, when recombinant DNA technology first emerged, various research by numerous teams have been conducted that lead to the improvement of knowledge about DNA and its applications. It used to be that every attempt at recombination was a failure. But further research discovered significant components of the DNA that lead to the possibility of injecting foreign genes to an organism, either to add to its intrinsic value, to its aesthetic value, or, in a very straight-forward thought, to try to learn more about it and improve techniques.

As with combining different species, Leslie Pray of Nature Education in the article Recombinant DNA Technology and Transgenic Animals states,

The first actual recombinant animal cells weren’t developed until about a decade after the research conducted by Berg’s team, and most of the early studies involved mouse cells. In 1981, for example, Franklin Costantini and Elizabeth Lacy of the University of Oxford introduced rabbit DNA fragments containing the adult beta globin gene into murine (mouse) germ-line cells. (The beta globins are a family of polypeptides that serve as the subunits of hemoglobin molecules.) Another group of scientists had demonstrated that foreign genes could be successfully integrated into murine somatic cells, but this was the first demonstration of their integration into germ cells. In other words, Costantini and Lacy were the first to engineer an entire recombinant animal (albeit with relatively low efficiency).

Since these early studies, scientists have used recombinant DNA technologies to create many different types of recombinant animals, both for scientific study and for the profitable manufacturing of human proteins. For instance, mice, goats, and cows have all been engineered to create medically valuable proteins in their milk; moreover, hormones that were once isolated only in small amounts from human cadavers can now be mass-produced by genetically engineered cells. In fact, the entire biotechnology industry is based upon the ability to add new genes to cells, plants, and animals. As scientists discover important new proteins and genes, these technologies will continue to form the foundation of future generations of discoveries and medical advances.

However, as is always the case with new technology, various questions, ranging from the purely scientific to the ethical and moral, arise to challenge such knowledge. And, to quote from the same article above,

Interestingly, not long after the publication of his team’s 1972 study, Paul Berg led a voluntary moratorium in the scientific community against certain types of recombinant DNA research. Clearly, scientists have always been aware that the ability to manipulate the genome and mix and match genes from different organisms, even different species, raises immediate and serious questions about the potential hazards and risks of doing so — implications still being debated today.

Yes, they talk of “mice, goats, and cows” but, apparently, I was wrong and, in the world of science, more specifically, in biotechnology, it may not be long before we could see people and institutions such as the ones described in James Patterson’s Maximum Ride. The question is, are we willing to take the risks that inevitably come with playing the role of the creator?

Adding Insult to the Injury

The sun is up again, the skies blue once more and it seems that the planet has begun moving on from the storms. Although, it seems to have moved a bit too far because of the heat being just a bit too much. However, let’s not talk weather this time. Let’s talk about how the local government responds to the tragedies that the world is trying to get through.

Homes, properties, and resources have been lost due to the typhoons and floods. A lot of communities were left with close to nothing and most of them does not have much to look forward to.

FM Romualdez on relief operationThe basic response to such tragedies are relief operations – be it from the government or the private sector. These include giving out groceries, clothing, and other necessities that would, most probably, not be available to the afflicted. Our community was hardly affected by the floods. We did have flooding during the rains and afterwards but it was very much minor compared to what other communities have suffered. Nevertheless, ours was one of those that the government attended to.

A few days ago, we received goods from either a senator or a city councilor. (The people here can’t seem to agree which.) The package was of rice, noodles, and canned sardines. But this didn’t make the people happy or as thankful as one who received some aid should have been. However, I can’t blame them. Neither can I blame myself. I might sound like I’m simply complaining. We may be called ungrateful but the goods we received might as well be taken as an insult to our situation. We may not be rich here but we intend to live decent lives and eat decent food.

I can say all those things because the rice we received was almost too close to inedible. It’s possible that the rice came from one of those NFA warehouses where they store rice imported at a very unreasonable price reeking of corruption and injustice to the masses. And, was it from two years ago already? It’s no good cooking and eating it pure. Even a 1:2 blend with commercial rice wouldn’t suffice to conceal its taste and smell.

Or, maybe, the person can’t care less about how the people will react to the goods received so long as he/she can have the claim to have given out relief goods to “aid the victims of the disasters”.

Today, we received more “tickets” to one of those operations. This time, it’s from the district representative. But it doesn’t look so good either. The sort of “informant” came around here this morning giving out the tickets. He also told us that “the goods are ready but we can’t start because the congressman is not yet yet here”. You know where he is? As we heard from the local radio news, he is at some subdivision enjoying the fiesta.

So, as of this writing, it’s already past lunch. People have begun flocking to the gym to line up for the goods. I expect they’d be the same goods, though, the amount may vary. We may receive the same kinds of things as that last time that the he gave out goods, plus the cloth bag with his name, title, and face printed on it. But that would be a good thing because the guy knows how to give decent food.

Update (February 12, 2011, 9:30pm): We did get the same things as from before: about twice the rice that the senator or councilor gave, twice the noodles, and half the canned sardines. And, yes, in a bag with the name, title, and face of the congressman in it. And it was decent.

But it’s not all good. The gym was too crowded and hot. Outside, it was even hotter. But that didn’t stop the people from staying and waiting for the representative. People started coming back at around 4 pm. It was a long wait in the heat. As an aftermath, someone was rushed to the hospital after an attack stroke.

Update (February 14, 2011): I still can’t get a final word as to whether it was the senator or the city councilor who sent us the goods first mentioned.

Update (February 17, 2011, 5:30pm): It can’t exactly be called a final word but someone informed me that it was actually both of them – the senator and the city councilor, that is.

The Psychology of Suicide

The death of Angelo Reyes has been a shock and a tragedy to a lot of people for different reasons. To some, he has been a great person whose name was tarnished by the allegations of corruption against him. To others, he was such a loss simply because of the information that he could have possibly held which could have possibly been very helpful to uncovering the real story behind the funds spending of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. While to a few, they’ve lost a significant part of their lives: the man of the house.

While it is evident that it was a suicide, there are still various ways that it could have been a murder. But as it stands, it can definitely be such a wonder that a former army general and, also, a former Secretary of Defense would succumb to the call that is suicide.

According to Wikipedia,

[suicide] is often committed out of despair, or attributed to some underlying mental disorder which includes depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug abuse. Financial difficulties, troubles with interpersonal relationships and other undesirable situations [also] play a significant role.

Before this event, the news programs were always buzzing with the events in the senate and the investigating committees who are looking at the funds spending of the AFP with Heidi Mendoza, a former auditor of the COA, being the major player, or, as they call it, the “whistleblower”. This “revelation” opened pathways and checkpoints for the investigators to look at. Inevitably, this included the former general Angelo Reyes.

As is evident, it can be concluded that what he did was triggered by “despair… which includes depression”. The recent allegations of corruption and misuse of government funds could have definitely pushed him to committing suicide.

However, the depression could’ve also been an aftermath of more potent factors. One, it could’ve been that he was not guilty of any of those allegations and hearing them being said of him was just too much. His nerves betrayed him that day by his parents’ grave when he shoot himself to death. Or, two, he was, unfortunately, guilty of having misused the people’s funds, seen the evidence against him, and concluded that there was no way out. To avoid persecution and disgrace, he thought that he was better off dead.

Tragic as it may be, it is not always that suicide simply means an intent to kill oneself. Sometimes, these people who commit suicide intend to send a message of a cry for help, an expression of hopelessness, or a wish to escape. And in the end, like in most, if not all, cases of suicide, the truth is buried with the dead.

The Disappearing Family

familyThe concept of family all over the world is breaking down. Some have even accepted that the notion of family is merely something from the old days and modernism simply does not include a tight family in it. A picture of a happy family can easily be dismissed as fiction given that the concept of family has been greatly diminished since the picture of real family today usually consists of one missing parent with the remaining members not exactly in good terms with each other.

Divorce has become such a common part of a normal American life that some people from other parts of the world, including the Philippines, want it incorporated into law. Currently, there is only annulment in the Philippines but that doesn’t help families from breaking up. Couples simply go separate ways without even going through the process of an annulment; mostly because it is a rather long and expensive process.

For a developing country, and even industrialized nations, for that matter, the breakdown of marriage and family – the basic building blocks of community and society – can never be a good news.

Most teens of today would argue that the changing values of people are simply a part of the future – like the evolution of entertainment and technology. It can be said that it is simply synonymous to the change in kids of yesterday bringing around giant boomboxes with a tape containing a few songs to kids of today bringing around tiny tiny media players containing hundreds of songs, among others.

So, why did family begin to disappear?

See, from films and literature, it is clear that courtship, the supposed beginning of a relationship that leads to marriage and family, has changed a lot. People, apparently, used to respect the process and sanctity of marriage. That is, evidently, not the case today. There is now what is called, “friends with benefits” – something that my professor last semester in Society and Culture repeatedly mentioned in class around the last days of the semester when we were discussing “modern society” and family planning.

And, as marriage goes, so does family. And as family goes, the same thing happens to community, society, and civilization.

One might argue that family is just one of the things that make up a society and its demise cannot mean the destruction of human civilization. Indeed, there are other factors that make a society work. But as it so-called a “building block” of society, it is an indispensable part of it.

Take for example the progression and evolution of human society itself. It used to be, according to written history, that humans were nomads usually traveling groups in search of sustenance. Then, humans began to settle, setup camps, and began to abandon to traveling for food in favor of growing crops and domesticating animals. Soon, these groups became villages. But at the core of these ancient villages are families working together to make the village survive. And in these families were members who were working with each other each with a responsibility to keep to the family and society. These villages worked and evolved. Otherwise, if the families of yesterday broke down, we wouldn’t be here.

Life was much simpler back in the ancient days. Societies worked well enough to build what we have now. Family was present. Today, we look at a world full of complexities. We are faced with innovations and technology that “make life easier” or “make life easier”. Ironically, these “innovations” themselves are what destroy the core of society and make things worse. People have much more things to deal with today than what people of the old days can even imagine.

If we have all these things at hand, how can we even say that we can make society work without its core? Without family? The way things are today, we can only conclude that, ultimately, we are headed for destruction – by ourselves.

The Right Against Double Jeopardy

Section 21 of Article 3, Bill of Rights, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines states that,

No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance, conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act.

judge's hammerSimply put, if a person was charged with an offense and the case is terminated without his express consent, whether by conviction or acquittal, that person can never be tried once more for the same offense.

At a surface glance, it can only seem fair that a person should not be punished twice for the same crime. However, a question comes in when the person was acquitted for lack of evidence but, later, some incriminating evidence was found. No matter how strong the evidence may be, it will be rendered insignificant as the suspect holds the right against double jeopardy.

In a perspective, this question closely resembles the question on parole. Like parole, the right against double jeopardy can be questioned for its justifiability. The justifiability of the right against double jeopardy can be questioned simply because, for one, the power of investigating forces can be limited by various circumstances. For example, technology. As in the case of a murder, it used to be that the DNA test was not acceptable and can’t placed as evidence in court or, simply, there used to not be that test. But later developments led to the acceptability of DNA testing and it can be possible that a host of items from a crime scene can be tested which can point to the murderer and, possibly, a person who has been previously acquitted.

Besides changes in technology, a change of people can also matter. Power and influence are two of the biggest things that can steer the way of a court trial. Most of the time, it is just a matter of a bit of cash to turn a would-be trial into a farce. Even if a conviction is supposedly clear, the decision of the judge is still the final word. However, every now and then, very rarely enough, decent people come around to give hope to the family of the victim. In the end, the hope would only be a false one because the suspect has the right against double jeopardy at his defense.

Another question would be on witnesses. These people are a significant part of a court trial. Most of time, witnesses are very hesitant to show up in court for fear of threat to personal security. Sometimes, witnesses can also be paid to simply not show up in court. There are even cases where witnesses are paid to show up in court to give false claims – be they actual bearers of the truth or not. But things can change. That is, in time. And since time can’t keep from moving forward, it might be that it will be too late and the decision can no longer be changed.

Whether it is in the evidence, the witnesses, or the judge and jury, the question against this right is inevitable. However, it is also a given that there is some sound reasoning behind it. But just like every question directed at law or the justice system there is only one certainty: every justice system has its flaws. Humans have not been successful in a creating a perfect system of justice. But as we continue to search for it, we can get desperate. However, as portrayed in Death Note, playing the role of the supreme judge and executing criminals does not make one Justice.