GENOME PROJECT RAISES HOPES, FEARS
Copying the human script
Two rival groups of scientists have announced that the race to decode the human genome has ended-in a tie. J. Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics, and Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, joined in a White House ceremony on June 26 to announce that they've deciphered the human hereditary script. The two organizations had been in competition since 1998, when Dr. Venter started a private company and announced that he would beat Dr. Collins's largely government-funded group to the punch. What had proceeded as placid academic research turned into a hectic race. The DNA code functions like a language based on four chemical "letters." Together the two research organizations identified the 3 billion chemical letters that constitute the human genome (the sum of genetic material contained in every cell of the human body). Yet this is only the beginning. "Scientists have merely uncovered the text for a language we barely know how to read," John Bloom of Biola University told WORLD. As scientists learn to "read" the genome, they hope to develop new therapies for genetically based illnesses. Yet there are also reasonable concerns-for example, that abortion will increase as the unborn are increasingly screened for genetic defects. And as genetic engineering becomes viable, it will be hard for parents to resist the temptation to seek a competitive advantage by tweaking their children's genes (see "Cracking the code," April 29). New genetic discoveries could also give a boost to the philosophy of genetic reductionism, the belief that our genes decisively shape who we are. Even while making their stunning announcement, Dr. Collins warned against "genetic determinism" and Dr. Venter spoke of his conviction that the human spirit transcends our physiology. And not only the human spirit. The human body itself transcends what is contained in the DNA molecule. Each cell in our body has the same DNA, yet some become liver cells and others heart cells. Why? Because the genes are differentially turned on or off. "But this means that genes are being turned on or off by factors outside themselves," argues Jon Wells, author of the forthcoming Icons of Evolution. "Control rests with something beyond the genes." That's why "identical twins, with exactly the same DNA, often have different personalities, preferences, and even skills," explains David DeWitt of Liberty University. Finally, the deciphering of the DNA code gives fresh urgency to the question of its origin. Because of the staggering complexity of DNA, researchers have abandoned chance theories of life's origin; instead, they are searching for some natural law to explain the rise of the first replicating molecule in a primeval soup. Yet lawful events are regular and repeatable, which the sequence of letters in DNA is not. Had it been a repeating pattern, then mapping the genome would have been a simple task: Merely find the formula that describes the pattern and you'd solve the puzzle. Instead DNA exhibits "specified complexity"-an irregular sequence that fits a prescribed pattern. Other examples include books, musical scores, and computer programs. In all known instances, specified complexity is produced by an intelligent agent, not by blind natural forces. The conclusion is compelling. At the White House ceremony, even President Clinton resorted to God talk: "Today we are learning the language in which God created life." Dr. Collins, who is an evangelical Christian, added, "We have caught the first glimpses of our instruction book, previously known only to God." The deciphering of the code of life is making it harder than ever for scientists to insist on a naturalistic account of life's origin.
-Nancy Pearcey REMEMBERING THE SEVEN-MONTH CUBAN RAFTER SAGA
Miami relatives of Elián Gonzalez took in the private miracle of the boy's arrival in their lives seven months ago, but never the public mania that came with it. When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani issued a personal invitation to Lazaro Gonzalez to pull down the millennium ball in Times Square, the boy's great-uncle flat refused. Friends told WORLD they were "baffled" by his failure to seize good press while he could. But cultivating media relations plainly was never uppermost in the mind of the 49-year-old sometime car mechanic when he took in the shipwrecked boy. Imagine if he had said yes to his 15 minutes of fame on New Year's Eve. Surely a circuit would have followed: Katie for breakfast, Kathie Lee over brunch, Oprah at teatime. Who knows how history might have been different? Elián might been riding his swingset instead of a chartered plane to Havana. But Mr. Gonzalez stayed a different course. He spent many a sleepless night, convinced that federal agents would "come in through the window," while the press and pundits mocked. He stuck to a vow to see his constitutional rights through to the Supreme Court, who rejected his appeal on June 28, clearing the way for Elián's return to Cuba later that day. He also remained stubborn about his simple motivation: handing Elián over the federal authorities, sending him back to Cuba, would be like putting the boy back on a raft, he said over and over; like denying the miracle of his rescue on Thanksgiving Day. Other players proved more adept at change. Juan Miguel Gonzalez exchanged his T-shirts for polo shirts; he bought new shoes before he arrived in the United States in April. He learned how to grasp the podium and speak a few English phrases into the microphone. He learned how to avoid tough questions: why he waited nearly five months to come for his boy; why he refused to go to Florida to retrieve Elián; why he never answered offers for reconciliation from his Miami uncle before leaving American soil. Federal officials "grew" too. Last December immigration authorities agreed that Lazaro should take custody of Elián and the case should go to family court in Florida. But days later, after Fidel Castro issued his "72-hour" ultimatum for the boy's return, the Clinton administration reversed course. A case that could have been decided by legal proceeding became the subject of fiat. Sticky immigrant cases are always decided in the context of politics and foreign policy. That is why the courts have ceded wide discretion to the executive branch in deciding individual cases. For all the attention to court rulings, they were only a postlude. President Clinton made plain that politics and threats would be deciding factors when he declared last December that the case would not be decided on the basis of "politics or threats." Yet those instruments achieved perfect pitch on the dawn of April 22, when U.S. agents seized Elián at gunpoint just days after an appeals court agreed to hear Lazaro's case and ordered the boy to remain in the United States. The gutsy Clinton-Reno seizure dramatically shifted the momentum-legal and political-in favor of sending the boy back to Castro, and the two-month interlude served only to give the courts time to finish the paperwork. So a few tips for future Eliáns:
- Come in a Michelin tire. You might win corporate sponsorship.
- Look for a lawyer with a label. Scandal brand is fine; the Greg Craigs of the world know the media ropes-far more important than knowledge of immigration law or passionate views about democracy.
- Watch closely when politicians and church lobbyists say "parental rights." You will sense when they are in unfamiliar territory.
- Seemingly friendly lawmakers may only kick you when you are down. On the same day as Elián's return to Cuba, House Republicans, once champions of an Elián citizenship bill, cut a deal to allow direct sales of U.S. food to Cuba for the first time in four decades.
- Remember, Americans have enjoyed prosperity so long they have little idea what hardship is.
-Mindy Belz MILLIONAIRE BRIDE BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Remember Darva Conger? The woman who married Rick Rockwell on national television, then faded from the scene after announcing she wanted her privacy, tossed herself back into the limelight for Playboy magazine. Going on Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire was "a stupid mistake," but posing nude is a way to earn back the income she missed after she lost her job as an emergency room nurse. Ms. Conger told a Reuters interviewer that she was "in conflict with God" over appearing in Playboy, but that she's been forgiven: "I believe in a forgiving God, a God who sees in my heart. I will take my chances with Him forgiving me because I think He is more accepting and forgiving than the rest of the public." Ms. Conger explained it was all about money: "What was I expected to do, stay at home and watch as they foreclosed on my house?" HRC "PLEASED" TO MARCH IN PRIDE PARADE
Shades of gay
A 17-year-old boy complained that someone groped him outside a Greenwich Village bar during festivities after New York City's Gay Pride Parade. He said the officer he talked to, Donna Gaudino, did nothing to help him. Soon after, she was suspended without pay for up to 30 days. (The allegation comes two weeks after allegations that New York's Finest failed to help women being sexually abused following the Puerto Rican Day Parade.) During the homosexual event, police arrested over 500 people, including a separate case of sexual abuse. The highlight of the Gay Pride Parade was former opponents Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton marching in the same event. Mrs. Clinton marched 20 paces behind a man in a pink tutu and a Rollerblader wearing nothing but a thong. She gave the thumbs-up sign and clapped her hands to disco music. The crowd shouted "You look gorgeous" and "We love you." Parade-goers had much to celebrate, especially the Vermont law that allows civil unions between homosexuals. "It's a year we can look back on and say there's been some progress," the first lady told reporters. "I'm pleased to be here on behalf of equal rights for gays and lesbians." A PREVIEW OF PISA
Stand up straight
Every kid's favorite example of weird architecture is being fixed up for the new millennium. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was opened for one day to show off a project aimed at correcting part of its famous lean. The 190-foot high tower has been closed for a decade to protect it from decay and to prepare for an ambitious restoration plan. A pair of steel "suspenders" were attached to the tower, then soil was excavated under its foundations. So far, this seems to be working. Construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa started in 1173 as testament to the town's glory as a wealthy port town. The soil underneath its foundations began sinking when it was just 34 feet high, starting its centuries-long tilt. The builders forged ahead, however, managing to complete it in 1360. When the work began, the tower leaned 6 degrees, or 13 feet, off the perpendicular, on its south side. Now it is 5 inches straighter-back to the levels of more than a century ago. So far, about 250 cubic feet of earth have been excavated; 460 cubic feet still have to be taken away. Project officials hope to have the work finished next spring. When they do, the monument will lean 17 inches less than it did in 1700."At that point," says Michele Jamiolkowski, who heads the committee overseeing the $27 million project, "the tower will be OK for two or three centuries." SF HIPPIE HANGOUT ALMOST A LANDMARK
Four years after Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore in 1953, he was busted on obscenity charges. Today, he's the toast of the town. The city is now giving his old-time leftism a new coat of paint and a hip retread: the Board of Supervisors is on the verge of making the site a landmark, commemorating the store that changed bookselling forever. Mr. Ferlinghetti and his then-associate, Shigeyoshi Muraro, were arrested for selling Allen Ginsberg's sexually graphic poem "Howl" to an undercover policeman. Both were acquitted and then benefited from a round of free publicity. Shining from City Lights were the Beatniks of the Jack Kerouac variety. They taught America how to be bohemian with their contempt for middle-class life. Mr. Ferlinghetti & Co. call it "anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking." Future 1960s radicals cut their teeth on this stuff. Fellow travelers like William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski are considered classic today, sold regularly at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Much of this prose is inscrutable to those who are not initiated into the genre. Back in the 1950s, the Beats posed as rebels, striking with their pens against the Establishment. Today their worldview is part of the Establishment, loved by everyone from academics to city fathers. City Lights still publishes about a dozen books a year, boasting on its Web page of "its resistance to forces of conservatism and censorship." Decades ago, tour buses would pull up in front of the store so out of town visitors could catch a glimpse of the funny-looking beatniks who hang out there. Today, the City Lights is now a tourist attraction for those visiting San Francisco, hailed as one of the great American bookstores. What once was freaky is now celebrated. -Chris Stamper NEW "REALITY TV" SERIES DUSTS OFF A CLICHé
Big Brother, no relation
Poor George Orwell. Political debaters first beat his once-powerful notion of "Big Brother" from the book 1984 into a cliché; now a sensationalist TV show has beaten it into uselessness. CBS is bringing the program to the United States, with ten people living in a house decked with 28 cameras. The network's big publicity stunt for this is keeping the participants' identities secret until the July 5 premiere. Cameras and a fleet of 60 microphones will keep vigil over the group until either the audience or other contestants boot nine of them out. The survivor gets $500,000 and the expected moment of glory. (Dutch, German, and Spanish TV alums have become minor celebrities from their appearances.) Contestants will be denied access to radio, TV, and newspapers and will face rationing of food and alcohol, with small amounts of beer and wine allowed-"not enough to get drunk," executive producer Paul Romer explains. The concept Big Brother is selling has little to do with voyeurism. Like Survivor, Cops, game shows, and blooper shows, this is reality TV. In the era of dropping ratings, reality TV is a cheap way to get lots of attention and audiences. The network is losing confidence that it can produce drama and comedy that will keep America tuned in. The trouble with Big Brother is that people forget Orwell's book, which still raises valid points. The author spent much of his career trying to save the left from totalitarianism, although his comrades had a love-hate relationship with him. His books became hot stuff in the 1980s, when the real 1984 came around, then slowly started slipping out of popularity. CBS is hoping that slippage isn't permanent.