Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another stem cell breakthrough

A team of American scientists reported Sunday that they had widened the scope of a Japanese breakthrough in stem cells that many experts have hailed as the greatest medical achievement of 2007.

In November, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and colleagues announced they had reprogrammed human skin cells to have the multiple potency of stem cells culled from human embryos. [...]

Reporting on Sunday in Nature, a team led by George Daley of the Children's Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts, say they have been able to use the same four genes to derive iPS from foetal lung and skin cells, from neo-natal skin cells as well as from skin samples taken from a healthy human volunteer.

The research is important as it marks a step forward to "patient-specific" stem cells -- in other words, transplanted stem cells that carry the same genetic code as the patient and thus cannot be rejected as alien by the body's immune system, they say.

I've always been too cowardly to take a stand on abortion, as the logical conclusion of most positions are odious to me. It's one of the mercifully few issues in American public life where our ideals of liberty and morality are in direct conflict. So developments like this are most welcome here atop my fence.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


In renewed sympathy to Mike Hendrix, proprietor of, who's had the memory of his late wife befouled by a progg-blogger who shall here go unnamed, and only semi-linked.

"When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

"For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it's your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way.

"If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well."
--Frederick Buechner

Another counter-intuitive global warming datum

What is one of the dire consequences of having the arctic icepack melt? It then re-freezes at a record rate, come wintertime.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What a surprise!

Sen. Sam Brownback in the On The Square section of First Things! He's applauding the recent stem cell research breakthroughs.

This shifts the debate fundamentally. Those who had moral reservations about research on the youngest of humans but were persuaded of the need to pursue treatments can now support this promising research without compromising their pro-life conviction. At the same time, those who claimed that embryonic research was the only promising way forward can unite around a promising new technique that presents no ethical dilemmas.

What the vast majority of Americans want is now possible: the pursuit of promising research that does not cross ethical lines, honors human dignity, and preserves innocent life.

As is so often the case with science news, the actual facts aren't quite so pat as the headlines make them out to be. We're still years away from putting these discoveries to any practical use. But it is a ray of hope, in what had been an increasingly ugly ethical war.

The Wheels of Justice Grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly...slowly

Imagine if the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi high command had not been held until the year before the United States' Bicentennial. Imagine if the secret speech Nikita Khrushchev gave denouncing Stalinism had not been given until the year after the Apple MacIntosh was introduced.

Got it? Now imagine if the first trials of the top Khmer Rouge cadres had not been held until, oh, last week.

Heart surgeon by day, attack copter pilot by night...

...or on his days off.

This story has been wending its way through the wires over the past couple of weeks, in various forms (i.e., some versions don't include the successful outcome of an Arab baby's heart surgery). An Israeli heart surgeon, "Yuval", regularly saves the lives of Arab children. He also regularly fires on Arab terrorists, as a Cobra attack helicopter pilot.

Yuval’s oldest son was born in the 1990s, after the Oslo accords. He dreamed that his son wouldn’t be drafted. Then, in 2000, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. Suicide bombers blew up Israeli discos and caf├ęs.

Israelis responded with force. Palestinians from Gaza were banned, including the men who labored with Yuval. Yuval flew targeted assassination missions, killing about 15 intifada members, he said. After a strike, Yuval said, he would emerge from his cockpit successful, yet feeling bad, his hair wet with sweat, his neck reddened with tension.

Some pilots quit. They criticized the military. Yuval called them “unforgivable.”

As he snapped pink pajamas on his daughter, Yuval said, “If you think you’re more moral, stay in and fight the battle the way you think it should be fought.”

Such is the life of citizen-warriors, who dwell in a land where their mortal enemies are but a brief bus ride away. It's actually a touching story, and although this Jewish news media watchdog group found reason to carp, it's actually a fair slice-of-life bit of reportage. If some psychic conflict is intended to be suggested here, I didn't find it. In fact, one immediately thinks of the lack of psychic conflict among the Palestinians, murdering Jews one minute and coming to Israeli clinics the next. The doctors there do their jobs without bias, but admit: when Jewish terrorism victims are brought in through the Arab waiting room, it gets hard when they cheer.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Pope on why atheism leads to tyranny

"The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is—in its origins and aims—a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested. Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world's suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world."