Nothing Left to Parody?

The new Salvo (Issue 33, Summer 2015) is now available both online and in print. We here at Salvo have always enjoyed coming up with new fake ads–our attempt to point out some of the irrational thinking/feeling that defines our self-proclaimed science-loving culture. In this issue, we ran the fake ad below:

Obviously this one is an attempt to parody a culture whose main virtue is “being yourself,” even if that means running from the physical and mental reality of yourself.

Well, today I saw this in the news: ‘Black’ NAACP leader outed as white woman.

So my honest question for you, dear readers, is this: Are parody and satire even possible these days?

Further reading: Here is a good article from Touchstone that addresses some of the issues behind natural law arguments, and the attitude of those who do hold to the idea of natural law. And guess what: it has nothing to do with “hate.” From Of Bicycles, Sex, & Natural Law: Describing Human Ends & Our Limitations Is Neither Futile Nor Unloving by R. V. Young.

Some readers may regard an assertion of natural moral principles as unfeeling, heartless, cruel. It is, to the contrary, an expression of Christian love, or charity. St. Thomas Aquinas defines charity as willing the good of another. To shrug our shoulders and look the other way at the prospect of another man maiming himself for the sake of an erotic fantasy, because we don’t wish “to hurt his feelings,” is at best sentimentality, at worst a neglect of his human dignity. Genuine love is not sentimentality; it is not a vague emotion. Condoning another man’s irrational, self-destructive behavior is certainly not willing his good.

Salvo Senior Editor Marcia Segelstein on “The real truth about sex”

The Real Truth About Sex: What we’re not telling our kids
by Marcia Segelstein, Fox News Opinion

We’re a culture obsessed with parenthood, or “parenting,” as we like to call it.  Countless websites, books, and magazines provide advice for parents aspiring to perfection. And paramount on any good parent’s priority list is making sure our kids are safe and healthy.  So we pay extra for organic milk and banish trans fats from our kitchens.  We deliberate over the safest car seats and sign petitions to ban sodas from school cafeterias.  We talk to our kids early and often about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs.

But when it comes to the hazards of sex, our approach falls somewhere between passivity and paralysis.  For whatever reasons – concern about imposing fear and shame, embarrassment about being hypocritical, or not believing that kids are capable of self-control – we can’t bring ourselves to just say “don’t!”  We make sure our kids know about condoms and the Pill, and tell them we’re always there if they want to talk.  Which is the equivalent of shutting our eyes, crossing our fingers, and hoping.  Hoping that our kids won’t get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant.  Hoping that they won’t catch that STD that causes infertility or cancer.  Hoping the chemical bonds that they form and then break won’t break their hearts.

Because here’s the rub.  It is an indisputable fact that having sex means taking risks. . . . read the rest

Synthetic Biology and Making Morphine in the Lab

Prescription pain medicine addiction has become prevalent and widespread with several areas in the U.S. calling it a public health crisis. Opiates include prescription pain medicines, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, or fentanyl. The surge in opiate drug addiction can be traced to changes in the increase in prescriptions for opiate drugs beginning in the 1990s. Now headlines tout the possibility of a “home-brewed heroin.”

If we unpack the headline, it turns out this “home-brewed” heroin is not exactly here yet. Scientists have replicated all of the metabolic processes that opium poppies use to turn glucose into morphine. They have replicated parts of this process in yeast strains in an effort to make less addictive pain medicines as well as other analgesics. This synthesis of cellular processes is called synthetic biology. By way of a quick review, synthetic biology involves creating the digital DNA code to make proteins, the internal machinery of a cell, in the lab. Yeast and e.coli are simple organisms and are often used to insert the DNA in a cell fitted with the necessary equipment to replicate and express the DNA. Craig Venter, in his book on synthetic biology, Life at the Speed of Light, calls DNA the software and yeast provides the hardware. Scientists want to tweak the software to make tailor-made drugs.

Synthetic biology overlaps with genetic engineering, but where it differs is that synthetic biology allows scientists to replicate an entire cellular pathway within an organism, such as yeast, as opposed to inserting or deleting mutations in a DNA strand and then inserting it in a cell.

The metabolic pathway reported in Nature (See the Nature News article) is the first part of the glucose-to-morphine pathway. The second part of the pathway, as well as a reaction that links the two parts, was recently reported by other research groups. All of these parts have been demonstrated separately in various yeast strains. If scientists were to combine these parts in one yeast strain, then theoretically, they would be able to convert glucose to morphine. This has not been done yet, but will likely occur soon.

The process for making morphine from glucose is complex (it’s approximately eighteen steps), and because scientists do not know the whole genome for the opium poppy, they have had difficulty identifying the enzymes that catalyze each step in the reaction pathway. To overcome this hurdle, scientists turned to enzymes in other organisms to that catalyze similar reactions. The most recent research that identifies the first half of the morphine pathway used an enzyme from sugar beets that scientists mutated to ensure that it produced the product they needed without unwanted byproducts.

The question remains, are we at a point where people can brew their own synthetic morphine? The short answer is no, not yet.

First, all of the steps have not been combined into a yeast strain. While this may be the next step in making synthetic morphine in the lab, it will need to be tested, and it may not work at first. Once scientists succeed at creating a yeast strain that can accomplish all of the steps, the process will need to be refined and optimized.

Secondly, in order for someone to brew their own morphine, he would have to acquire the yeast strain containing the synthetic DNA. This would mean acquiring the yeast from someone who not only knows the DNA code, but also has a PCR machine or some way to make synthetic DNA and then incorporate it into yeast.

Lastly, even if someone did acquire the yeast strain, according to Christine Smolke of Stanford University whose lab has made a semi-synthetic opioid using yeast, in an interview with Wired, said that the fermentation process would require specialized equipment and conditions that would be difficult to do outside a laboratory. It would also not produce enough morphine to make it cost effective.

While we are not at the point of worrying about home-brewed liquid morphine, the authors of the study were concerned about future consequences of their research. One of the motivations for designing the synthetic pathway is to tweak it to make less addictive pain medicine or to make medicines for other uses. This same ability to tweak the morphine-producing pathway could also be used for nefarious purposes.

The authors of the study sought ethical guidance from biotechnology-policy specialists Kenneth Oye, of MIT and Tania Bubela, of the University of Alberta. They published an article in Nature with Chappell Lawson, also from MIT, that came out in tandem with the research article. Oye, Bubela, and Chappell delineate the ethical and legal considerations for such research and provide four broad areas that should be considered:

  • Engineering – The yeast strains could be engineered to make them less appealing to criminals and more difficult to cultivate outside of a laboratory setting, similar to biocontainment practices with e. coli.
  • Screening – Since the DNA sequence would need to be ordered from a lab, there could be a screening process in place that flags orders of opiate-producing yeast strains
  • Security – They could employ biosecurity measures, such as watermarking yeast made from certain labs and background checks on people working with the strains.
  • Regulation – Opium is a globally controlled substance. The laws that apply to opium could be extended to cover opiate-producing yeast strains.

Overall, the headlines are a little misleading in that we are not yet on the cusp of people brewing their own morphine. However, the authors should be commended for considering the consequences of publishing their research and seeking ethical guidance. It is a good example of pre-emptively considering the hazards and consequences of technological advancement rather than responding to a crisis.

For more information, see my article in Salvo 31, “Dying to Feel Good: Modern Self-Realization & the Painkiller Addiction Epidemic

A Physician’s Tribute: “Thank You Fr. Roman”

by James M. Kushiner

Dr. Dan Hinshaw has written this moving tribute to Fr. Roman Braga, who fell asleep in the Lord on April 28 in Michigan. Part of the story of Fr. Roman’s life is told in this Fr.RomanB 150x150 A Physicians Tribute: Thank You Fr. Romaninterview I did with him in 2011 for Salvo.

Fr. Roman was actually a fan of Salvo magazine, and asked about its welfare the last time I saw him in 2013, even after he knew he was dying from cancer. He even donated regularly to help support Salvo, which he told me, with a smile, was “a scary magazine!” If you’d like to add your support to his, your gift made here will also be doubled by a generous donor who is offering us a $50,000 matching grant.

I will miss Father Roman. Memory eternal!

Feeling Trans

Smith’s Transgender Delusion
The women’s college unwittingly undermines the ‘transgender moment.’

by Jonathan V. Last, The Weekly Standard
For the better part of a year, Smith College has been telegraphing that it would soon accept transgender student applications. On Monday, the women’s college flung open the curtain on its new admissions policy. And whether it realizes it or not, Smith has inadvertently done a great deal of damage to the idea of transgenderism. Indeed, Smith’s new official transgender policy suggests that, at least in some cases, the “trans” idea is merely make-believe.

I recommend this article to you that dissects the policy of Smith College regarding admissions. Last does a great job breaking down the logic of it all. But that’s just the trouble, the debate on these issues will not be “won” by logic or sound argument or appeals to reason. This debate rests entirely with feelings and vague ideas of fairness and rights.

As Regis Nicoll pointed out in his article Hooked on a Feeling Is Gender Just a State of Mind? for an early issue of Salvo:
By invoking the term “rights,” the lifestyle Left has elevated the unfettered exercise of expression over the physical safety of women, clearing the way for absurd and dangerous outcomes like the MTA decision. Did I mention that this all began in reaction to women’s exploitation?
The next issue of Salvo is in production. Stay tuned!