Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Living my Fantasy in the Star Trek Universe

By day I am a paediatrician and a theologian. I captain a spaceship by night. The name of my  spaceship is USS Alexander. It is a Constitution class cruiser. I have since upgraded to USS Alexander H, and it is a Galaxy Dreadnought. I have a beautiful female human first officer called Number One, a Vulcan science officer and an Andorian engineering officer. Every night I undertake missions given to me by Star Fleet Command. Have I gone crazy as John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind (2001) or Sam Lowry in Brazil (1985)? Hardly. I am enjoying the simulated Star Trek Online (STO) game. For years I have waited for the Internet in my home to improve both in speed and bandwidth. Finally this year, it has allowed me to join thousands of Trekkies or Trekkers in this total immersion experience. Star Trek Online draws on almost all background materials from the television series; Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Enterprise, and the movies up to Star Trek: Nemesis. It does not include J. J. Abrams’ two recent reboot movies. In other words it remain in the original timeline where Vulcan was not destroyed. It continues about 30 years after the events of the movie Nemesis in the 25th Century. Star Trek Online is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by Cryptic Studios which went live in February 2010.

The game is a gradually virtual expanding universe as every few months a ‘season’ was added to it. Each season is made up of a series of missions. The missions are developed by the game designers (who I suspect are all Trekkies) as if each mission is an episode of a Star Trek television series. The screen writing is so good that at times I have a sense of déjà vu. I feel I am actually living through an episode of Star Trek! It is that good. So far nine seasons had been released. These seasons are in order (1) Common ground; (2) Ancient enemies; (3) Genesis; (4) Crossfire; (5) Call to Arms; (6) Under siege; (7) New Romulus; (8) The sphere; and (9) A New Accord. All these are accessible for me to play free. Legacy of Romulus is the only season so far that one has to pay to play. It is sited between seasons seven and eight. Each season is located in one area of space so that I get to enjoy each television series accordingly. One season involves the Cardassians and the Dominion and I get to hang around Deep Space Nine. I can actually walk around the promenade and hang out in Quark’s Bar. One involves the Klingon while the Borg invasion is featured in another. The player acquire skills and is promoted. With promotion comes a new starship. The maximum rank in Federation is Vice-Admiral. I can play as one of the three sects: Federation, Klingon, and Romulan.

Fandom of Star Trek is huge. Fans come in various shape, sizes, ages and colours, yet they are united in their love of a concept of the adventures of a future spaceship or ‘wagon train to the stars’ created by Gene Rodenberry and subsequent writers and directors. Star Trek is a rich imaginary universe that has a consistency and continuity. With the premature cancellation of the television series Enterprise in 2005, there has not been any new television series. The timeline continues on in the Star Trek novels by Pocket books and the IDW comics. The two movies by J. J. Abrams Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek into Darkness (2013) is basically a reboot of the franchise which develops in a separate timeline. Fans themselves have not been idle. The fans created stories, novels, videos and mechanizing is enormous. Among the fans themselves, there are efforts to reach out to one another. This is especially capitalized by Star Trek convocations which are huge events and yearly highlights around the world. When a trekkie meet another trekkie, there is a special bond that comes from a shared ‘heritage’. That is something that is difficult to find in this postmodern world where the bonds of friendship, family and community are being dissolved in a daily basis.

There are good guys and villains in this universe. However they act in predictable fashion according to Star Trek rules. There are gun (phaser) battles on land (away team) and space battles. Yet there is no gore nor glorification of violence. One feels that one need to fight either for the sect one belongs to (Federation, Klingon, or Romulan), loyalty to friends, and honor. There is no senseless violence as in the world outside the virtual universe. In this sense in this construct of electrons there is still honor, decency and hope.

Hope was something that Star Trek offers in the decades of the 1960s. That period was a period of upheaval with the Vietnam War, the hippies, and drug abuse. Star Trek shows that people from different races can get along with each other; and achieve something together as a team. Each episode was a commentary on the sociopolitical situation but each episode ends with hope. Star Trek reminds us that we are better than we are. By pointing to the stars and boldly going where no man (and woman) has gone before, we can build a future for our children and our children’s children. The message that Star Trek brings is still relevant today. Maybe that is why I enjoy Star Trek Online so much. It reminds me of the ideals of Star Trek. It reassure me that there is always hope. And hope is what I need the most now.

Soli Deo Gloria

6 June 2014

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Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Medical Utopias: Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Medical utopias are often about good health, absence of suffering, and even delaying of the aging process. The last two decades have seen a tremendous increase in emerging medical technologies to achieve these utopias. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome sets the stage for the next step of genetic and molecular advances. The increase in computing power, storage capacity, connectivity, and the Internet has opened avenues of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The perfecting of sustaining cell growth in vitro and cell nucleus transfer has opened the way to cloning, stem cell harvesting, and a new field of regenerative medicine. However, these emerging technologies bring with them a large number of bioethical concerns that need to be addressed. These concerns involving tissue engineering, bioelectronics, new genetics, cloning, gene therapy, germ-line genome modifications are only the tip of the iceberg. In this paper I will reflect on three areas of concern. Firstly, the emergence of the digital patient will be considered. This digital patient will be deeply formed and informed by health information technology (IT), the social media, and issues involving privacy, confidentiality and data security. Secondly, the direct to customers (DTC) genetic screening tests will be discussed. The ethical issue of buccal swabs taken at home and be tested for genetic diseases and future prediction of other illnesses which is marketed directly to the consumers will be examined. Finally, the development of new pharmaco-therapeutics will be explored. There have been changes in the way new drugs are tested and these changes do raise some ethical concerns. The examination of these ethical issues will be done in the framework of respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. 


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Faith and Photography

Seeing God in all things

I have taken up a new hobby, photography. I have been taking photos as long as I can remember. First with cameras that needed film (you know, film, negatives, darkroom) and later with digital cameras. I just need a camera that I can point and shoot. I think I have a natural flare for composition but hopeless with focusing. That is why I always tell my wife and children that I need an idiot proof camera- the idiot being me!

I have been writing and making word pictures. I practice and teach others, lectio divina which is spiritual reading. Lectio divina is letting the text speaks to us instead of us analyzing the text. Then it occurs to me; why not let what I see speaks to me. No, I am not in Gaia theory like what the movie Avatar by James Cameron espouse. I believe that God created this world; and this creation is His other book. I think theologians call this General Revelation. The Bible is His special revelation. If this is general revelation, this means I can see the hand of the Creator in his creation. Hence I need to see. Normally I look but do not see. I want to see God in all things. Hence photography. Photography, as I have discovered, is a specific way of seeing. It may be used as a special way of spiritual viewing. I call this lectio visi or spiritual viewing. This specific way of seeing via photography is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is a habit that draws us closer to God. I always resonate with the Psalmist when he sings “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together with joy;” (Ps. 98:7-8).

I bought a dSLR camera a month ago. It is hard work as I forsake my autofocus and take on the work of creating photographs that reflect my Lord. As a well written article or book is a joy, so is a well taken photograph that captures the essence of a person or a landscape. I have also created a website, Faith and Photography <> which I collaborate with my son-in-law who is a much better photographer than I will ever be. So if you see me coming with my camera, smile and let me capture the joy of the Lord in you.

Soli Deo Gloria


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Batman: Requiem for Robin

This is one of the best Batman collection I have read since the new 52 was launched a couple of years ago. Damian Wayne, Batman/Bruce Wayne's son and the last Robin was killed. These issues explore the loss Batman/Bruce Wayne is feeling and how in his typical way, he reacts to the loss. A powerful series about coping and dealing with loss, especially the loss of one's child.

As a paediatrican, I have stand beside many parents who had lost their child. The intensity and depth of their pain was heart-breaking, even to bystanders. The loss of a child is not only the loss of what was and is,but also of what might have been. Every parent will love to see their child grow up. Death has cruelly cut off that possibility. No parent should have to outlive their children and have to bury them.


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Insight from Batman's Father