Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saving the World, Saving a Presidency

Daniel Pipes argues that there's one way President Obama can rescue a presidency that looks everyday more like the swirling funnel of water about to descend down the drain. The move Pipes suggests would probably unite the country, unite Congress, and cause people to forget the bumbling, fumbling first year of Mr. Obama's term. It would also make the world a much safer place and forestall unimaginable future horrors.

Pipes advises that the President order the military to take out Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

Will he do it? It's an order that he would seem psychologically incapable of issuing, an order that would gain him the enmity of his most ardent supporters on the left, just as LBJ gained their enmity by going into Vietnam. Yet he just might choose to do it because the alternatives of our failing to act are so unthinkable.

Read Pipes' essay to see why he thinks Obama should give the order.


Health Care Snowbirds

The Democrats are still determined to get health care reform passed by hook or by crook, and it's not hard to understand why. If they fail to get legislation on this they're not likely to get legislation on anything else - at least nothing else that's significant. If that happens they'll go down in history as perhaps the most ineffectual custodians of power in the history of the nation, having control of the executive and, until last month, a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and a huge majority in the House and unable to do anything with it.

The problem for the Democrats is that what they want to do is make our health care system more like that of the Canadians, but those Canadians who can are fleeing their system in order to use ours, as this article at National Review Online illustrates:

The decision by Canadian provincial premier Danny Williams to travel to the United States for heart surgery has provided conservative critics of Obamacare with a concrete illustration of a long-held talking point: as socialized medicine stagnates, America's dynamic free-market health-care system is the envy of the world.

And some critics north of the border agree.

"Think about the absurdity of Canadians spending their income on medical treatment outside the country because it's not provided here at home," Brett Skinner, president of the free-market Fraser Institute, told the Vancouver Sun.

Skinner said that Williams, who opted for surgery in the U.S. on the recommendation of his Canadian doctors, was among an estimated 41,000 Canadians who sought health care in the states in 2009 due to long waiting lists and poor access at home.

If the Canadians, who theoretically have access to free care, would rather incur the expense of using our system why on earth are we trying to make our system more like theirs? Are any Democrats out there asking that question?


Religious Stockholm Syndrome

There's a fascinating interview with atheist writer Christopher Hitchens at The Portland Monthly. Hitchens, you will recall is the author of the book God is Not Great, an antiChristian polemic noteworthy more for its hostility toward religious faith than for its logical coherence.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the interview are the responses to Hitchens' attacks on Christian belief by the interviewer, a Unitarian minister named Marilyn Sewell. She seems to concede throughout that, well, Hitchens is right, but she's still going to be religious in some vague sense anyway, and wouldn't it just be nice if Christopher were, too.

There are several illuminating exchanges in the interview (illuminating in the sense that they show how utterly vacuous liberal Christianity can be), but this is perhaps my favorite:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Hitchens is exactly right, of course. As the interview unfolds Sewell practically trips over herself in her attempts to convince Hitchens that she's not like those benighted Christians who take the Bible seriously and who are the object of his scorn. Like someone suffering from a kind of religious Stockholm Syndrome she sounds almost desperate to gain his approval. She insists that she has no real religious beliefs except that the Bible has some good stories and hopes that she will thus find favor in Mr. Hitchens' eyes.

It'd be comical were it not so sad. One wishes that The Portland Monthly had sought the services of an interviewer more willing and able to challenge Hitchens (see here, for example) and less inclined to be obsequious.


More on Stem Cell Research

A few weeks ago we posted a report on some amazing breakthroughs in stem cell research. Reader Kyle responds to that post with a link to an article put out by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that elaborates on this theme and catalogs some of the diseases that stem cells have the potential to meliorate or cure:

Here are some of them:

Type 1 Diabetes in Children. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease characterized by destruction of insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Current efforts to treat these patients with human islet transplantation in an effort to restore insulin secretory function are limited severely by the small numbers of donated pancreases available each year combined with the toxicity of immunosuppressive drug treatments required to prevent graft rejection. Pluripotent stem cells, instructed to differentiate into a particular pancreatic cell called a beta cell, could overcome the shortage of therapeutically effective material to transplant. They also afford the opportunity to engineer such cells to effectively resist immune attack as well as graft rejection.

Nervous System Diseases. Many nervous system diseases result from loss of nerve cells. Mature nerve cells cannot divide to replace those that are lost. Thus, without a "new" source of functioning nerve tissue, no therapeutic possibilities exist. In Parkinson's disease, nerve cells that make the chemical dopamine die. In Alzheimer's disease, cells that are responsible for the production of certain neurotransmitters die. In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the motor nerve cells that activate muscles die. In spinal cord injury, brain trauma, and even stroke, many different types of cells are lost or die. In multiple sclerosis, glia, the cells that protect nerve fibers are lost. Perhaps the only hope for treating such individuals comes from the potential to create new nerve tissue restoring function from pluripotent stem cells.

Cancer. At the present time, bone marrow stem cells, representing a more committed stem cell, are used to rescue patients following high dose chemotherapy. Unfortunately, these recovered cells are limited in their capacity to restore immune function completely in this setting. It is hoped that injections of properly-differentiated stem cells would return the complete repertoire of immune response to patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation. Complete and functional restoration will be required if, for example, immune/vaccine anticancer therapy is to work. More importantly, success would permit use of very toxic (and effective) chemotherapeutic regimens that could not currently be utilized for lack of an ability to restore marrow and immune function.

Kyle adds that:

Much other miraculous potential is being researched as well, not to mention applications that may yet be discovered. The article also mentions that stem cells have the potential to treat almost any immunodeficiency disease. This includes AIDS and many other diseases, where the infected could experience "restoration of immune function and effective normalization of life span and quality of life."

I'm not one to gush about the future, but the current generation of twenty-somethings could well be looking at therapies that will within their lifetimes render many of today's most dread diseases as treatable as antibiotics rendered infection.