The Present Craziness
Thanks for the optimistic article “Can We Create New Life?” (Feature Story, November 26). One has to be suspicious of any government policy being fast-tracked, especially one as revolutionary as genetic-engineering promotion. From a rational perspective, such a mysterious business requires more caution than normal, not less. To express the problem/risk as simply as possible requires an analogy:
Think of GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — as used in information processing. The “mal-ware,” such as viruses, etc., which can damage computers, are created to appear to be normal information. In this way the computer is tricked and absorbs these programs into the computer software as if they are beneficial. Only later does the damage appear. But by then it is too late; your work is garbage, or lost altogether.
Science often regards humanity’s existence as depending on a delicate balance of forces in nature. These forces evolved this balance over a long time with perhaps trillions of iterations of trial and error in genetic combinations to get to us and our environment now.
With this in mind, think of the information that we must absorb in order for our life programs to exist, to continue, to improve. Food is not just energy that we consume to keep the machine going. Food contains genetic information that our bodies have evolved with since our beginnings. When we eat, we accept and integrate that information via our messenger RNA into our own DNA and are so modified. Genetic engineering tricks our cells into accepting new, unnatural information as if it were the familiar natural information.
Possible dangerous consequences may not appear right away, or even in the present lifetime of the unwitting victim, unlike the genetic damage caused by nuclear radiation, which seems to be limited to existent life. This makes genetically engineered products ingested by living beings even more dangerous than radiation poisoning. Why? Because once our DNA integrates the new information as if it were natural, the new characteristics will be passed on to the next generation and the next and the next. This is because it is not recognized as damaging and does not trigger the disabling of the germs of reproduction.
Bottom line: the closed testing of genetic engineering, before introduction into the environment, requires at least a couple of generations of experimentally reproduced human subjects. This is only rational. The present course is therefore irrational. I hope that nature somehow provides some remedy to our progeny to reverse or repair the results of our present craziness.
I was very alarmed to read your cover story on marijuana (“Shopping at Weedmart,” November 20). What your story did not say is that, yeah, marijuana has medicinal benefits; no, marijuana is not safe. That’s why the medical profession does not use it. If you’re going to smoke anything into your lungs, you’re going to get bronchitis or cancer. The human body is not fit for smoking. You’ve got to have your head up your a** to think that it is. The people you talked to who have medical issues have better alternatives, such as Chinese medicine, ayurvedic medicine, or acupuncture. Those things have been proven safe and effective.
The group that advocates legalization, or decriminalization, of marijuana in the U.S. is aiming at the wrong target (“Shopping at Weedmart,” Cover Story, November 20). Times are tough here, but a majority of citizens still won’t support relaxing laws against pot. The crisis south of the border is much more dire than it is here. All of the main sources of revenue in Mexico are dwindling. Money from oil, tourism, and remittances from abroad are all down. They desperately need another source of revenue. Legalizing marijuana would solve those problems. The drug wars would become unnecessary. Tourists would return in greater numbers. Mexican farmers would have a very popular crop to grow. The farmers could produce different kinds and potencies of pot. The idea may sound strange, but what is the better alternative — legalizing the happy weed or chaos?
In the opening paragraph of this story (“Shopping at Weedmart,” Cover Story, November 20), Joseph O’Brien writes, “Colleen Daley lives on a sunburnt patch of overzoned Chula Vista real estate. She is besieged by the odoriferous crosscurrents of wafting grease and the crackling bark of drive-in order speakers — her one-bedroom ranch is surrounded by fast-food joints. And that’s where she thinks her problems as a marijuana farmer started.”
Considering that she suffers from multiple sclerosis and might benefit medically from using cannabis, I suppose it would be churlish of me to suggest that her problems as a marijuana farmer started when she decided to grow a crop the cultivation of which over a certain limit and, despite the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, remains a prosecutable offense under federal law.
There’s No Nothingness
I found misleading Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal’s response to the question “What happens when we die?” quoted by Matthew Lickona in the October 30 Letters column (“Answer, Rabbi”).
It is true, as Rabbi Rosenthal says, that “Judaism has a range of beliefs,” but “once you’re dead, you’re dead, and there’s nothing afterwards” is not one of them. No doubt there are Jews who have departed so far from traditional Judaism as to believe this. However, it has not been one of Judaism’s “range of beliefs” since ancient times when that opinion of the Sadducees was repudiated (Talmud, Sanhedrin 90a-91b).
The rabbi’s “simple answer” (“we don’t know”) is correct so far as the details of the afterlife are concerned, which in any religion must be imagined based on faith rather than knowledge. But missing from his response was any mention of Judaism’s unwavering assertion that all things, including the condition of our souls in the afterlife, lie in God’s hands. Whatever particular images of life after death Judaism does have — resurrection, purgation, temporary hell, reincarnation, the world to come — Judaism teaches that we, like everything in the universe, exist within the will of the Creator. Hence, it cannot be that even in death we could fall into total nothingness out of the mind of God, which, being eternal, must hold us eternally if it holds us now. “There’s nothing afterward” is therefore not a possibility that Judaism (as distinct from doubting individuals) admits.