Cloning technology is back in the headlines once again. October 9 brought reports from Washington Post and
describe how researchers at New York University have used a gene transfer
technique similar to the one used to clone Dolly the sheep in the hopes of
impregnating infertile women. The technique follows the Dolly method of inserting the DNA from one cell into another single-cell egg for implantation (Dolly was created from the genetic material of an adult body cell provided
by its mother, rather than combining genetic material from two different
eggs.) Any baby resulting from this cloning-derived technique would have two
biological mothers, carrying the genes of two different women.

I would imagine that it’s almost impossible not to have a reaction to this
and other news about the startling developments taking place from month to
month in cloning technology. One may be, for instance, pleased to hear of any new
technique that could ease the pain of the infertile; exultant at the possibilities for new and different and diverse loving family structures;
horrified at the ethical and legal dilemmas that might result if, say, a
custody battle ever took place; nauseated at a perceived violation of the
laws of nature; or even all of the above at once. But in one way or another,
this is an ongoing story that touches something deep inside each of us.

So what resources are available on the Web regarding cloning? Straight news
reporting is widely available via all the usual suspects. Breaking news can
be found at the Washington Post site mentioned above; you can also try Yahoo!’s Cloning Update section
(click on the Reuters link at the right of the page for the newest updates).

A really stunning amount of information of every conceivable sort about
cloning is available through PhRMA’s “Cloning” page — possibly the best
cloning resource on the Web, but a bit daunting if you’re just looking for
a human-sized overview of the subject. An adequate general introduction to
the basics of cloning technology, with a good many graphical and audio bells
and whistles — if your computer isn’t quite up to snuff, be very, very afraid
— can be found at Time magazine.

For an independent overview, I suggest Conceiving a Clone for well-presented scientific
details (including some nifty animations), a historical overview of the technology’s development, and a summary of its potential uses. It takes a
generally favorable attitude toward the scientific and medical advances to
be gained from cloning, but makes an honest if not always successful effort to
set forth and acknowledge opposing views as well as trying to rebut them
(see, for instance, its “Con” views page.

The Conceiving a Clone site deserves some attention in that its very honesty and well-intentioned-ness, so to speak, help illustrate the major
difficulty plaguing the cloning debate in America. Arguments, here and elsewhere, in
favor of the judicious and properly regulated pursuit of cloning technology
are often highly scientifically compelling. Unfortunately, such arguments
are also hampered, here and elsewhere, by a handicap shared by many (though not
all) well-meaning cloning advocates: a profound inability to take really
seriously the extrascientific concerns of opponents to cloning. In other
words, Conceiving a Clone sees opponents’ concerns about, say, a dangerous
lack of genetic diversity in heavily cloned populations as both comprehensible and valid. Religious and “value-based” concerns, however, tend simply to baffle and bewilder it. Like many, though again by no means all, pro-choice
advocates, these proponents of cloning aren’t being deliberately perverse;
they simply don’t perceive or comprehend the perspective or wider context
from which their opponents’ deepest arguments flow.

Conceiving a Clone’s raison d’etre, though, is a genuine and heartfelt
value for the benefits this science might bestow, rather then any sort of
dogmatic pro-clone preaching; as such, it’s recommendable as a good general
informational resource for everyone, not just a partisan hangout.

Who’s behind the research? The famous experiments that produced Dolly the
sheep took place at the Roslin Institute. Probio
is the biotechnology company that funded the University of Hawaii’s mouse-cloning project. Infigen is another biotech firm involving itself with cloning technologies, and offers information on cloning cows and on cloning
technologies generally.

For massive coverage of public reaction regarding the various biotechnology
debates (including issues like transgenic crops and pest control as well as
cloning), I recommend the Virginia Tech-based “Public Perceptions of Biotechnology” page. Previously mentioned in this space with regard to assisted-dying issues, the
Center for Bioethics is also one of
the Web’s best ethics-and-debate sites on cloning and other biotechnologies.

The military ethos under attack

The ethos of the U.S. military historically has been oriented toward the
requirement to win the nation’s wars. This warrior ethos is currently under
assault from many quarters. Military strategy professor Mackubin Thomas Owens uses Spielberg’s movie to explain in what ways this is so in his essay,
“‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the U.S. Military Ethos”, which appeared in the September 25,
1998 edition of the Providence Journal. (Hint: it’s not just the gay and
feminist activists who are responsible.) It’s a literate and thought-provoking analysis of the ways in which the military virtues — leadership, physical bravery, and commitment to duty — are generated.

Religion in early America

The Library of Congress exhibition “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic”
examines the specifically religious character and the intensity of religious fervor
of many of America’s original European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries. The exhibition also explores the founders’ efforts to define the role of religious faith in public life and the degree to which it could be supported by public officials without becoming inconsistent with the revolutionary imperatives of the equality and freedom of all citizens. This rich and impressive collection of early American books, manuscripts,
letters, prints, paintings, artifacts, and music will be touring nationally in
1999-2000 and is comprehensively available online. Don’t miss the pages on
view from Thomas Jefferson’s commonplace book, as well as the very arresting materials on Jonathan Edwards, both in the eighteenth-century section. Of
considerable general interest, this site is also a super-fabulous, non-boring
resource for high school and college projects.

The longest distance between two points

The Official Rube Goldberg Web Site is
devoted, naturally, to Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist and engineer Rube
Goldberg’s drawings. Goldberg’s “INVENTION” cartoons use a string of outlandish tools, people, plants and steps to accomplish everyday simple
tasks in the most complicated way imaginable. In theory, all the “INVENTIONS”
work, although they might need very patient and dedicated people, animals, and
plants to accomplish the inventor’s goal — for example, his “Simplified
Pencil Sharpener”
, which requires the cooperation of moths, a woodpecker, and an opossum. A clear
explanation of what’s happening appears below the image, which, unhappily,
is not as high-quality as one could wish. See also: the Rube Goldberg Contest
at Purdue .

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