Monday, August 21, 2006

An End To Old Age?

Taking a radical departure from the political topics that have dominated my blog recently, this post introduces a topic that I consider much more important. However, to a certain degree, this post builds on my previous post concerning President Dubya's misguided opposition to funding for embryonic stem cell research. To wit, can medical science find a cure for old age? If so, when? According to Dr. Michael Fossel of Michigan State University, old age may soon be as curable as polio, notwithstanding a lack of funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Since I was a small child in grade school, I was intrigued by the thought that the aging process was somehow genetically programmed into our DNA, and I anticipated a day when medical science could unravel the human genome and figure out a way to halt and/or reverse the aging process. And during my undergraduate studies in anthropology, I discovered the field of senescence, which (at the time) seemed to have an explanation for why aging occurs, but didn't yet seem to know how to halt or reverse the process. In sum, for reasons that were once quite mysterious, the specialized cells that constitute the vast majority of cells in the human body became post-mitotic, meaning that they could no longer replicate themselves to replace other specialized cells that had been damaged. This phenomenon was known as the Hayflick Limit, and it was contrasted by the relative immortality of stem cells and cancer cells.

While there is not yet a consensus as to why specialized cells become post-mitotic, one theory (championed by the aforementioned Dr. Fossel) is that this phenomenon is caused by the fact the telomeres in specialized cells get shorter every time one of these cells undergoes cellular mitosis and makes a copy of itself. These telomeres are at the end of DNA strands, but they don't carry any genetic information. Rather, telomeres function as aglets -- i.e., the tips of shoelaces - and protect the integrity of the genetic information contained within DNA strands; as telomeres shorten, gene expression is affected in various ways, and when the telomeres on DNA strands become too short to protect the integrity of said DNA strands, the process of cellular mitosis comes to a screeching halt.

Nobody actually dies of old age. Rather, as people get older, their cells become post-mitotic, and they can no longer heal the way that they could when they were younger. Consequently, older people can succumb to minor trauma and diseases that would be trivial to a younger person. Even a small paper cut can be fatal to a centenarian. However, if the telomeres on old cells could be lengthened, the process of cellular mitosis could presumbably resume, and people of advanced age could become young again and have an indefinite lifespan. Indeed, laboratory researchers have already succeeded in lengthening telomeres in DNA strands and rejuvenating old but otherwise healthy cells and tissue. Ironically enough, this was first accomplished by researchers attempting to shorten the length of telomeres in cancer cells, hoping to make those cancer cells self-destruct.

In the final analysis, the regulation of telomere length is probably the key to both health and longevity. Even if this sort of medical treatment becomes commonplace, people would probably still die from a wide variety of causes, but they would be much healthier overall and would no longer require the expensive medical care that elderly people typically require nowadays in their last decade of life. Meanwhile, new medical and social issues will start to emerge as people with access to telomere therapy start to live lives measured in centuries rather than decades even as old and unresolved medical and social issues such as birth control and genocide come into sharper focus.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hans Blix vs. Colin Powell on WMDs in Iraq

I've posted a couple of blog entries on the state of affairs in Iraq, and mosts of the people who have responded to my posts have a very different take on the situation than I do. I expected as much. To wit, Harold C. Hutchison writes:
"Taking down Saddam's regime was the right call. As Senator Norm Coleman has shown, the UN was compromised due to the widespread corruption in the Oil-for-Food program. Trust the UN's inspectors to do the job? Thanks, but no thanks."
This is a classic red herring argument that seeks to poison the proverbial well while distracting from the fact that most people are blisfully unaware of the fact that President Dubya failed and refused to give Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors from the United Nations (U.N.) the time that they wanted and needed to complete their work in Iraq.

At no point in time has the competence or integrity of Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors from the U.N. come into question. What has come into question is the competence and integrity of Dubya's administration in providing former Secretary of State Colin Powell with the obviously faulty intelligence that he used to argue Dubya's case before the U.N. When Blix heard this evidence, he contradicted Powell's conclusions. Also worthy of note is the fact that Powell opposed the invasion of Iraq in 1991 as well as the invasion in March 2003, preferring a policy of containment.
"When Powell left the Bush administration in January 2005, he was widely seen as having been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney over foreign policy choices.

"It was Powell who told the United Nations and the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat. . . . [H]e feels "terrible" about the claims he made in that now-infamous address — assertions that later proved to be false.

"When asked if he feels it has tarnished his reputation, he said, 'Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now.'"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Misleading Fox News Reports on WMDs in Iraq

In a previous blog post, I asserted:
"Notwithstanding insidious suggestions and insinuations to the contrary, no evidence of WMDs was ever found in Iraq after Dubya launched his March 2003 invasion of that country, and neither can Dubya's invasion of Iraq be justified by Saddam Hussein's alleged failure to comply with the demands of United Nations (U.N.) weapons inspectors."
To which Harold C. Hutchison responded:
"[I]t has been reported that Coalition forces in Iraq have discovered over 500 shells with chemical weapons (sarin and mustard gas). There is also evidence that a lot of stuff may have been moved to Syria."
While Harold's response is a respectful challenge to my assertion that no evidence of WMDs was ever found in Iraq after Dubya launched his March 2003 invasion of that country, it is nonetheless a repetition of insidious and misleading pro-Dubya propaganda that can be traced directly to a report by Fox News. Here's a link to the original article from May 17, 2004 which states in pertinent part:
"A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent recently exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday.

" [ . . . ]

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the results were from a field test, which can be imperfect, and said more analysis was needed.

"[ . . . ]

". . . U.S. military units [also] discovered mustard gas that was used as part of an IED. Tests conducted by the Iraqi Survey Group — a U.S. organization searching for weapons of mass destruction — and others concluded the mustard gas was 'stored improperly,' which made the gas 'ineffective.'

"They believe the mustard gas shell may have been one of 550 projectiles for which former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein failed to account when he made his weapons declaration shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom began last year. Iraq also failed to then account for 450 aerial bombs with mustard gas. That, combined with the shells, totaled about 80 tons of unaccounted for mustard gas.

"[ . . . ]

"It was a weapon that we believe was stocked from the ex-regime time and it had been thought to be an ordinary artillery shell set up to explode like an ordinary IED and basically from the detection of that and when it exploded, it indicated that it actually had some sarin in it," [Brig. Gen. Mark] Kimmitt said.
So, from two reports of two small, separate groups of Iraqi insurgents who did not even know they were in possession of what might have been inactive sarin or mustard gas misplaced by Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, the Fox News propaganda machine goes to work and a respectful poster leaves a comment on my blog asserting the good faith belief that some 500 shells containing mustard gas and sarin were found in Iraq after Dubya's March 2003 invasion.

Just to be clear, the math worked the other way around. To wit, using the very facts found in the Fox News Report:

1. Prior to Dubya's March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein failed to account for some 550 projectiles that he was known to have back in 1991; sometime later, an additional 450 aerial bombs with mustard gas were also unaccounted for.

2. Exactly *ONE* IED (i.e., "Improvised Explosive Device") that *MIGHT* have contained sarin was detonated by a small group of Iraqi insurgents who apparently had no idea that the IED might have contained sarin.

3. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautions that "the results were from a field test, which can be imperfect, and said more analysis was needed."

4. In a separate unrelated incident, U.S. military units discovered some mustard gas from the same 1991 stockpile that had been stored improperly and thus been rendered ineffective.

5. In that same news report, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist is quoted as telling Fox News that "he believes many similar weapons stockpiled by the former regime were either buried underground or transported to Syria."

In a more recent report by Fox News in June 2003, Senator Rick Santorum cited a declassified report by the National Ground Intelligence Center as stating, "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent." However, in that same Fox News report:
"Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

'This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991,' the official said, adding the munitions 'are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.'"
In sum, if there is any mustard gas or sarin from 1991 stockpiles that was moved to Syria (no evidence of that, BTW) or that is now in the possession of Iraqi insurgents, it is a direct consequence of the fact that Dubya failed to allow weapons inspectors from the U.N. to complete their inspections in Iraq.

Harold Hutchison also wrote:
"[T]here have been numerous documetns recovered showing that Saddam's regime had a connection with al-Qaeda. Among these was a 1998 document discovered in April, 2003, by a reporter from the Toronto Star, and it was the subject of a major article in that paper.
Numerous documents? I guess one is a number. So is two. And as far as I can tell, there has been exactly *ONE* document recovered by Toronto Star reporter Mitch Potter. Here's a link to the original article, and here's the spin of Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard:
"On April 27, 2003, Toronto Star reporter Mitch Potter, his translator, and a colleague from the London Telegraph came across a document in the burned-out headquarters of the Mukhabarat in Baghdad. . . . It was, Potter wrote at the time, 'the first hard evidence of contact between bin Laden's al Qaeda organization and Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime.' Bin Laden's name appeared three times in the document--crudely covered with liquid paper. The goal of the meeting, according to the memo's author, was to discuss 'the future of our relationship with . . . bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him.' The individual coming to Baghdad, the memo continued, may represent 'a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden.'"
Just to be clear, in my previous post on the topic of Dubya's justification for his March 2003 invasion of Iraq, I offered no opinion whatsoever regarding whatever relationship Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda might or might not have had with Iraq or Saddam Hussein prior to Dubya's invasion. However, the fact that an al-Qaeda representative visited Iraq in April of 1998 does not change the fact that Dubya should have given Hans Blix and his U.N. weapons inspectors the time they wanted and needed to complete their work in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

President Dubya and Weapons of Mass Distortion in Iraq

In a previous blog post entitled Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Weapons of Mass Distortion, I mentioned briefly that the purported existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (abbreviated WMD) was one of the many pretexts that President George Dubya used for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Notwithstanding insidious suggestions and insinuations to the contrary, no evidence of WMDs was ever found in Iraq after Dubya launched his March 2003 invasion of that country, and neither can Dubya's invasion of Iraq be justified by Saddam Hussein's alleged failure to comply with the demands of United Nations (U.N.) weapons inspectors. Rather, long before the events of September 11th gave Dubya an opportunity to convince the United States Congress to give him the authority to invade Iraq, Dubya had set his sights on toppling Saddam's regime, and Dubya failed to give U.N. weapons inspectors the time that they wanted and needed to finish their work in Iraq.

The facts that I narrated in the paragraph above are a matter of public record, and yet a majority of Americans believe otherwise. Even among those who acknowledge these facts, there is a large contingent who believe that Dubya's invasion of Iraq can be justified as a means of effecting regime change. Herein lies the problem: Few Americans know why Dubya invaded Iraq, and even fewer care. And the reason for this sad state of affairs is that Dubya has become quite effective in his use of Weapons of Mass Distortion, also abbreviated WMD.

Make no mistake about it: The current sad state of affairs in Iraq is a direct consequence of Dubya's military adventurism. Given Osama bin Laden's involvement in September 11th, there are very few people who would find fault with Dubya for invading Afghanistan to capture bin Laden, and had Dubya finished the job he started in Afghanistan instead of invading Iraq, the world might actually be a safer place today. Indeed, had Dubya given U.N. weapons inspectors the time that they needed to complete their work in Iraq, the military buildup leading up to Dubya's invasion of Iraq could have been justified as well. However, Dubya seemed to believe that Iraq was going to be a quick victory that he could put in the win column before moving on to the next despotic evildoer. It is this sort of adventurist hubris that has overstretched the United States (U.S) military and put hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers in harms way.

The legality of Dubya's invasion of Iraq is often debated, with the most unlikely apologist for Dubya being former President Clinton. To wit, in an interview with Time Magazine in June 2004, Clinton said:
"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over."
For me, this is the crux of the matter. If Dubya had allowed the U.N. weapons inspectors to complete their work prior to his March 2003 invasion, the fact that there was no evidence of WMDs in Iraq would have undermined the primary rationale for launching an invasion.

While I am not privvy to the intelligence that Dubya relied upon in launching his invasion of Iraq, I find it hard to believe that Dubya sincerely believed that Saddam Hussein's regime presented a clear and present danger to the United States. Rather, I think that Dubya expected to find *SOME* evidence that could be distorted to argue that Saddam was interested in pursuing the development of WMDs, thus obscuring Dubya's true goal of exporting democracy to Iraq at the point of a gun. And in the final analysis, this is what truly concerns me: Rather than using the U.S. military as an option of last resort, Dubya seems to believe that war is just another tool of foreign policy.

War is hell. This is not to say that war cannot be justified, but waging a pre-emptive military action to effect regime change and/or export democracy sets a very dangerous precedent. Those were Dubya's objectives when he invaded Iraq, and while he succeeded in deposing Saddam Hussein and establishing a fledgling democracy in Iraq, he has no exit strategy. Meanwhile, Iraq is in the middle of an insurgency that enjoys an astonishing amount of popular support from Iraqis and fully one third of Iraq's Parliament would like to see the U.S.-led coalition withdraw its military forces.