Selected Short Subjects
By Jim Scanlon
When Life Begins
When does human life begins? President George Bush seems to agree with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and Fundamentalist Christians in the belief that it begins when a sperm fuses with an egg. This view has important implications for basic biomedical research and the biotechnology corporations that hope to exploit this research for lots of money. If the fertilized egg is a person, you can't mess with it. They want to mess with everything that might make money!
After fertilization (or pollination in plants), the original cell, the fertilized egg, undergoes many rapid divisions and forms a hollow ball called the blastocyst, which eventually collapses, in on itself, and then forms layers that eventually fuses into an embryo. There isn't much difference between an individual duck, or fish, or pig or a human blastocyst. The striking similarity in developing embryos of different species is a major underpinning of the orthodox view of neo Darwinian evolution.
What is peculiar about the blastocyst is that, if it is cut in two, it can become two identical individuals. If these are cut in two again, the pieces can become four individuals and so on. The procedure works the same if the blastocyst is frozen and it works if the cutting tool is something as crude as a razor blade. This method has been used for years in the livestock breeding industry.
So, the blastocyst can become an individual or---a crowd of individuals, a bunch of clones. Someone who deliberately killed a blastocyst might be charged with multiple counts of murder under religious guidelines proposed by many.
The Value of Stem Cells
Using cells from developing fertilized eggs is being extolled as having much promise for developing miracle medical treatments for any number of diseases that afflict human beings, including, but not limited to, Parkinson's Disease (think Muhammad Ali), Diabetes, Senile Dementia (think Ronald Reagan). But we all know that even miracle drugs and medical treatments have drawbacks, and sometimes fatal consequences. So far, though little mention has been made of the potential dangers. Cancer cells are immortal, fast growing and out of the control of the body's immune system. Stem cells, isolated in the laboratory are immortal, fast growing and ... who knows?
A Wetter Sky
At the December 2000 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Professor James Hanson a well known researcher from Harvard University, mentioned his fear that a warmer world, from increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, might be lofting water vapor high into the stratosphere in the tropics. This would have important implications for changing global climate and also for destroying ozone. Well, according to Geophysical Research Letters, that's exactly what seems to be happening right now, at a rate of about one percent per year.
The reason CFCs were so widely used, and valued, was that they were not toxic and very stable. In fact, so stable, that nothing reacted with them and they built up in the atmosphere over the years. Only when they finally thoroughly mixed into the atmosphere, and found their way high up into the stratosphere, could ultraviolet light break them apart and liberate chlorine The chlorine then reacted with a lot of things including ozone, causing ozone holes and more ultraviolet light on some parts of the surface.
Now another persistent contaminant has been discovered. HCFCs(hydrochlorofluorocarbons), the replacements for CFCs, don't last as long as CFCs, and do less damage, but now, it seems that when they break down, their breakdown products include something called trifluoroacetic acid which builds up steadily, since there is no natural removal mechanism.
Recently this acid has been found in rainwater been found in rainwater and is suspected of promoting cancer. They are produced from heating non stick frying pans, the linings of ovens and internal combustion engines.
Here we have another example of very stable, consumer friendly, useful products that unintentionally destroy stratospheric ozone, increase global warming, cool the upper atmosphere, induce climate change and may cause health problems.
The Bush Administration continues to appoint cabinet officials who are either ultraconservative, industry lobbyists, or both. The Department of Interior's Deputy Secretary, J. Steven Griles, was a top lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries. William Myers III, the Department's lead Solicitor was employed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The new Assistant Secretary for Water and Science is a supporter of big landowning and irrigation interests.
The Chief Enforcement Officer for the EPA, Donald Schregardus formerly ran Ohio's EPA where he opposed plans to reduce smog forming emissions that cause health problems downwind. To make matters worse for clean air in the Northeast states, the Bush administration is planning to pull out of a lawsuit filed to reduce these emissions, abandoning the Northeastern states also involved in the law suit.
Finally, the nominee for the top natural resources post in the Department of Agriculture spent 20 years as a lobbyist for the timber industry. The top enforcement officer for environmental laws at the Justice Department was a lobbyist for coal mining interests.
Can it get worst? All the evidence points to it!
Vocabulary Reform Sure To Cause More Trouble
It might help understanding of what is going on in the Near East if a few names were changed.
For instance, "settlers' are really "colonists", and the settlements that dot the West Bank, might, in reality, more properly be designated "strategic hamlets," which is to say, important geographical locations occupied by friendly forces which are vital to controlling the surrounding area.
The "West Bank" itself can be called "The West Bank" or "The Occupied Territories" or "Judea and Samaria" and then the bias of the speaker would be apparent. In other words, you can easily give up "Occupied Territories" or even the "West Bank," but not "Judea" or "Samara."
The military and para military units that kill suspected Palestinian guerrilla (and anyone else unlucky enough to be nearby, are "death squads."
But, you don't have to remember, there will not be a test.
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