June 2007


It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, there’s a major scientific study that says you don’t have to do stem cell research.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)

 

Truer words were never spoken (as long as you add “embryonic” to the last three words). Even as Rahm and his buddies were pushing their umpteenth attempt to get federal funding to kick-start the Devil’s choice of embryonic stem cell research (to save a life you must take one), Japanese researchers were announcing a major breakthrough using not even uncontroversial adult stem cells but lowly skin cells.

The Kyoto University breakthrough, announced in the prestigious journal Nature and confirmed by scientists from MIT, Harvard, and UCLA transforms skin cells, one of the easiest cell types to harvest, into an embryonic state. Bypassing the difficulties of cloning and nuclear transfer (transferring the nucleus of one cell to another), Dr. Shinya Yamanaka focused on finding genes that would allow an adult cell to regress to its original primitive, pluripotent state.

And he succeeded, at least for mouse skin cells. In that case, he found just four genes which could enable this “Holy Grail” of stem cell therapy. By every test his team—or their colleagues at other institutions—can preform, these regressed cells are the full equivalent of embryonic stem cells. They seem to lack only one thing: the need to kill a tiny embryo to harvest them.

That’s the real scandal of the stem cell debate. Incredibly promising, non-controversial research is being completely neglected—even ridiculed—as the debate rages over highly controversial, difficult, and (so far) comparatively unproductive research. For no legitimate scientific reason. When Sen. Hillary Clinton said:

This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families.

she was in fact the one putting ideology before science. If she were really committed to advancing science without regard for ideology, she would be supporting independent efforts to increase funding to non-embryonic stem cell research programs. That would show true leadership and an appreciation for the science involved, and could be done alongside continued efforts to override the President’s veto on embryonic research funding.

No matter what the merits of embryonic stem cell research, or the worthiness of overriding the President’s veto, why should good science go neglected? No matter which side one takes on the embryonic stem cell debate, surely everyone can agree that moving ahead with research into using other stem cells—research which doesn’t push anyone’s buttons—is a good idea?

But neither the Democrats nor their media allies seem interested in stem cell research that doesn’t involve killing humans. Consider this fine example of spin by the New York Times:

“How many more advancements in noncontroversial, ethical, adult stem cell research will it take before Congress decides to catch up with science?” said Representative Joseph R. Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, holding up a front-page newspaper account of the scientific discovery. “These have all of the potential and none of the controversy.”

Such techniques, if proven successful, could sidestep heated debates about the research. The technique described on Wednesday works only in mice and is unsuitable for humans. Scientists hope it will prove adaptable to human cells, but cannot say when that may happen.

True enough. But this describes nearly all stem cell research. It is the height of spin to criticize what your chosen approach shares with the alternatives. The fact is that we are merely at the beginning of stem cell research in general, and we have a long road ahead whichever road we take. Why should that be used as an argument against any promising technique?

This is why the rush to focus nearly exclusively on embryonic stem cell research is so puzzling—and troubling. In a world of limited resources, surely a case can be made to prefer promising approaches which a large portion of the population does not find abhorrent? And shouldn’t even proponents of embryonic stem cell research see the benefits of separating the two? Since one branch of stem cell research is not controversial, why not pass specific funding for it separately? Why conflate the two in the mind of the public and on the floor of the Congress. There’s only one reason: because embryonic stem cell proponents want to make it an all or nothing proposition. “Either you embrace all stem cell research—with no restrictions at all,” they seem to be saying, “or we’ll prevent funding for any research.”

And that’s why it’s the Democrats and the media who are putting “ideology before science” every time they fail to clearly distinguish embryonic stem cell research from other stem cell approaches. Considering the promise of numerous adult stem cell therapies, the Senate Democrats’ constant campaign to derail funding for it is the true scandal of the debate. And the Democrats need to be held accountable for it, and for the harm it threatens to do to those awaiting cures across the world.

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This article is the first in a series I am going to be writing which focus on a common topic. The fact the Virginia sucks. Having spent a good part of my childhood in Virginia, and having completed my undergraduate education in the state… I’m sorry the commonwealth… which styles itself “the mother of presidents”, I have an intimate knowledge of the depths to which that state is willing to plumb. In describing many of these to one of my office mates, he came up with the best explanation for all of Virginia’s problems I have ever heard: “Virginia sucks”.

I’ll leave the general explanation for another article and cover here just one particular way in which Virginia sucks: Its tax law.

Unlike more civilized states, Virginia feels that taxation is not a process of citizens funding the government, but rather the natural exercise of an entitlement the state has with respect to your money. Evidently if any mistake is made during the process of taxation, no matter who is at fault, Virginia shakes down the tax payer for more money. Here are some of the more egregious portions of the law in question:


  • YOU owe more money if the government mailed your bill to the wrong address — What one assumes this portion of the tax law (enacted in the 1981-82 Report of the Attorney General 393, March 25, 1982) is attempting to account for is when a false address is given by the taxpayer. However this portion of the code also applies if the Treasurer has the correct address, and failed to properly mail the bill. I ran into this particular clause myself once. In my case the treasurer’s office actually had the correct address, but had transcribed the address wrong when it was forwarded to the billing department. So I ended up owing penalty fees because of mistakes Virginia made, even though the treasurer’s office admitted the mistake was theirs. To top matters off, it was a special tax assessed to new residents of the county, whose due date was not publicized outside of the mailed bills. Good to know the taxpayer exists as the cash cow of the state.
  • YOU owe more money if the government lies to you, or misrepresents the tax law — According to portions of the tax code enacted in the 1981-82 Report of the Attorney General 350, May 13, 1982, if a taxpayer receives erroneous information from a government official, whether in writing, from personal conversation, or over the phone, the taxpayer is still responsible for the correct tax amount.
  • YOU owe more money if the government billed you for the wrong amount — This is perhaps the worst of the bunch (enacted in the 1986-87 Report of the Attorney General 321, July 31, 1986). It doesn’t matter to the state of Virginia that you payed the bill they mailed you, if they billed you for an incorrect amount, you owe penalties. Given the fact that your owed taxes changes from year to year due to assessment changes, tax relief, and new taxes, it is nearly impossible for an individual to figure out their property taxes, car taxes, and other fees. So why are the taxpayers responsible for the mistakes of the government during billing?

Given that Virginia Code Section 58.1-9 and 58.1-3916 prohibits the waiving of any fees, interest, or penalties, it quickly becomes obvious how stupid, evil, and greedy Virginia tax law is. The law itself is designed to screw over the taxpayer whenever mistakes are made, even though the taxpayer had no control over these mistakes. This sort of attitude and law stems from a deep disrespect of the taxpayer, and an attitude that the government is simply entitled to these taxes, regardless of its own incompetence.

Any decent state would include provisions absolving its tax payers of liability in the case of mistakes made by the government. Unfortunately, Virginia is not a decent state. I would ask how any state could act in such an evil and greedy fashion, but the answer is obvious. Because Virginia sucks.

-Angry Midwesterner


As I was walking my dog this morning, I walked past a day care center. Every morning I have to dodge cars making rapid blind turns into this establishment. It is located across a field from a local fire station. This morning, as I walked past, the fire alarm went off. Now this is a loud abrasive buzzing accompanied by several bright xenon strobes flashing. Day care operators dutifully herded their charges out the west doors onto the playground and across the field you could watch the firemen don their heavy rubberized coats and climb into their trucks. Let’s stipulate that there was a large amount of ‘optical and aural input’ available.

Yet as I watched (after dodging their turns), several moms exited the cars and led their children INTO the building. Into the loud buzzing, strobe flashing, entrance, which was in plain view of the playground where most of the children were gathered. Into a probable burning building. And not just one parent, either, but several—one after another, as I watched.

I was contemplating the stupidity and total recklessness of this behavior as the fire trucks arrived. One mom even walked her child around the fire truck and into the building. Now it was true that there were no visible flames, and no smoke that I could see, however, a prudent person usually allows the fire inspector/fire chief to make the determination that the building is, in fact, not on fire. Fires are tricky things.

Bursting through my consideration of the intellectual capacity of people who apparently try to set the record for the minimum time to detatch a young child from their busy and highly scheduled life, came the glint of an understanding. Americans are addicted to convenience , and investigating the possibility that your child might not be safe in a potentially burning building would be —well, inconvenient. Moms, after all, have to get to work on time, and bosses are so inconsiderate about leeway for tardiness for such things as making sure your children are safe. Best get the child to the caregiver where she can handle the situation.

Americans tolerate high gas prices. We are a mobile society. Good public transportation is available at a fractional ( and subsidized) cost of owning a car. But, you know, it’s so … inconvenient. The bus only comes around every 20 minutes, and the trips are at least 40 minutes long with those inconvenient stops to pick up other people.

Most supermarkets have a fresh food section. Raw broccoli stacked on iced shelves has given way to microwavable bags of cut broccoli. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw ingredients such as flour, and fresh meat comprise perhaps 15% of the store’s floor area. The rest is given over to bagged food, frozen prepared meals, sliced and prepared meats (even the fresh meat section has pre-marinated chickens, stuffed fish, peppered filets), and cans and cans of highly processed food. All very convenient.

Internet sex sites? Very convenient — avoids the problems of building a relationship. Everything you dated to find out is strewn out in explicit detail.

Americans are the most productive people in the world. The gross state product of even a medium state exceeds that of say Russia. Americans can do this because they are absolved of the inconveniences of preparing foods, riding transportation to work, having romantic relationships with people in the real world, or even exhibiting concern about the safety of their children.

The 9/11 attack in New York irritated people because it was highly inconvenient —for Mayor Guillani, — disrupting the nicely flowing pattern of lives with inconvenient items such as falling concrete, flames, choking dust and mounds of debris, not to mention having to consider that “someone doesn’t like America’ which doesn’t fit in to the convenient conceptual framework established by the media, Madison Avenue and the barrage of stimuli that directs your drinking, buying, selling, eating and sleeping habits.

Fortunately, we had a convenient resource available—the US Military, which we could send out to tidy up all of this nasty inconvenience in the form of radical Taliban governments and genocidal Baathist dictators. But sadly we had forgotten how inconvenient some of these things—like obtaining democracy—could be. We actually have to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, for most of us, this war on inconvenience, is not itself a source of inconvenience. Aside from the annoying increases in the cost of gasoline, and the continual barrage of combat KIA statistics in the media, our lives haven’t changed much. The sacrifices made are limited — scarcely a fraction of those who are killed by our use of the convenient automobile.

In World War II, we fought another war on inconvenience. In the 1940’s however, we weren’t so productive, and as a result, fighting that war required us to substantially alter our lifestyles. We allowed, even pushed, women into the work force; voluntarily limited our consumption of meat, sugar, rope, and a plethora of other materials, all rationed in the effort to support the military; and accepted a significant curtailment of our rights. And as a result of this, everyone was affected by the war. Everyone had a stake in the outcome.

With our productivity level today, in order to subject the population to the 1940’s level of sacrifice and commitment, we would have to broaden the war on inconvenience to significantly stress our economy. To ensure that every child toting mom at the daycare understood that the United States was making a committment to democracy and freedom, one that would curtail her addiction to convenience, we would have to simultaneously declare war on Iran, Syria, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Somalia while rendering assistance to Darfur, Kosovo, the rest of the Balkans, with the occasional side trip to Sumatra to provide earthquake and tsunami relief.

Hmmmm.

Occasionally on The 12 Angry Men, we will post rants from invited guests. In lieu of our normally scheduled segment, today we feature an invited rant, from an Angry Guest Woman. You may remember our current guest from her previous appearence when she ranted about poor service, and tipping. This time the issue which has our guest up in arms is the traffic situation in Virginia’s most populated region.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men


I have recently had the unfortunate displeasure of spending an extended amount of time in the region of Virginia known as Hampton Roads. I find this name especially puzzling because the most distinguishing characteristic of the area is the distinct lack of roads! (To be fair, the “Hampton” part of the name is confusing as well. Hampton is just one of the collection of loosely-defined interlocking regions of suburban decay … er … sprawl … er … “communities” which call themselves “cities” yet in no way resemble actual cities. As far as I can tell, the area names Hampton because it is roughly in the middle.) I personally think the region should be renamed “Suburban Waterways” because it is as well-characterized by its myriad of waterways as it is by its distinct lack of places to cross them.

Truthfully, there is exactly one road in Hampton Roads and it is called I-64. For any two points A and B in Hampton Roads, unless A and B happen to be located within the same strip mall, you pretty much have to take I-64 to get between them. I must also mention here that I-64 is only very loosely a road itself. Throughout half of Hampton Roads (the half called “the Peninsula”) I-64 is only 2 lanes in each direction and at any given time, at least one lane in each direction is closed for “construction.” Because of all of this “construction,” I-64 is not so much a road and more of a ragged, flooding, hodgepodge of potholes and badly misaligned patches of asphalt with worse traffic backups than occur on real roads (the kind that actually have street-lights and connected regions of pavement to allow cars to drive effectively on them). I grew up in Washington, D.C. and have spent a significant chunk of my adult life living in America’s fourth largest city, Houston, and I can safely assert that the traffic in these two cities pales in comparison to traffic in Hampton Roads. This is not because Hampton Roads has anywhere near the number of people or cars or places to go but simply because Hampton Roads has no… roads! If there is a backup in any real city, there is always at least one other road connected to the road on which you are currently located. In a real city, you can then turn off onto this road and continue driving. Your route may be farther out of your way but at least it is possible to *move* in some direction. In Hampton Roads, you are just stuck on I-64. There are very few exits and most of these lead right back onto you guessed it I-64, usually by way of a strip mall and a waterway or four.

It has recently occurred to the residents of Hampton Roads that, perhaps, maybe, they should consider building more roads. There was a bill proposed and voted upon this week to establish a local transportation authority which would commit to widening and fixing I-64 and adding more ways to cross the local waterways. Surprisingly, this was a highly controversial proposal! The bill narrowly passed after a 3-2 vote by the 5 members of Isle of Wight board of supervisors. Ironically, the “city” of Hampton voted “no” and plans to appeal the decision. It seems the local residents prefer the region’s name, “Hampton Roads” to be more ironic than descriptive.

– Angry East Coast Guest Woman

I never thought I’d offer thanks to the UN for a job well done, but at long last they’ve finally come through. The shiny new, reformed and revitalized Human Rights Council of the United Nations has greatly simplified my life. Once upon a time, when my friends and associates asked me why I despised the UN so completely, I had to point to a real hodge-podge of stupidity, incompetence, and corruption. Frequent drug sales in the UN parking garage here, regular sex slavery of starving children by UN peacekeepers there, easy enough to find—but tedious to gather together.

But those days are past. Now I can simply point to the Human Rights Council: a council created to replace a discredited commission manned and chaired by human rights violators; a council whose members are elected by world regions; a council which has sworn to redeem the past through its hard-headed and direct assault on human rights abuses; and, above all, a council run by human rights violators for human rights violators. The elected membership reads like a Who’s Who of human rights violators: Algeria, Belarus, China, Cuba, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka. In classic UN tradition, these are “balanced” by other, saner nations. But perhaps allowing some of the craftiest, cruelest foxes to guard the henhouse wasn’t the brightest notion.

Still, nobody can dispute the bold leadership showed by the Council. After a year of deliberation, and numerous sessions, special meetings, discussions, presentations, and all the rest, it has issued three thunderous decisions:

  • Cuba and Belarus are no longer a concern, and we can just stop sending people to find out about human rights abuses there.
  • Israel is very, very bad—far worse than all the rest of the offenders put together—and will be until the last dirty Jew, er, Israeli withdraws from the otherwise peaceful prosperous lands of Palestine.
  • Jews who dare to criticize the Council are very, very bad and should not be invited back. (Contrast this with acceptable speeches.)

Yup, that’s right. Of the 41 nations on the “watch list” for naughtiness, the great decision of the council was to remove two of them because they’re better now. I hope someone is able to sneak in and break the news to the journalists and professors jailed in Castro’s prisons, since I’m sure they’d love to hear the news.

And those wicked, wicked Israelis! It’s important to single them out for special attention because after all they are, well, Jews—and you know what they’re like. No matter that Israel doesn’t stand back as its fanatic settlers make raid after raid into Gaza every week (as Sudan does with its fanatic Janjaweeds). Irrelevant that Israel makes at least some effort to target individuals when it retaliates (unlike Russia which simply leveled Grozny and slaughtered its populace). Unimportant that Israel’s high court has required them to assist those fleeing the violence in Gaza (unlike China which ships those fleeing North Korea back to Pyongyang to face execution). None of that can obscure the fact that Israel is just far worse than anyone else because…well, just because.

Good to know that the UN Human Rights Council is on the case, making sure those nasty Jews don’t succeed at their mad, though oddly delayed and very slow, plans to annihilate the Palestinians! Even if it seems to be distracting the Council from the somewhat more rapid annihilations occurring in Sudan, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka. And good news on the reform of Belarus and Cuba: apparently Cuba’s membership on the council has led to an invisible (but obviously real and impressive) improvement in its human rights record. I can only expect that each year additional nations represented on the Council will experience the same oddly subtle (but apparent to the Council) rehabilitation.

Does anyone actually believe this tripe? Are even the mindless defenders of the United Nations this stupid? We’ve traded one worthless, dirty, despicable “human rights” body for another. In session after session, this Council has singled out Israel, while giving a complete pass to every other offender. I have no problem with pointing out the real abuses in Israel, or the US, or anywhere. But any report which argues that Israel is a worse offender than Cuba has lost all touch with reality.

But what do you expect from a Council that remains far, far too much a Council by murderers, for murderers, and of murderers? A Council that issues a “consensus” statement that at least one member never agreed to, and then votes to officially rule that that member did agree, over its objections? We can expect no more, I’m afraid, than we can ever expect from the United Nations: the world’s most exclusive club for repressive regimes, brutal dictators and bloody-handed tyrants.

Just after having her car repaired following a Seattle hit and run incident, my daughter was sleeping when her roommate woke her up and told her that her car had just been sideswiped. Witnesses identified a white truck with a Mexican-appearing driver and passenger. Rather than stop, as is required by law, they merrily sped away from the scene of the collision. The result: $2800 collision repair bill borne by the insurance company and a $250 deductible covered by the daughter — since the ability to find the other party is negligible.

Unfortunately this seems to be the rule rather than the exception. While there is some large amount of data available on illegal immigration, it is difficult to obtain any specifically on hit-and-runs. Oddly, the Department of Transportation doesn’t specifically compile this particular set of statistics. The associated graph addresses only fatalities not accidents with just property damage. Only recently has the Insurance Research Council (IRC) attempted this where a possible correlation is found here and here.

A Side-By-Side Correlation
Illegal Immigrants by State
State Number of Illegals
California 2,209,000
Texas 1,041,000
New York 489,000
Illinois 432,000
Florida 337,000
Arizona 283,000
Georgia 228,000
New Jersey 221,000
North Carolina 206,000
Colorado 144,000
Hot

Arizona has a hit-and-run problem. California has a hit-and-run problem. “Coincidentally” these states also have a large population of illegals. Whatever one might say about the economic necessity of having illegals in the country, a guest worker program, whereby guests would actually have to obey the laws of the country, obtain insurance, driver’s licenses, and behave in a financially responsible manner would sure beat what we have now.

While researching, I came across this similar post. This guy went to a lot of trouble to document similar findings.

At least one precept of our ‘new’ immigration policy should be adherence to the Rule of Law. Whatever the congresscritters come up with should at least insure that citizens are not saddled with the costs of bad behavior on the part of the unlicensed , uninsured, and undocumented drivers.

In the midst of the protests and promises surrounding the G8 last week, one plea went almost unnoticed. An African economist continued his campaign to plead with the West for a serious change to financial and food aid to Africa. Specifically, for it to be totally discontinued. In an interview with Der Spiegel, in which it was clear that the interviewer could sometimes not believe his ears, Kenyan economist James Shikwati argued passionately for an immediate stop to nearly all economic—and even nearly all humanitarian—aid to Africa.

Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems.

This message is nothing new for Mr. Shikwati, who has been making this seem argument for many years. And he’s not alone. Even Der Spiegel itself, hardly a reactionary bastion of globalism, has written about the terrible paradox: too much aid creates more need.

And anyone at all familiar with basic economics, or even basic history, should know that this is true. The great economic powerhouses of the West did not arise as a result of altruistic development assistance. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the rest do not owe their prosperity to well-intentioned aid packages. Of course, some wits will point to the Marshall Plan and the Korean War era assistance to Japan. But as Mr. Shikwaki points out correctly:

In Germany’s case, only the destroyed infrastructure had to be repaired. Despite the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic, Germany was a highly- industrialized country before the war. The damages created by the tsunami in Thailand can also be fixed with a little money and some reconstruction aid. Africa, however, must take the first steps into modernity on its own.

Shikwati’s claim isn’t that aid can’t be helpful, let alone that it’s always harmful. His claim is that aid cannot assist in development. It can, and does, help in recovery, but that’s a very different circumstance. If a community, or a nation, already has a functioning economy and citizens capable and willing to rebuild, humanitarian and financial aid can be a great boon. But the aid can’t create that economy or those citizens. For all their faults, Germany and Japan were industrial powers before World War II. The aid helped rebuild ruined economies, not create new ones.

In fact, aid too early in the development process can retard or destroy development. In the case of Africa, massive food aid has destroyed numerous local agricultural economies. And well-intentioned clothing aid has clad numerous Africans in cast-off T-shirts instead of locally produced clothing. Whatever the benefits for the hungry or the naked, these things are death to local farmers and tailors. Send money to buy food or clothes from African sources would be better, but even that can create terrible dependencies—as recipients begin to plan their lives around recurring aid.

So does this mean that the altruistic Westerner can do nothing but stand by and watch poor Africa wallow in misery? No, though it does mean that that would be better, though harder, than sending billions in aid money which only destroys African economies and props up butchers and criminals. Without such aid, nature would take its course and there’d be at least some consequence to tyranny and brutal stupidity.

Fortunately, however, you don’t have to just stand by. You can help, though you have to think just a little outside the box. Instead of aid, why not support African industry and economic growth directly through microinvestment. Through various services, you can invest in a variety of organizations that issue microloans to African entrepreneurs and small businessmen. These work just like standard loans here, but they’re for what would be trivial amounts in the West—but can be the difference between a dying and thriving business in the Third World.

You can find more information about this growing area at the web site of Nobel Peace Prize winner Grameen Bank. And here’s a list of microloan provider sites, through which you can invest if you choose. Kiva.org is a new site, one that allows you to examine and choose to fund individual business plans.

And check out a relatively new twist on this, microequity: effectively venture capital for the Third World—buying equity in entrepreneurial ventures. One fund you can check out in this new area is the Village Enterprise Fund.

Will this all work? It’s not clear. But one could note that this is much closer to the pattern by which the West actually rose (though in that case the investment came from within—for the most part). While microinvestment may not be a panacea, at least its track record isn’t the unmitigated disaster of traditional “development aid.” And at least the funds it provides aren’t sent directly to the bank accounts of Africa’s despots and their corrupt flunkies.

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