Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Does Anybody Care About Turkey and the Kurds?

The Prime Minister of Turkey wants NATO to help fight Kurds who are attacking from Northern Iraq (i.e. the PKK).

In response the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan declared that any incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan would be considered "an attack on their soil".

Why do I have to go looking for these stories? The only mainstream outlet where I can find anything about this is Reuters. This seems like it could matter to us as I have written about before.

Also, this could become a larger problem for Iran and their Kurdish population. This could force the Iranian regime to be more inward looking than they are currently. But would this make them less stable internally? Would they crack down harder? Would it make them less capable of causing turmoil in the region? Or would it cause further regional destabilization? Hopefully we won't find out. (I would bet on the last one, though.)

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Turkey v. Kurdistan Archive:
Does Anybody Care About Turkey and the Kurds?
Turkey Enters Northern Iraq
Turkey v. PKK Update 8.8.2006
YSK: Iran and Turkey Shell PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan
Turkey v. PKK Update: 8.23.2006
Two Days of Bombings Rock Turkey
New Middle East Hegemon
Breaking Up is Hard Voodoo
Actual Breaking News: Turkey Hit Again
PKK Declares Unilateral Truce with Turkey

Monday, July 24, 2006

IVF on NBC (And Not That 'Dateline' Crap)

On this weekend's edition of "Meet the Press" Tim Russert questioned White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten on the obvious hypocrisy of the Bush administration's policy on stem cell research.

Salon has the relevant part of the transcript here.

Russert even goes into the issue of embryos created for in vitro fertilization which I discussed earlier.

It is nice to see the IVF aspect of the stem cell issue receive such exposure. The danger (probably unlikely) is that some people may turn against IVF in the same way they oppose stem cell research. That would be a shame considering how many people the procedure helps have children. Hopefully, people will realize that the administration's position is inconsistent and driven by politics, not science or the public interest.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Update on Middle East Regional War

Sorry I missed this piece of info when it first came out but (as I told you might happen here) Turkey is preparing to send troops into northern Iraq (i.e. Kurdistan) to retaliate against repeated attacks on Turkey by Kurdish guerrillas/freedom fighters/terrorists who are being harbored by the local Kurdish government.

These incursions have actually been more bloody than the Hizbullah attack on Israel which precipitated the massive military reprisals Lebanon is now experiencing. A military attack into Iraq would actually put Turkey at odds with the US and would help destabilize what is probably the most (read: only) stable part of Iraq. Turkish involvement in a hot conflict could also bring the EU deeper into the current Middle Eastern crisis (although it is hard to say in what capacity as many EU members do not want Turkey to join their club). Turkey is, however, a member of NATO which adds all sorts of mutual defense problems to the issue (ala World War One).

In other news, the State Department is saying that Iranians witnessed North Korea's recent missile tests. That's probably not good. I left out North Korea in my previous WWIII post because I was focusing on the Middle East, however, North Korean complications could expand the conflict into a southeast Asian theatre and more deeply entangle China. And who's side will they be on?

Finally, apparently people like Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich are saying that we are already in WWIII. That is not what I am saying. I am saying that we are heading for WWIII if the situation in the region continues the way it is. Hopefully, that is not inevitable (and we certainly should not be rooting for it.)

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Guest Blogger: US Cannot Fall Behind on a Frontier Science

A friend of mine emailed me a more business based perspective of the US falling behind the rest of the world on stem cell technologies:

Some additional thoughts on this----raw, but anyways.
Let us look at this issue from a slightly different angle.

    Is there any debate that ESC [embryonic stem cell] technology could be the single greatest revolution in medicine? I don't think so.

    Will the IP [intellectual property] on ESC-based technologies be valuable? That would be an understatement.

    Are other countries actively pursuing it? Emphatic yes.

So, from a purely 'businesslike' perspective (and bear in mind that the business of America is business) can we afford not to do it? Absolutely not.

The cat's out of the bag; someone's gonna do it. I say, might as well be us. Either we can pay China or Korea or Japan or Singapore massive amounts of money in the coming decades (or go to war over it I guess), or get our asses in gear and get into a lead position here while the race is still in relatively early stages. I can assure you that, for instance, if a Korean group makes a breakthrough and figures out a way to cure Parkinson's or diabetes or cardiovascular disease using ES cells, flights to Korea would be sold out for years. At that point are the fundies relying on future Secretary of State Ann Coulter to enforce her policy of "we should invade their countries, kill all their men and convert the women and children to Christianity" to resolve their ethical dilemma?

The point that should not be ignored is that this is a FRONTIER issue. When the USA was in danger of losing the space race, or the nuclear race (different ethical issues in those, but I hope you get my point), our reaction was not to bury our head in the sand. Rather, the reaction was to throw a gazillion dollars at it and ensure that we would not be beholden to a foreign land when it came to those frontiers. Why is this frontier any different? Like space or nuclear tech, who knows what lies beyond this frontier and why would you trust someone else with it? Wouldn't you rather do it fast, do it big, do it right and at least have the chance to maintain some degree of control over it? [Editor's note: emphasis mine.] I simply do not understand this 'head in sand' attitude.

Amen. Yet another facet of this argument. Unfortunately, the one person who matters does not seem to be interested in hearing it.

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YSK: Politicians Who (Say They) Oppose Stem Cell Research are Hypocrites or Ignorant

As the Senate has finally taken up debate on a series of bills designed to overturn President Bush’s ban on stem cell funding, I wanted to discuss something that you probably will not hear much about elsewhere.

First of all, here is a little background. Embryonic stem (ES) cells have the ability to become any type of cell in the body. This means they have the potential to replace damaged or defective tissues. Also, using another technology called "nuclear transfer" ES cells can be generated that are genetically identical to a specific individual. The list of conditions that may be cured/treated by ES cells is long and reads like a list of most people’s worst nightmares: diabetes, paralysis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc. And that does not even mention the more ambitious idea of total organ replacement, i.e. growing a kidney or heart from ES cells for a rejection free transplant. It is not an exaggeration to say that ES cells could be one of the most powerful medical technologies ever.

However, religious conservatives oppose the use of ES cell research because they contend it is based on destroying life. The life they refer to is that of human embryos. These embryos could be more accurately described as “potential life” – and this is not inevitable potential, there are many variables that need to go just right for an embryo to develop into a baby and be born. [Human reproduction is a crapshoot. We are very bad at it when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Mice, for example can have from 3-20 pups every 3-4 weeks. But it is not only numbers of offspring and gestation time which makes humans poor breeders, essential embryonic events such as implantation and gastrulation can fail in myriad ways. I know, I know, if we are so bad at reproduction, then why are there only 6.5 billion of us? Well, considering it took us around 200,000 years to get to this point, we haven’t exactly set any land speed records.]

Chances are you have heard most of that before. Whichever side of the issue you fall on, you probably have never heard of the hypocritical way that religious conservatives and their proxies in Washington avoid the issue of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, in their political machinations.

A Google search for “religious conservative opposition to stem cells” returned 1.5 million hits, whereas “religious conservative opposition to in vitro fertilization” returned 78,800. [Note: this is not a scientific poll.] This is quite a disproportionate amount of chatter considering that IVF has destroyed far more embryos (or has generated embryos that will never see the outside of a liquid nitrogen freezer) than stem cell research ever has or, by its very nature, would need. The fact is that no mainstream religious conservative (and certainly no politician) will ever decry IVF as part of their so-called “culture of death”. Why? Because IVF is wildly popular and has helped many people (the majority of them relatively affluent – i.e. people who can give money to political organizations) conceive children. Pictures of wealthy people holding their adorable children are not the kinds of images religious conservatives want used against them. [They want to use those images against their opponents.] Only the fringe of the fringe openly opposes IVF. [One notable exception to this is the Catholic Church which, whatever you may think of it, has a very consistent position when it comes to sanctity of life issues. No anti-abortion, pro-death penalty advocates to be found in Vatican City. This includes being openly anti-IVF.]

The good news is that the bill overturning the Bush ban is likely to pass. The bad news is that President Bush will almost certainly veto it. Furthermore, it does not appear that the Congress could muster the 2/3 majority necessary to override the veto (which is ironic since around 2/3 of Americans support ES cell research). I am certain, however, that all these events will occur without discussion of the IVF hypocrisy.

The hypocrites win (for now). I think that is just sad.

Disclaimer: I am not attacking people who truly believe that a single-cell should have the same rights as a person (particularly if that person is on death row). Even if I do not agree with it, if you have an ethic that you apply consistently you are not a hypocrite, which is the whole point. This post is meant to illustrate how people use the stem cell issue for their own gain and do not really care about saving embryos/life.

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Stem Cell Archive
YSK: Politicians Who (Say They) Oppose Stem Cell Research are Hypocites or Ignorant
V on Stem Cell Hypocrisy
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Part 2
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Part 3
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Conclusion
V: The Stem Cell Soap Opera Continues
The Ban on Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Does not Have a Leg to Stand on
Embryonic Stem Cell Ignorance: Enough Already

For more on stem cell advances see:
New Embryonic Stem Cell Technology May Redefine Science Debate - ROBBLOG
Embryonic Stem Cells from Adult Human Cells - Already? - ROBBLOG

Friday, July 14, 2006

YSK: A Regional War in the Middle East = WWIII

I have believed since I was pretty young that what America needed was a sequel to World War II. Not World War III, mind you, and certainly not the nuclear apocalypse usually associated with that term, but literally World War Two II. We needed a galvanizing enemy to unite us as Americans without political, social, or ethnic differences. Sadly, we had that moment on September 11, 2001. This moment should have been a second Pearl Harbor and a call to action for Americans to fight a common enemy. Unfortunately, the moment was squandered and may have been lost forever as 9/11 is now used much more deftly as a weapon to divide the country than it was ever wielded to unite us.

[Disclaimer: I am not making any partisan accusations here, simply stating what I believe to be true. Either party could have tried to unite us after 9/11, neither did. Dispute that if you want but, if you do, provide some evidence that this country is, indeed, united.]

Having said that, I fear that the recent escalation of conflict in the Middle East has the potential to become the incipient stages of World War III – non-nuclear, perhaps (that is far from off the table, however), but unquestionably a hot war and one less concerned about preventing civilian casualties than ever before. In fact, we know that Islamic extremists use civilian casualties as one of the main arrows in their quiver and, as recent events in Lebanon and Gaza have shown, Israel will show little to no restraint in this regard either.

The events/factors most prescient to this new regional conflict are:

  • Israel’s disproportionate response to soldiers being kidnapped by Hamas and Hizbollah in Gaza and Lebanon.
  • Iran’s brinksmanship with the UN over its nuclear program.
  • The Bombay train bombings and (even more troubling) the Indian assertion that the bombers were aided by elements in Pakistan.
  • Kurdish nationalists harbored in Iraqi Kurdistan are conducting assaults into both Iran and Turkey.
  • Increasing Taliban violence in Afghanistan.
  • The escalating sectarian violence in Iraq.
  • The general Sunni v. Shia tension in the region.
  • Oh, and everybody hates America and Israel and thinks (with some justification) that we let them do whatever they please.

It is conceivable that in the next few months to years there could be a regional conflict stretching from Israel to India, including Saudi Arabia (as the Sunni counter-balance to Iran) and Turkey (which has implications for the EU). This would be, by definition, a regional conflict. However, this conflict would undoubtedly spread to Europe and Russia, due to both proximity and other factors. The disenfranchised European Muslim population would become an even riper recruiting ground for terrorists than it already is (see London and Madrid and for examples of what this will look like).

Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room: oil. Oil today is hovering around $78 per barrel. Very near the highest price ever when adjusted for inflation. If a hot regional conflict engulfs the Middle East, the sky is the limit. Cost might not even be the biggest problem. Drilling and exporting from this region may be near impossible. Al Qaeda has said that oil supply disruption is one of its main goal/weapons. This could cripple (or at least severely hamstring) the rest of the world. Also, if their energy sources are imperiled, do not think that China will sit idly by.

[Notable exceptions to this would be countries outside of the region with their own oil supply who would make a killing selling to a starving world market, for example, Venezuela. This would give Hugo Chavez virtually unlimited resources to consolidate his own power and expand the grasp of socialism farther across South and Latin America (potentially sparking more violence). Not an attractive prospect for the US. Speaking of South America, Brazil would also be relatively insulated as the vast majority of their energy comes from fuels made of home-grown sugar cane. Hmm, maybe we should look into that.]

Escalation to include India (which has the second largest Muslim population of any country in the world) and Pakistan introduces the nuclear element into the picture. These are two countries that are no strangers to rattling their nuclear sabers. Of course, Israel brings its not-so-secret nuclear arsenal to the table, as well.

Make no mistake, a conflict encompassing the Middle East, large portions of Asia, Europe, the US, and potentially South America, is a world war. This is exactly what Al Qaeda wants. The question is whether or not it can be averted.

I do not have any answers, I just give you background so you are ready for the future.

I will say that blindly allowing Israel to kill innocent civilians with no fear of reprisal is not the best beginning.

The world is at its technological and economic zenith but people we refuse to try and understand could drag us all into an open ended conflagration. I wonder if this was what it felt like right before the Vandals sacked Rome and began Western civilization’s descent into the Dark Ages...

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Regional Middle East War Archive
YSK: Regional War in the Middle East = WWIII
Update on Middle East Regional War
New Middle East Hegemon
The Countries Formerly Known as Iraq

Turkey v. Kurdistan Archive

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You Should Know: Evolution Is NOT Just a Theory

The moniker “Theory of Evolution” is a quaint misnomer. Various groups and individuals have tried to undermine evolution since it was first presented in 1858. Each attempt has failed and scientific inquiry has continued to reinforce evolution through discoveries in paleontology and molecular biology among others. Currently evolution stands as one of the most robust of scientific principles.

One needs to start at the most basic levels to understand why evolution is a LAW of nature.

Genes contain the information that is used to generate the proteins that make up biological systems from viruses and single-celled organisms to humans, dinosaurs, gorillas, bald eagles, etc.

When genes are reproduced, sometimes a mistake (mutation) will be made and this mistake will change the function of the protein coded for by the gene. More often than not, these changes are deleterious and not passed on to future generations. Occasionally, however, the change will be beneficial and the organism harboring it (amoeba, giraffe, tree, sloth, etc.) will pass it on to its offspring. NOTE: This is an oversimplification. Sometimes beneficial changes arise that are not passed on. For example, if a mutation gives a finch a beak that is more useful for cracking open nuts, that beak will probably not save the finch from being eaten by an eagle (or fox, or tiger, or shark). Conversely, deleterious mutations can be passed on if the negative of the mutation is outweighed by other, favorable conditions. Sometime mutations have both good and bad characters. For example, sickle-cell anemia is caused by having two copies of a particular mutated gene. However, individuals with only one mutated copy are somewhat resistant to malaria. So, it is a complex plot but the simplified version above gives the main storyline.

This molecular evolution has been reproduced in the lab. This point should be emphasized: the molecular basis of evolution, as explained above, has been demonstrated and even manipulated innumerable times by scientists in a controlled laboratory setting. Again, there is a mountain of indisbutable evidence for molecular evolution.

To be continued…

For more info right now see:

Law of Evolution -ROBBLOG: Science News & Opinion
Evolution -Wikipedia

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Recent Human Evolution

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TOKATAKIYA: Things You Should Know

Welcome to my new site. I have decided to start Tokatakiya as a sister site to my original project ROBBLOG: Science News & Opinion. I started ROBBLOG to help keep people (and myself) informed about scientific developments and help to explain some things that I found particularly interesting or important. That is still the goal over there. However, I increasingly encounter things of which I was previously unaware or that I feel people in general are unaware. These things run the gamut from economics, to politics, to international affairs (and of course, science).

So, to simplify: if I find something I think more people should know about, I will write about it here. ROBBLOG will keep on doing what it does: all science, all the time. As always, comments are appreciated.

Basically, people need better information. Hopefully, you will find some here.

Remember the Lakota proverb:
"Tell me, and I will listen.
Show me, and I will understand.
Involve me, and I will learn."

And the great philosopher Kelli Bundy
"To be forewarned is to have four arms."

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