Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Great Ads

I thought it might be fun to re-post some stuff we had up on Viewpoint last spring that everyone got a kick out of and which will give readers a break from our usual fare:

The universe of good beer advertisements is not large, but this one is a hoot. Be sure to turn on the sound. Music lovers will appreciate the use of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

Then go here and here for a couple of outstanding car ads. Very clever.

A Regenerated Heart, So to Speak

There's an interesting article on organ regeneration at EurekAlert that has fascinating philosophical implications. Here's an excerpt:

When a portion of a zebrafish's heart is removed, the dynamic interplay between a mass of stem cells that forms in the wound and the protective cell layer that covers the wound spurs the regeneration of functional new heart tissue, Duke University Medical Center scientists have found.

The scientists further discovered that key growth factors facilitate the interaction between the cell mass and the protective covering, encouraging the formation of new heart muscle.

Many cell biologists believe the ability to regenerate damaged heart tissue may be present in all vertebrate species, but that for unknown reasons, mammals have "turned off" this ability over the course of evolution. Zebrafish could provide a model to help researchers find the key to unlocking this dormant regenerative capacity in mammals, and such an advance could lead to potential treatments for human hearts damaged by disease, the Duke scientists said.

"If you look in nature, there are many examples of different types of organisms, such as axolotls, newts and zebrafish, that have an elevated ability to regenerate lost or damaged tissue," said Kenneth Poss, Ph.D., senior researcher for the team, which published the findings on Nov. 3, 2006, in the journal Cell. First authors of the paper were Alexandra Lepilina, M.D., and Ashley Coon.

"Interestingly, some species have the ability to regenerate appendages, while even fairly closely related species do not," Poss added. "This leads us to believe that during the course of evolution, regeneration is something that has been lost by some species, rather than an ability that has been gained by other species. The key is to find a way to 'turn on' this regenerative ability."

This is strange given the Darwinian paradigm. One would think that regeneration would have tremendous adaptive value to an organism and thus be strongly conserved. Why would such a capacity, once developed, get turned off?

It's also strange that it's very hard to turn on a capacity that is believed to be already present and latent within us, but the development of that capacity by the blind, undirected forces of evolution isn't considered at all extraordinary. If turning the capacity on is proving devilishly difficult how much more astonishing is the erection of the entire biochemical apparatus from scratch?

Finally, does the latent power of regeneration in mammals suggest that our ancient ancestors were at least in some ways more highly evolved than we are today? In other words, the evidence from regeneration suggests that rather than evolving from more primitive states to more advanced, we may have started out as more highly advanced and subsequently devolved from that initial state over time to a state of lower complexity. This evidence, at least, seems to suggest that living things are not as complex as they originally were, which is precisely the opposite of what Darwinian evolution maintains.

Now wouldn't more evidence for that hypothesis just throw the Darwinians into a tizzy?

Course Correction

Robert Kagan and William Kristol call for the only change in course in Iraq that makes sense - send in more troops:

In Iraq, US policies have steadily undermined public confidence that America has either the will or capacity to provide the security Iraqis need. So they have turned to their own sectarian armed groups for protection. That, and not historical inevitability or the alleged failings of the Iraqi people, has brought Iraq closer to civil war.

These policies have been equally damaging in the US. The American people have rightly judged that the administration is floundering in Iraq and, worse, is not committed to doing what is necessary to succeed. This perception undoubtedly played a large part in last week's mid-term election. Now, many Americans are looking to the Iraq Study Group, the commission headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, for a face-saving, bipartisan way to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible. The great irony is that with nothing new to offer, the Baker commission's forthcoming report - if it takes the shape most observers predict - will probably suffer the same fate as similar past efforts.

There is a popular theory that the prospect of US withdrawal will force Iraqis to reach an accommodation with one another. This would be more plausible had it not been disproved by three years of painful experience. Instead of looking for a face-saving way to lose in Iraq, President Bush could finally demand of his top advisers a strategy to succeed: provide the US force levels necessary to achieve even minimal political objectives. This could begin by increasing US troops in Iraq by at least 50,000 in order to clear and hold Baghdad without shifting troops from other parts of Iraq. These operations could then be expanded into areas of insurgency. This strategy would not stabilise the country right away but could secure Iraq's vital centre and provide real hope for progress.

We have two realistic options in Iraq. Either quit or win. If we're going to quit we should do it now, with all the calamitous consequences such a course of action would entail for the people of that region, before any more Americans lose life or limb. If we're going to win then we should send in the manpower necessary to accomplish the task and get it done. The Republicans lost the Congress partly because the Bush administration has given the impression that they've made the decision to opt for a third course - to neither quit nor win. The American people quite rightly have no patience for the ineptitude that kind of "strategic thinking" exposes.