Saturday, January 31, 2009

One step closer

Back a couple years ago, embryonic stem cell research was a hot topic, with many posts and comments flying about both for and against.

One ofthe specious arguments often used by those opposed to the funding of said research was statements along the lines of "not one cure has ever been found using embryonic stem cells" - a textbook example of lying by omission, as the statement itself is true, so far as it goes. What gets left out, of course, is that given how recent the discovery of how to reliably culture these cells was, and the need to to basic research, then animal research, then limited human trials before anything can be okayed for general use, of course no "cure" had been developed yet.

For some reason the topic has moved off the back burner, but last week the FDA approved the first human trials involving embryonic stem cells, to be implanted in a small number of paraplegics who have no use of their legs. The primary aim is simply to see if the cells are safe for human use, but there is hope some use of the lower extremities might be restored.

We're still years away, if ever, from seeing wide-spread results. However, if this first trial at least can show the cells are not actively harmful, it will open the door wide to FDA approval to future human trials for a variety of possible applications. It's just another step down a long road, but it's a big step.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Math

There has, of course, been a great deal of dialog about the Israeli assault on Gaza, a great deal of valid concern over the Palestinian civilian casualties while Israel persists in emphasizing the uninhibited rocketing of it's civilians over a number of months, and its intent to continue the assault until that capability is ended or, at least, severely diminished.

In particular, x4mr has posts here, here, here and here where he and people I generally find myself in agreement with emphasize the cruelty of the shelling and the civilian deaths ... and they are, of course, entirely correct - those deaths are cruel, regrettable, should have been preventable ... and they are, of course, correct that Israel has done much to encourage Hamas to fire rockets into Israel, including blockading food and medical supplies, doing nothing to about illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and so on. The list is long.

I still find myself disagreeing with them.

Ultimately, the calculus they apply seems to lay the responsibility of every civilian casualty, every death in Gaza, directly at the feet of Israel. This math, however, seems insupportable to me. While people might disagree as to how much effort Israel is putting into limiting civilian casualties in Gaza, I don't think anyone disputes they are, at least, making some effort. On the other side, though, the Hamas strategy seems predicated on willfully and intentionally creating the maximum possible number of civilian deaths.

I.e., Hamas is willfully sacrificing as many of their own population as they possibly can in order to place their blood on the altar of world opinion, a point which should have been made clear to all when Hamas joined Israel in rejecting Egyptian calls for a truce. Israel wants no truce until Hamas is broken, or at least more damaged than it is so far. Hamas wants no truce until they have managed to get more Palestinian civilians killed ... the more, the better.

Now, in terms of a military approach this is the best strategy they have available to them - certainly, Hamas can't hope to win a straight up fight against Israel. However, given they are the ones making the strategic decision to do so, why is Hamas not being held at least equally complicit in their deaths, if not more so, than Israel?

Ultimately, of course, Hamas' rockets into Israel were meant to provoke exactly the response it has. If Israel wants permanent peace, they will have to find some way to break the cycle of violence and show they are serious about helping Palestinians create a homeland. A good start would be, once they are done with their assualt on Gaza, to put a similar amount of effort into removing the illegal settlements in the West Bank, by force if necessary - then dare Hamas, Hezbollah and other such groups to go to the general Palestinian process and ask them if they are willing to continue the struggle, or if somehow a homelnd centered on the West Bank can be enough.