The Magazine

The war room redux, Sean Penn, and more.

Dec 30, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 16
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By the time Penn got home, he was in for a rude shock. Iraq Daily had released an account of a phony Penn statement, saying that he "confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction and the United Nations must adopt a positive stance towards Iraq." Penn's people were stunned. Norman Solomon of the sponsoring Institute for Public Accuracy said it was "preposterous" and that Penn had "never said anything of the kind." Penn's publicist said, "Propaganda exists and will be used to suit the perpetrator's advantage." Imagine that--a country whose only newspapers are run by something called the Ministry of Information putting out propaganda.

While Hollywood will no doubt soon be bestowing on Penn some sort of lifetime humanitarian achievement award, we're prepared to offer our version of the same: the Spicoli award (for celebrities more clueless than the stoner surfer Penn played in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"). Or at least we were prepared to make him our Spicoli laureate until we heard the news, as we were going to press, that the original Baghdad Sean, Hanoi Jane Fonda, has just touched down in Israel to protest the West Bank occupation, along with an international feminist organization called "V-Day" (Vagina-Day). With Fonda in the field, and rumors that Mary-Kate and Ashley are off to Myanmar to demand the release of political prisoners, there's still plenty of time to pick a winner--and to get caught up on those Stegner chapters. To be continued. . . .

Truth, Lies, and Clones

STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S DUPLICITY about its new plan to experiment on cloned human embryos--the subject of our editorial last week--continues. On December 11, the university published a "Q&A" on its website, describing its intention to pursue research that "involves inserting the nucleus isolated from an adult cell into an unfertilized egg." It declared that such research is not in fact "human embryonic cloning" (which it is) but "nuclear transplantation (or transferal) to produce human pluripotent stem cell lines." And it further claimed that "President Bush's own bioethics review panel" agreed with the university that cloning is not cloning and that harvesting cloned embryos is a "necessary step" for medical progress.

In fact, the President's Council on Bioethics explicitly rejected Stanford's brand of terminology and unanimously concluded in its July 2002 cloning report that what such research produces and destroys is a "cloned human embryo." And the council did not "endorse" such experiments at all, as the Stanford press release claimed: To the contrary, the council majority recommended a four-year moratorium on this "morally troubling" research. As Leon Kass, the council chairman, put it: "We have resisted the temptation to solve the moral questions by artful redefinition."

Stanford, by contrast, has gone postmodern. After it received a letter from Kass demanding a correction and urging the university to halt its planned cloning experiments, Stanford deleted any reference to the council from its website, apologized for its error, and called the council's view one "interpretation" of the science. But the biggest lie of all remains: Stanford continues to claim that cloning is not cloning, embryos are not embryos, and that the public and the media are not smart enough to know the difference.

As one Stanford spokesperson put it: "We plan to perhaps use the technique we describe but we are calling it something else." In other words: Pay attention to what we say, not what we do.