Windsor Humanist Society

March 24, 2008

Clone Treatment May Help Find Parkinson’s Cure

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Scientists may soon be able to grow a patient’s own brain tissue to repair damage caused by Parkinson’s disease, according to a study that marks a milestone in efforts to find a cure.

Researchers saw an improvement in the condition of mice that had Parkinson’s after cloned cells were grafted on to their brains.

It is the first time “therapeutic cloning” has been used to treat the devastating disease. Cloned cells are so useful because they are genetically identical to the patient, and are not rejected.

Although carrying out the procedure on humans is a long way off, in the short term scientists hope to test new drugs on brain cells from Parkinson’s patients grown in the lab.

Good Golly Miss DollyParkinson’s affects about 120,000 people in Britain, with 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year. It robs people of the ability to walk and even eat. As the disease progresses, higher doses of drugs are required, leading to side-effects that include involuntary movements.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggests the same method of cloning used to create Dolly the sheep can be used to grow a patient’s own brain tissue and repair damage done by the debilitating disease.

The principle is to create specific nerve cells, producing the signalling chemical dopamine, which are destroyed by Parkinson’s. An American-Japanese team succeeded in using the “nuclear transfer” cloning method to turn mice tail cells into embryonic cells, and then into the desired nerve cells.

The team, Dr Lorenz Studer, Dr Viviane Tabar and colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, together with colleagues in Japan, derived 187 lines of nerve cells from 24 mice with Parkinson’s.

The mice that received a graft of 100,000 neurons derived from their own cloned embryos exhibited brain improvements, according to studies of their movements and behaviour.

It is the first time the “Dolly method” has been used successfully to treat disease in the same animals from which the cells were derived.

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society, said: “This is an exciting development, as for the first time we can see that it may be possible to create a person’s own embryonic stem cells to potentially treat their Parkinson’s. Researchers in this area now need to carry out more studies to satisfy safety concerns.”

The team concluded there was “considerable therapeutic potential for the future”.

For the procedure to work with humans, the scientists would need to create embryonic cells. At the moment the main method is to use human eggs, which is highly controversial. However, a method of turning adult cells into embryonic cells has been developed that could be more acceptable.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 24, 2008 article by Roger Highfield  in The Telegraph

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Dutch To Publish Do-It-Yourself Suicide Manual

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Euthanasia Manual A scientific guide to DIY suicide is to go on sale in the Netherlands to help people end their lives quickly and painlessly.

The book, the first of its kind to be published, is by a group of respected scientists and psychiatrists.

It contains detailed information on using drugs as well as committing suicide by starvation, including the quickest and least painful way to do it.

There are also chapters on the ethical and judicial questions for those who aid suicides. Its authors are also planning English, French and German editions.

Author and psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot said: “Doctors learn little about this subject during their training. This book is for people who want to make their own decisions about ending their own lives.”

He said most suicides were carried out with the help of family and friends, with common methods being the refusal of food and drink or the surreptitious collection of prescribed drugs until a lethal quantity is acquired.

There are about 4,400 suicides a year in Holland, broadly the same as in England and Wales, even though it has barely a quarter of the population. Euthanasia is now legal there but with strict rules.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 24, 2008 article by Joan Clements in The Telegraph

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March 17, 2008

France Rejects Right-to-Die Plea

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A French woman with a severely disfiguring and incurable facial tumour has been refused the right to die. Chantal Sebire suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer.

Chantal SebireMs.  Sebire, a 52-year-old former schoolteacher and mother of three, had asked a court in Dijon, eastern France, to allow doctors to help her die.

But while the French have liberalised legislation governing euthanasia, the court ruled the law still did not allow doctors to actively end a life.

The case of Ms Sebire has, however, sparked intense debate and sympathy.

She suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer in the nasal cavity known as an esthesioneuroblastoma. Only 200 cases of the disease have been recorded worldwide in the past two decades.

Appealing on French television last month for the right to die, Ms Sebire said she could no longer see properly, taste or smell. She described how children ran away from her in the street.

“One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured,” she said.

But a magistrate in Dijon said such a request could simply not be granted.

“Even if the physical degeneration of Madame Sebire merits compassion, this request can only be rejected under French law,” he said.

Legislation adopted in 2005 allows families to request that life-support equipment for terminally ill patients be switched off, but does not allow a doctor to take action to end a patient’s life.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whom Ms Sebire has urged to intervene in her case, said he had asked his chief health adviser to make contact, and help with providing further opinions on her condition.

Ms Sebire, who has said she will not appeal Monday’s decision, has, however indicated she may go to a country such as Switzerland – where assisted suicide is legal.

“I now know how to get my hands on what I need, and if I don’t get it in France, I will get it elsewhere,” she has said.

Sarah Wootton, of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns in the UK for assisted dying for the terminally ill, said: “It is immensely sad that because France has no assisted dying law, Chantal Sebire will continue to suffer.

“It is simply wrong that terminally ill people not just in France, but also in the UK, who are suffering unbearably are not being given the choice to die with dignity.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 17, 2008 article carried by BBC News OnLINE

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March 15, 2008

Our Kids Need To Be Integrated, Not Separated

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During the recent (Alberta) provincial election campaign, I asked candidates for their opinion on Alberta’s faith schools. Their replies were dominated by two buzz words, “choice” and “diversity” — and most were eager to change the subject.

Happy Christian Sschool ChildrenThe history of religious schools in Alberta is not one of open debate. These decisions have been made behind closed doors between government officials and religious leaders — no public participation welcome. The most recent example was a secret document uncovered by the media in December 2007, showing that the government planned to increase funding for private religious schools.

The religious schools in Alberta fall into three categories: separate (Catholic), private and alternative. The private schools are about 60 per cent funded by the taxpayers, have their own boards and are able to discriminate on religious grounds for both hiring staff and admitting students.

The alternative schools have signed agreements with public school boards in order to obtain 100-per-cent public funding. This loophole allows the religious schools to get their foot in the door, leading (they hope) for full funding as well as full autonomy.

In the words of the Airdrie Koinonia Christian School: “The recent ‘alternative’ agreements signed by the Heritage Christian Academy and the Olds Koinonia Christian School specifically allow for discrimination on the basis of religious faith. While this discrimination may not completely comport with the Alberta School Act, this discrimination is nonetheless spelled out in the agreements. Thus, the province’s contention that public schools do not discriminate is no longer valid.

“Thus, the historical objection of the province here has literally evaporated. There is no longer any justification for the province to deny full operational funding for private schools based on the province’s traditional argument concerning discriminatory practices.”

Indeed, the above quote suggests that the Christian schools used the alternative schools to cleverly set a trap, which the government fell into (or worse, maybe they knew exactly what they were doing). Either way it seems to be working; the Koinonia website claims support from various Tory MLAs.

To have this choice of placing their children into a faith school, parents must obtain a letter from a preacher praising their church devotion and sign a statement of faith. This quote, from the constitution and bylaws of Fort McMurray Christian School Society, is typical: “We believe the Genesis account of creation is to be understood literally; that man was created in God’s own image and after His own likeness; that man’s creation was not by evolution or change of species or development through interminable periods of time from lower to higher form.”

Parents who believe that the first cowboy saddled up a triceratops have more choice as their children can attend either a faith school or a public school. On the other hand, Christians who accept evolution, non-believers, and followers of other faiths can enrol their children only in a public school. Every teaching position in a Christian school means one more fundamentalist teacher, and another teacher is out of a job.

The Fort McMurray school also states: “that the individual should consciously honour and obey those in power so long as they do not violate the teaching of Scripture.” What do they teach when the democratic laws of the land do disagree with the Scripture?

What about Alberta’s “diversity” — isn’t it a good thing? Yes, but more importantly, should we mix the kids together or prevent them from contacting “others”?

Let’s help our children appreciate kids from diverse backgrounds by having them work together. For social harmony, we need to integrate, not segregate our next generation.

When the Catholic school started up in Canmore in 2001, they had to share Lawrence Grassi Middle School with the public school board. The Catholic board tried to build a wall in the school and a fence in the playground to stop their children from mixing with the public school kids. Only the diligence of public school officials stopped this.

How can anyone explain to young children that they aren’t allowed to play with their friends because their parents have different religious beliefs? A wall! Is this Canada or the West Bank?

Separation of church and state is one of the core principles of western democracy. Religion should be a private matter, not a government-funded policy. Many of our ancestors paid with their lives for us to enjoy these rights.

Choice? By all means let’s have choice — for Alberta citizens to participate in the debate. Are Alberta government officials prepared to offer Albertans this choice, or will they meekly surrender our rights to unelected church officials through secret deals?
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.McAllister, after a March 15, 2008 contribution by Scott Rowed in The Edmonton Journal

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March 13, 2008

Royal Oak’s “Dr. Jack” Planning Run for US Congress

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Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, who spent eight years in prison for second-degree murder, says he’s running for Congress.

Jack KevorkianJack Kevorkian, who will be 80 years old in May, picked up petitions from the Oakland County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday to run as a candidate with no party affiliation.

“I plan to,”
Jack Kevorkian said Tuesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t do this otherwise. We need some honesty and sincerity instead of corrupt government in Washington.”

Jack Kevorkian said he would have more to say about his candidacy next week. “Everything’s in a formative stage,” he said.

Jack Kevorkian
, a Pontiac native now living in south Oakland County, will have to gather a minimum of 3,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 17 to appear as an independent on the November ballot, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office said.

He lives in the 9th Congressional District. The seat is held by eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills. Democrats currently filed to run include former Michigan Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters.

The district encompasses Oakland, Bloomfield and West Bloomfield townships; parts of Orion and Waterford townships; the cities of Farmington, Farmington Hills, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Rochester, Troy, Clawson, Royal Oak, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Lake Angelus; and the villages of Franklin, Bingham Farms and Beverly Hills.

Michigan law doesn’t prevent Jack Kevorkian from running for office, or from voting, now that he’s been released from prison.

Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder April 13, 1999, for the assisted suicide death of Thomas Youk, which he filmed and which was broadcast on national TV.

He was paroled June 1 last year and remains on parole until June 1, 2009, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Oakland County Prosecutor Dave Gorcyca, whose office was responsible for sending Jack Kevorkian to prison, was dismissive of Jack Kevorkian’s candidacy.

“I would place Jack Kevorkian’s candidacy in the same ranking with (Texas U.S. Rep.) Ron Paul’s (presidential run),” Mr. Gorcyca said.

“It’s probably more of a publicity stunt. To call attention to himself is standard protocol for Jack when he doesn’t have the limelight focused on him. I would not consider his candidacy to be a legitimate one.”

A Jack Kevorkian candidacy, however, is likely to draw more attention to what is already expected to be one of the more closely contested congressional races in the country.

National Democrats targeted the district this election after Joe Knollenberg won re-election in 2006 with 51.5 percent of the vote.

Joe Knollenberg spokesman Mike Brownfield said the congressman has no immediate comment.

“Everybody has the right to run,” Gary Peters spokeswoman Julie Petrick said. “Right now, Gary is focused on bringing real change to Oakland County.

“Knollenberg has heaped mountains of debt on our children, disastrous trade policies that have destroyed our manufacturing sector, and gotten us into a protracted war with no end in sight. It’s time for real change in Oakland County and that’s what we’re focused on.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 12, 2008 article by Charles Crumm in The Oakland Press

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March 10, 2008

Vatican Lists “New Sins,” Including Pollution

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Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. St. Peter's at sunsetSo the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of “new” sins such as causing environmental blight.

The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican’s number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.

Asked what he believed were today’s “new sins,” he told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.

“(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control,” he said.

The Vatican opposes stem cell research that involves destruction of embryos and has warned against the prospect of human cloning.

Archbishop Girotti, in an interview headlined “New Forms of Social Sin,” also listed “ecological” offences as modern evils.

In recent months, Pope Benedict has made several strong appeals for the protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change had become gravely important for the entire human race.

Under Pope Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, the Vatican has become progressively “green.”

It has installed photovoltaic cells on buildings to produce electricity and hosted a scientific conference to discuss the ramifications of global warming and climate change, widely blamed on human use of fossil fuels.

Archbishop Girotti, who is number two in the Vatican “Apostolic Penitentiary”, which deals with matter of conscience, also listed drug trafficking and social and economic injustices as modern sins.

But Archbishop Girotti also bemoaned that fewer and fewer Catholics go to confession at all.

He pointed to a study by Milan’s Catholic University that showed that up to 60 percent of Catholic faithful in Italy stopped going to confession.

In the sacrament of Penance, Catholics confess their sins to a priest who absolves them in God’s name.

But the same study by The Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God’s intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Joe Pkr, after a March 10, 2008 article by Philip Pullella carried over Reuters

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India Nurtures Business of Surrogate Motherhood

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Yonatan Gher and his partner, who are Israeli, plan eventually to tell their child about being made in India, in the womb of a stranger, In Vitro Fertilizationwith the egg of a Mumbai housewife they picked from an Internet lineup.

The embryo was formed in January in an Indian fertility clinic about 2,500 miles from the couple’s home in Tel Aviv, produced by doctors who have begun specializing in surrogacy services for couples from around the world.

“The child will know early on that he or she is unique, that it came into the world in a very special way,” said Mr. Gher, 29, a communications officer for the environmental group Greenpeace.

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).

“People are increasingly exposed to the idea of surrogacy in India; Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show,” said Dr. Kaushal Kadam at The Rotunda Clinic in Mumbai. Just an hour earlier she had created an embryo for Mr. Gher and his partner with sperm from one of them (they would not say which) and an egg removed from a donor just minutes before in another part of the clinic.

The clinic, known more formally as Rotunda — The Center for Human Reproduction, does not permit contact between egg donor, surrogate mother or future parents. The donor and surrogate are always different women; doctors say surrogates are less likely to bond with the babies if there is no genetic connection.

There are no firm statistics on how many surrogacies are being arranged in India for foreigners, but anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp increase.

Rudy Rupak, co-founder and president of PlanetHospital, a medical tourism agency with headquarters in California, said he expected to send at least 100 couples to India this year for surrogacy, up from 25 in 2007, the first year he offered the service.

“Every time there is a success story, hundreds of inquiries follow”, he said.

In Anand, a city in the eastern state of Gujarat where the practice was pioneered in India, more than 50 surrogate mothers are pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Fifteen of them live together in a hostel attached to the clinic there.

Dr. Naina Patel, who runs the Anand clinic, said that even Americans who could afford to hire surrogates at home were coming to her for women “free of vices like alcohol, smoking and drugs.” She said she gets about 10 e-mailed inquiries a day from couples abroad.

Under guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research, surrogate mothers sign away their rights to any children. A surrogate’s name is not even on the birth certificate.

This eases the process of taking the baby out of the country. But for many, like Lisa Switzer, 40, a medical technician from San Antonio whose twins are being carried by a surrogate mother from the Rotunda clinic, the overwhelming attraction is the price. “Doctors, lawyers, accountants, they can afford it, but the rest of us — the teachers, the nurses, the secretaries — we can’t”, she said. “Unless we go to India”.

Surrogacy is an area fraught with ethical and legal uncertainties. Critics argue that the ease with which relatively rich foreigners are able to “rent” the wombs of poor Indians creates the potential for exploitation. Although the government is actively promoting India as a medical tourism destination, what some see as an exchange of money for babies has made many here uncomfortable.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development said in February that it was weighing recommending legislation to govern surrogacy, but it is not imminent.

An article published in The Times of India in February questioned how such a law would be enforced: “In a country crippled by abject poverty”, it asked, “how will the government body guarantee that women will not agree to surrogacy just to be able to eat two square meals a day?”

Even some of those involved in the business of organizing surrogates want greater regulation.

“There must be protection for the surrogates,” Mr. Rupak said. “Inevitably, people are going to smell the money, and unscrupulous operators will get into the game. I don’t trust the industry to police itself”.

He said that the few doctors offering the service now were ethical and took good care of the surrogates but that he was concerned this might change as the business expanded.

Mr. Gher and his partner, who asked not to be named to preserve his privacy, have worked through their doubts and are certain they are doing a good thing.

“People can believe me when I say that if I could bear the baby myself I would”, he said. “But this is a mutually beneficial answer. The surrogate gets a fair amount of money for being part of the process”.

They are paying about $30,000, of which the surrogate gets about $7,500.

“Surrogates do it to give their children a better education, to buy a home, to start up a small business, a shop”, Dr. Kadam said. “This is as much money as they could earn in maybe three years. I really don’t think that this is exploiting the women. I feel it is two people who are helping out each other.”

Mr. Gher agreed. “You cannot ignore the discrepancies between Indian poverty and Western wealth,” he said. “We try our best not to abuse this power. Part of our choice to come here was the idea that there was an opportunity to help someone in India.”

In the Mumbai clinic, it is clear that an exchange between rich and poor is under way. On some contracts, the thumbprint of an illiterate surrogate stands out against the clients’ signatures.

Although some Indian clinics allow surrogates and clients to meet, Mr. Gher said he preferred anonymity. When his surrogate gives birth later this year, he and his partner will be in the hospital, but not in the ward where she is in labour, and will be handed the baby by a nurse.

The surrogate mother does not know that she is working for foreigners, Dr. Kadam said, and has not been told that the future parents are both men. Gay sex is illegal in India.

Israel legalized adoption by same-sex couples in February, but such couples are not permitted to hire surrogates in Israel to become parents. A fertility doctor recommended Rotunda, which made news in November when its doctors delivered twins for another gay Israeli couple.

Rotunda did not allow interviews with its surrogate mothers, but a 32-year-old woman at a fertility clinic in Delhi explained why she is planning on her second surrogacy in two years.

Separated from her husband, she found that her monthly wages of 2,800 rupees, about $69, as a midwife were not enough to raise her 9-year-old son. With the money she earned from the first surrogacy, more than $13,600, she bought a house. She expects to pay for her son’s education with what she earns for the second, about $8,600. (Fees are typically fixed by the doctor and can vary.) “I will save the money for my child’s future,” she said.

The process requires a degree of subterfuge in this socially conservative country. She has told her mother, who lives with her, but not her son or their neighbors. She has told the few who have asked her outright that she is bearing a child for a relative.

So far, for the Israeli couple, the experience of having a baby has been strangely virtual. They perused profiles of egg donors that were sent by e-mail (“We picked the one with the highest level of education,” Mr. Gher said). From information that followed, they rejected a factory worker in favour of a housewife, who they thought would have a less stressful lifestyle.

Mr. Gher posts updates about the process on Facebook. And soon the clinic will start sending ultrasound images of their developing child by e-mail. Highly pixelated, blown-up passport photos of the egg donor and surrogate mother adorn a wall of their apartment in Israel.

“We’ve been trying to half close our eyes and look at it in a more holistic way to imagine what she would actually look like,” Mr. Gher said of the donor’s blurred image. “These are women we don’t know, will never know, who will become in a way part of our lives.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Joe Pkr, after a March 10, 2008 article by Amelia Gentleman in The New York Times

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March 6, 2008

The Netherlands Raises Terrorism ‘Alert Level’ to “Substantial” as Anti-Islam Film is Released

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Here's Geert!It’s the second-highest alert level, although the justice ministry said “there is no concrete evidence” that the country faced possible attacks.

The move comes as far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders prepares to air his film, which has already angered Muslims.

Mr Wilders has said the film is about the Koran, but gave few details.

He has revealed that his 15-minute film is entitled Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe strife or discord, usually religious.

The project has already been condemned by several Muslim countries, including Iran and Pakistan.

The lawmaker has said his work will show how the Koran is “an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror”.

According to a Dutch daily which has seen some of the footage, the film has the Koran opening.

Inside the pages of the book are shown images of atrocities in Muslim countries that the film-maker thinks are inspired by verses of the Koran.

Last month, Mr Wilders said he expected that his work would be shown in the Netherlands in March and also released on the internet.

He said he was determined to release the film, despite government warnings that this would damage Dutch political and economic interests.

In the past, Mr Wilders – who leads The Freedom Party – has called for the Koran to be banned and likened it to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

He has described Dutch culture as superior to what he says is a retarded Islamic culture and believes immigrants must assimilate by getting rid of what he calls the intolerant and fascist parts of the Koran.

Mr Wilders has had police protection since Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004.

Mr Van Gogh’s film Submission included verses from the Koran shown against a naked female body.

As well as the killing of Mr Van Gogh, Dutch politicians are mindful of the widespread protests by Muslims that followed the publication of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad in newspapers in Denmark and other European countries in 2006.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 6, 2008 article over BBC News

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March 5, 2008

Israeli Researcher Suggests Moses & Followers Were “High” on Mount Sinai

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Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Ten Commandments - The MovieSuch mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Professor Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the “burning bush”, suggested Professor Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

“The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a classic phenomenon,” he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to “see music”.

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest in 1991. “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations,” Professor Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, which is frequently mentioned in the Bible.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 5, 2008 article over Agence France-Presse

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March 4, 2008

‘Memory Cell’ in Northern Ontario Rock Holds Record of Earth’s History

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A tiny zircon crystal extracted from a three-billion-year-old rock in northern Ontario is being hailed by Canadian and U.S. scientists as a primordial “memory cell” containing a previously unknown Zircon Crystal from Northern Ontariorecord of the Earth’s early history.The researchers also believe their microscopic time capsule could provide a new tool for testing whether life has ever existed on other planets.

The zircon was extracted from an outcropping of deep-earth rock known as the Kapuskasing Uplift, a rare geological feature near the city of Timmins in which ancient rock that’s normally 30 kilometres below the planet’s surface is exposed.

Led by University of Western Ontario geologist Desmond Moser, a team including scientists from California, Wisconsin and Utah studied the site’s rich supply of zircons – well known as a trusted indicator of a rock layer’s age – and determined for the first time that such crystals also provide reliable data about environmental conditions at the time and place the zircons formed.

Scientists have long believed that this “internal history” of a zircon’s birthplace “would be erased” over the eons, Desmond Moser told Canwest News Service, “but it’s just the opposite. They’ve retained this incredibly detailed history of their own growth.”

In an article published in the latest issue of the journal Geology, Desmond Moser and his colleagues explain how chemical signatures detected in the zircon confirm the presence of oceans on Earth over the 200-million-year stretch of time during which the minute crystal was forming about 2.7 billion years ago.

The cooling of the surrounding rock in which the zircon formed finally ended its long period of growth, sealing inside key information about the state of Canada’s future landmass at that time.

Describing their discovery as a “robust, microcrystalline record of the early genesis of North America,” the researchers say this novel feature of the zircon offers a new way of “reconstructing planetary dynamics” on Earth and other worlds – a kind of litmus test in which zircons recovered from Mars or other planets might yield proof of long-extinct oceans or other tell-tale signs of possible life.

“This research shows that these crystals are incredibly resistant to change and proves for the first time that the growth zones we see inside them contain an accurate record of their movements through and around the Earth,” says Desmond Moser.

“The oldest pieces of our planet are crystals of zircon. These crystals are the memory cells of the Earth, and with our study we can now say they are an accurate recorder of planetary evolution over eons – in the same way that rings on an old growth tree can record changes in a forest over hundreds of years.”

He added that the discovery “provides a new tool for dating the appearance of oceans on other rocky planets like Mars, where Rover results indicate zircon crystals should exist.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 4, 2008 article by Randy Boswell over The CanWest News Service

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