Saturday, November 18, 2006

Progress with Stem Cells?

Stem cells are producing promising results these days. Adult stem cells, that is. For people with blocked arteries, a growth factor called GMCSF, when injected into the body, stimulates bone marrow to release more stem cells and enables new arteries to be grown. Tests have shown a 60 percent improvement in blood-vessel function as a result.

Blindness caused by outside factors often cannot be repaired with corneal transplants, yet stem cells offer new hope. While not yet producing perfect vision, patients can become self-dependent again. They are able to see well enough to do the basic tasks of life.

Tests in mice have yielded a way to spur the growth of neural stem cells in the brain - possibly paving the way to treating or curing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Key in all three of these stories is that using one's own stem cells, rather than those of another, prevents the body's immune system from rejecting them, much like a transplanted organ. It is becoming clear that the hope for an Alzheimer or Parkinson cure comes from adult stem cells, not embryonic ones.

Outside the U.S., in Portugal, physicians have actually succeeded in partially regenerating various internal human organs, using adult stem cells.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for a any success story from the use of embryonic stem cells. We'll try to keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roman Civil War

The late Roman Republic was plagued with civil wars for approximately a century. What made these bloody conflicts possible?

The Roman civil wars were very different than the civil war in the United States. The Roman internal conflicts were not about political issues or moral principles. The Roman civil wars were about personalities.

The typical Roman soldier had a primary loyalty, not to the Roman Republic, but to his general and officers. If two generals decided to compete for power, a civil war arose. This pattern culminated in the Battle of Actium.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movies and History

For better or worse, Americans gain a significant and increasing percentage of their knowledge of history from movies.

Learning history from movies can be helpful, but there is an even greater need for critical thinking than when learning from books.

Certainly, history books can be loaded with "spin" - history is told in a certain way to advance the author's political agenda.

But movies are subject to double spin - they have the same political spin as books, and then a second layer of spin is added because the movie needs to be entertaining. Movies may contain historical inaccuracies, not only beause of the filmmaker's political views, but also because the filmmaker may change the events simply to make them more entertaining. People going to see movies demand to be entertained, but they don't care if they're accurately informed. Recent films about the Trojan War and Alexander the Great demonstrate this sufficiently.

The informed viewer can exercise critical thinking by watching two different films about the same historical events.

Cleopatra, for example, was the subject of a 1963 film by Elizabeth Taylor, and a 1934 film by Claudette Colbert; view them both, and you'll hopefully "cancel out" the spins of the various screenwriters.

Likewise, Marie Antoinette was the subject of a 1938 film by Norma Shearer, and a 2006 film by Kirsten Dunst. Both are informative.

In either case, it helps to read even a brief, half-page encyclopedia article about the people and events concerned. Reading even a little before the film not only makes you understand it better, it helps you to enjoy it more, because you understand.

More recent events in film include the movie "End of the Spear" (made in 2005), which depicts the murders in the Amazon Basin of several Americans; the same situation was filmed as "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" in 2002. Both films seem fairly accurate.

Women Enter American Politics

In 1917, Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, became the first woman to serve in the House. Committed to her pacifist beliefs, she was the only member of Congress to vote against entry into both World War I and World War II.

Shortly after Ms. Rankin's election to Congress, the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919. This means that the first woman was elected to Congress before the right to vote was even given to women! The amendment's journey to ratification had been a long and difficult one. Starting in 1896, the Republican Party became the first major party to officially favor women's suffrage. That year, Republican Sen. A. A. Sargent of California introduced a proposal in the Senate to give women the right to vote. The proposal was defeated four times in the Democratic-controlled Senate. When the Republican Party regained control of Congress, the Equal Suffrage Amendment finally passed (304-88), over the objections of the Democrats.

When the amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified it had Republican-controlled legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against ratification, eight were controlled by Democrats. Twelve states, all Republican, had given women full suffrage before the federal amendment was finally ratified.

The Origins of an American Political Party

The Republican Party was born in the early 1850's by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge. The first informal meeting of the party took place in Ripon, Wisconsin, a small town northwest of Milwaukee. The first official Republican meeting took place on July 6th, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. The name "Republican" was chosen because it alluded to equality and reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson's party. Jefferson had called his political party the "Democratic Republican" party. The name "Republican" also reminded voters of the grand era of Rome, before it became an empire. At the Jackson convention, the new party adopted a platform and nominated candidates for office in Michigan.

In 1856, the Republicans became a national party when John C. Fremont was nominated for President under the slogan: "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont." Even though they were considered a "third party" because the Democrats and Whigs represented the two-party system at the time, Fremont received 33% of the vote. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to win the White House.

The Civil War erupted in 1861 and lasted four grueling years. During the war, against the advice of the Democrats, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. The Republicans of the day worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws, and the Fifteenth, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans.

The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to vote. In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women's suffrage. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917.

Presidents during most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were Republicans. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. Under the last two, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the United States became the world's only superpower, winning the Cold War from the old Soviet Union and releasing millions from Communist oppression.

Republicans have supported these ideas: Individuals, not government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home.

The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant. During the mid term elections way back in 1874, Democrats tried to scare voters into thinking President Grant would seek to run for an unprecedented third term. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper's Weekly, depicted a Democratic jackass trying to scare a Republican elephant - and both symbols stuck. For a long time Republicans have been known as the "G.O.P." And party faithfuls thought it meant the "Grand Old Party." But apparently the original meaning (in 1875) was "gallant old party." And when automobiles were invented it also came to mean, "get out and push."