Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 31, 2005

In Memory of Terri Schiavo

As trivial as my voice might be, nonetheless honor had me wait until now to voice my opinion about the events of the final days of this woman and the maelstrom of acts, arguments and caterwauling we have witnessed through this latest portal into the sickness of public America.

I think David Brooks would have appreciated that opportunity as well, as his op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times seemed less than enthusiastic, par exemple:
What I'm describing here is the clash of two serious but flawed arguments. The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn't accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force.

No wonder many of us feel agonized this week, betwixt and between, as that poor woman slowly dehydrates.

Here is a champion of non-relativism stuck on the horns of a dilemma. If the common perception becomes that there is no demonstrable wrong or right in this case, might this perception find its way into the other moral arguments of our day as well? This is not a Pandora’s Box a cautious David Brooks is likely to approach, let alone open.

So what of this “morally forceful” social conservative argument? Initially the emphasis was variously applied to the concepts “right to life”, “sanctity of human life” or some such. The difficulty with this argument is that many—though not all—social conservatives support capital punishment and/or military aggression. If the premise is that the essence of life is trump then it is trump over all suits. To put to death any soul, however despicable, is to renege.

This is strong rebuttal. In consideration of it the Christian right has adapted the argument to apply to “innocent” life, but the necessity of this lot of self-proclaimed sinners assuming God’s role in the assessment of innocence in order to make exception to one of His commandments does very little to improve their argument.

Radicals will always claim license in their dismissal of inconsistency or hypocrisy, and I don’t disagree with the necessity of doing so. However, as arguments are extended—and this is about as far out on the limb the right to life folks have ventured—they risk losing momentum with the sympathetic. Moral crusaders often remind me of a campaign promoting defensive driving the National Highway Safety people used to run. The crux of it was the closer, “He was right, dead right.” As a matter of survival caution, vision and flexibility cannot be abandoned along the side of the true path.

Above I spoke of support of capital punishment and offensively directed warfare, exceptions claimed by those who believe that protection of essential human life is to be an absolute upon which our ethic and, ostensibly, our law is to be structured. There are apparently other exceptions to consider.

The “sanctity” of marriage is another postulation for which the righteous reserve the right to apply or hold in reserve at their will. To criticism of this flip-flopping they reply that Terri Schiavo’s husband ceded his role as her décideur because he had found the company of another woman. I am certain that my wife would expect me to do the same. Would this truth already qualify our marriage for disassembly by the ideal of the fundamentalists?

There are similar inconsistencies; the arguments were equally as porous as good old Monroe, Wisconsin Swiss cheese. I knew it, David Brooks knew it, and the social conservatives knew it. Hence emotionalism replaced argument, as the misrepresentation that Terri was being “starved to death” was driven home again and again. Are others considered strangled to death when respirators are turned off?

It surprises people when I refer to myself as a religious person. What I believe in is not so difficult to sort out as “thou shalt not kill”; “vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord”; “an eye for and eye”; etc. My religion doesn’t define God, speak for God, or even care to consider the nature of God. It requires no pastors, pipe organs, publications, crystal cathedrals, relationships with God, nor Bible schools. One needs little memory as it is encapsulated in only 11 words.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Over and over again I heard, “What if she were your daughter?” The point is rather, “What if she were you?”
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
15 years since the loss of your personality.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
15 years unaware of external sensation.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
15 years of strife among your family
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
15 years of being plastered across the media in your hideous state.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What if she were you? This time, enough good men and women have been allowed to respond with circumspect. Barely.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Darling, Did You Remember to Stick the Kids' Heads in the Sand?

This morning WPR took a hour break from the Schiavo case—on which I refuse to comment—and had Time magazine’s media critic James Poniewozik discussing the pros and cons of censorship of American television.

This topic has enough absurdity to catch my interest, so I found myself listening along. As the show wound toward the time for callers-in I knew they would be out there in the meticulously eclectic splendor of their refurbished Victorian kitchens, sipping from their fourth cup of half-caf coffee and staring at the faces of their radios. All across this frozen tundra of the second day of Spring in Wisconsin I saw home schooling taking a little break as the call to arms was answered by one enseignant de jour after another. All the producer had to do was close her eyes and hit any button and here it was:

We don’t have cable in our home.
Of course you don’t. Why would you want to see The Daily Show? Aaron Brown’s Nightly Report? National Geographic? What possible good could come from Turner Classic Movies or BBC America or high definition images of the Serenghetti on Discovery? What sane person would let their children sample the cinema of the Sundance Channel or IFC? Who would want to relive Mazerowski’s home run or Nicklaus winning his sixth Masters? Imagine the waste of time catching authors’ interviews or our democracy in action on CSpan!

Alas, our children did not benefit from such untelevisionary thinking and, as one goes off to law school and two Big Ten Universities are bidding for the other’s graduate study, it is with great shame that I admit that we let them watch Dangermouse and You Can’t Do That on Television.

One, in fact, insisted that he could work better with the TV on, and though I was doubtful at first I have to admit that after the first ten years or so of straight A’s I seemed to lose my enthusiasm for rebuttal.

The other day (a very strange expression) I was cooking pork chops. Very good center cut pork chops. Get the skillet about as hot as you can and sear ‘em hard on both sides in a little garlic salt, slow ‘em down and pour a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and maybe some white cooking wine or Port in with some minced onion, turn after a couple of minutes, a little sage and pepper on top and DO NOT overcook them.

Where was I?

Ah yes, so I was saying to my little Hun as I washed the essence of raw pork off my hands, “We should have a soap dispenser in the kitchen, some anti-bacterial for the hands so I don’t have to touch all these things with my piggy juice.”

To which my Magyar magpie responded, “They say not to use so much anti-bacterial soap.”

“Right as rain,” I realized.

All that protection wouldn't stave off the inevitable.

Ultimately it would only lower my resistance.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Off With Their Heads

More resembling something from Aristophanes than an imitation of Roman decorum, the Senate is once again lecturing others about the awesome responsibility inherent to being a role model. I’ve written about this before.

Well, Henry the Horse keeps dancing the waltz around the American ideal as leaders take time out from their busy schedule of hissing and spitting at each other for a little recreational lashing out at someone else.

About a hundred or so unfinished projects ago I started writing a little one act about the previous Senate steroid hearings. I never finished but here’s a sample:

Son of George Allen

It’s high time the children of America learned that there
are no short cuts to success

Son of Sununu
Here! Here!

ESPN held a panel discussion this week—a kind of town meeting type of thing—about the state of NCAA sports. How seriously these world of athletics notables seemed to take themselves! I just wanted to reach into the screen, grab any panelist by his/her shoulders and scream, “It’s just a game!”

Maybe it started when they began putting names on the jerseys, or maybe it was the advent of ESPN, but fandom has come to fill a more compelling role for the American male than escape or heroic association. The saga of sports has become the man’s soap opera.

Having little interest in the art form in general, it will never occur to most men that it is really, really bad soap opera. These characters are just not that interesting. Interviews with athletes are about as enlightening as Leno’s man on the street stuff. And there are so many of them!

Living in the Chicago area and being a Bulls fan, I must have seen a thousand Michael Jordan interviews. I don’t remember a single thing he ever said. This is a role model? Life is to be an endless stream of clichés? Be like Mike and never, ever utter an original thought?

So our esteemed Senators are wasting our time capitalizing on the attention grabbed by a creep like Jose Canseco. While the real tragedy goes on in high schools, colleges and minor leagues, pundits fill the airwaves with laments over the sanctity of records of men like the exemplary binge-drinking Babe Ruth.

Does anyone remember the “silent game”? We have the technology now to imitate very closely the experience of the fan in the stadium. No discussion of so and so’s contract problems, no comparisons of end zone demonstrations, no interviews with general managers, and no moralizing by washed up jocks.

Just the game.

And fresh air.

Monday, March 14, 2005

More Stemmed Cell Research

The Parties recognize that Wisconsin Materials may be used in the Recipient’s research program to make discoveries of different materials (“Recipient Materials”) which themselves may eventually be the basis of commercial products that benefit public health. Any grant of rights to Wisconsin Materials or Wisconsin Patent Rights that may be needed by a third party for commercialization of Recipient Materials shall be done by a separate written agreement with WiCell permitting such use of Wisconsin Materials or Wisconsin Patent Rights under terms not less favorable than other similar commercial licenses to the extent such rights are available.

What’s all this, then? This is one of numerous articles of agreement in the order form for embryonic stem cells from a non-profit company called WiCell, a distribution arm of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF. WARF is the proud owner of several of the most viable stem cell lines in the world as a result of the ground breaking research done at the University by a James Thompson, work done in partnership with Geron Corporation. The University has since learned to regret the rights it greedily sold out to the Geron Corporation and is suing for more control in that one of the first things President Bush did upon gaining office was to limit research to existing stem cell lines, making these little puppies very valuable indeed!

I’m sure they’ll work it out, but in the meantime all therapeutic and commercially viable uses derived from research on any of these cells will require a negotiating session with WARF. If this sounds a little monopolistic to you, be sure you aren’t the only one. Here’s a paragraph from the Duke Law and Technological Review .

The federal government designated the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to negotiate an agreement to allow researchers access to the human embryonic stem cell lines specified under federal research guidelines. The stem cell lines available in the United States are controlled by the WiCell Research Institute and, in part, Geron Corporation. On September 5, 2001, NIH and WiCell signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that granted federally funded researchers access to WiCell’s stem cell lines for basic research purposes only and waived WiCell’s reach-through rights on the resulting discoveries. The MOU does have the clear benefit of enabling important basic research yielding many potential medical benefits. The problem with the MOU is that after basic research, WiCell and Geron can potentially block all or selected commercial and therapeutic development and usages involving WiCell and Geron intellectual property. In essence, the federal government is funding the expanded basic research of two private companies that already have a legal monopoly on a broad set of stem cell products and methods under pre-existing patent rights, while providing no safeguards on the licensing activities of the patent holders.

Thus within 6 months in office did President Bush and the former Governor of Wisconsin, then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, effectively grant the University of Wisconsin and its associated corporate interests a very powerful monopoly affecting the development of one of the most promising scientific advancements of all time. Bush’s limitations were at the time seen as a compromise to assuage the fundamentalist objection to such research.

The monetary impact is too staggering to comprehend, and the jostling is near-violent as Bio-Med courtiers of all types queue at the court of WARF, bestowing their gifts upon the University in the expectation of future consideration.

So much wheeling and dealing is going on here that Northwest Airlines has initiated a non-stop service to Washington from this eight hundred miles away city of 200,000; apparently for lesser ranked corporate lawyers that don’t rate private livery.

So our insurance premiums and taxes are being used to fund research which is being used to develop treatments which will paid for by our future premiums and taxes to the entities that offer up the highest bids to the University of Wisconsin (and its no longer welcome benefactor, Geron Corp.)

As always, it gets better.

This is from an article in The Daily Cardinal, a University paper:

In November, the UW System conducted a budget reduction exercise revealing that a 5 percent budget cut, like Doyle projected, could result in enrollment cuts of 7,816 students and layoffs of 968 faculty and staff.

and further down:

Despite the fact that the budget exercise did not anticipate Doyle's restrictions, UW System President Katharine Lyall said in November that she felt enrollment reductions would be inevitable.

It seems that the bottom of the barrel has been exposed, or has it? This from the Wisconsin Technology Network:

Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin should hold on to its advantage in health and life-science research by drawing together $375 million in public and private funding for a new research center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Governor Jim Doyle said on Wednesday.

So while enrollments are to be cut, tuition is experiencing double digit inflation, staff is being axed and our taxes are being increased, WARF is wining and dining Michael J Fox and the Governor is promising a couple hundred million to help build a place where corporations can develop products via grad assistants working for minimum wage with reduced health care benefits. While the University increases the cost we will pay for medical advance by limiting the competitive field we will be paying off the bonds of the “public” contribution to research infrastructure.

Could it be any more expensive? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Root of It

Imagine somewhere on the great prairie a fertile ground that is Democracy, and that from and within this nutrient rich soil has grown a great oak called Capitalism. Within the code that this wonder has followed from germination is the knowledge that roots are to be pushed down that will gather the resources necessary for growth and stability.

Assume that our tree is thus far a successful example. Incidental to this success is another bit of code. As the oak matures it ceases to develop the network of its fine roots and turns its efforts toward sinking deep tendrils. These are a type of insurance against drought, an interesting aspect, but let’s back up a bit.

What if this last bit of code were corrupted? What if our now eternally mad for growth tree continued to build a root structure far more dense than a proper code would intend? Nutrients would soon be scarce as the once fertile ground would dry and fissure, exposing the foundation of the tree to the harsh elements. The tree might wither for some time, or in its weakened state suffer a calamity. In any case it wouldn’t last as it might have.

How much is enough? How thoroughly can we be mined by the wealth machine before there is nothing left? How much more can we be set against each other in the workplace, squeezed of every last bit of productivity while our economic realities are finely engineered to maintain us at the breaking point?

In this latest era, and particularly from the ascension in the eighties of the free market ideology, it is widely held that unbridled capitalism is panacean. Corporations are filled with enthusiasts who push the roots of market development into every cubic centimeter of society. The defining maxim being applied to every human endeavor is that profit must at all (non-fiscal) cost be maximized.

This brings me to the trigger of this thinking about oak trees and choking death.

UW Madison is, at the moment, in the forefront of stem cell research. Since the eighties, universities have been allowed to sell the discoveries made in the course of their research to the highest corporate bidder, and the University and corporate community expect to do very well indeed in this new field.

Inevitably research in this critically important area will suffer from corruption of the scientific ideal as it is molded to ensure the development of commercially attractive outcomes. Inevitably the most creative efforts will be thwarted. Inevitably the most talented will lose momentum and many will sour altogether on the entire process. Many have already moved on but will find that there is nowhere to go.

All over this country our universities are for sale. Always regents and legislators toss up their hands and mutter, “Economic reality.” It wasn’t always this way.

Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh long before tax supported research was up for auction. What were the priorities in definitely un-socialist 50’s America? The State of Illinois, for one, appropriated one million dollars and received over two million federal dollars to distribute the vaccine for free.

Today there’s a market driven root or two through any similar asset. Breakthroughs in health care derived from stem cell research will be anything but free, the deal is already done.

And how many Salks are losing their enthusiasm and focus as the scientific process becomes $cientific? How will an Alexander Fleming have the flexibility to consider the accident in his Petri dish made by some Penicillium notatum that happened to blow in from downstairs?

How do we ensure the longevity of the richness of our imaginative minds?

How will the fertile plain of democracy continue to fuel our effort?

How does the oak know when enough is enough?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Holy Moses

Several weeks ago David Brooks and other espousers of the mighty swift sword approach to foreign relations—having added up a series of presumed democratically driven events in the Middle East—began to cluck like a bunch of anti-Chicken Littles “The sky is lifting! The sky is lifting!”

Events continue, and by now the euphoria has spread across the land and shaken to the very grassy roots legions of dissenters from John Q. to John Stewart. “Could he be right?” is the phrase teetering at the tip of millions of tongues today.

Now, already there are lessons to be learned here. The right might learn that quite unlike them the left is willing to come around to at least grudgingly recognize a successful policy of their adversary. The left might learn that their conviction might be worn a bit too loosely if a potential success by President Bush in this one sphere has them tossing up their hands and/or lunches.

The less aligned might learn both things.

Moving on, just how does fare the “March of Freedom”? In Afghanistan we have had elections in Kabul to govern Kabul. The rest of the country is run by drug warlords, and in fact has grown into by far the worst illegal drug farm in the world, since 9/11. In 2004 the production of poppy in Afghanistan tripled 2003 figures under W’s watch.

In Iraq the election was at least more widespread. Elected representatives sat down, looked at each other and realized they didn’t have a freaking clue how they were going to govern three sects that have been fighting each other for hundreds and hundreds of years. Then they went home.

In Israel/Palestine/The West Bank or whatever we have a new wall that Californians could only dream about.

So, let’s point to Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon (maybe) and more open elections in Egypt (maybe). Now we’re cookin’. We’re gonna ride this freedom train across the Holy Lands and right on up to the gates of the family Saud and demand the end to monarchial control of oil assets and….hey, wait a minute.

It’s all enough to keep one’s attention, isn’t it? “Could he be right?”

Sure…right to the bank.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

You Crack Open a Window, Honey, while I Throw another Log on the Fire

I have had some discussion with my little Hun about the post several back in which I may have been a little over-zealous in my denunciation of a couple from “God’s Country” (Old Style beer) and their sustainable farm, inn, energy plan, etc. I will now commit an act that William Safire tells you is a violation of the 11th rule you should be aware of when reading a column—I will throw you the knuckleball that is an uncharacteristic source—while I admit that I am guilty of the action covered by his 12th rule, not keeping one’s sights on the large target.

Properly chagrined (and I’ll decide what level is proper), I realize that my exasperation triggered during the WPR interview with the aforementioned aubergistes is more generally borne of a sense that so many well intended reformative efforts are in the large picture only distractions from the problem at hand.

I will get to my point, the environment is doomed. If Wisconsin Public Radio thinks they are doing us a service by talking about energy sufficient bed and breakfast inns in the “land of sky blue waters” (Hamm’s beer) then perhaps they should take a newspaper break, because this is what I read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sunday:

Companies that make products for export should continue getting help from the weak dollar, which makes U.S. products less expensive overseas. Milwaukee's Joy Global Inc., which has been shipping its mining equipment to China and Russia, is one company capitalizing on an in-demand product at a time when the value of the dollar is down.
This is part of the good news, that the local economy is somewhat buoyed by a bourgeoning demand for coal mining equipment in Russia and China. What does that tell you about the future of greenhouse gases? All you need to know. So, while the Chinese get ready to help us turn the heat up on our already overcooking planet, the right is telling us we can’t afford not go along, the left is “radicalizing” by choosing as their leader a centrist upper middle class doctor from Vermont and the people’s radio is talking windmills, we accelerate the exportation of the irony that our biggest comfort and greatest threat are one and the same, the single family home in the suburbs.

You may have noticed that I have renamed this blog. “Sprinkle Liberally” was a result of the election campaign in that I had to express my extreme displeasure with conservatives, but my self-association with liberalism as practiced hereabouts is tenuous at best. Red and blue, black and white, it seems that to Americans everything has to be a simple as a football game or a fraternity tug of war. Everyone and everything has to be labeled. Everyone has to be thoroughly and at all times in the chosen camp. We land on each issue according to the side we have chosen, rather than the other way around.

It’s not good. It’s not productive. It’s not progressive because it’s not conducive to reason. So now the blog is called “le sequoit”. Sequoit is a French approximation of an Algonquin word meaning “winding”. I don’t know (and invite correction) if this can be masculine but le sequoit means, at least to me, the winding. (as in McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road”)

“What’s up with the French?” Bill O’Reilly (C) might ask. Well, for one thing, before Ouisconsin was American it was French, not English. For another thing, I happen to like what I know of France and the French. In addition to the obvious contributions in music, drama, art, fashion, mathematics, science, cuisine, political theory, medicine and so forth I kind of like the way their women wear their hair. And then there’s that part when they don’t like what the government is pulling so they all stay home and let the capitalists sweat out what a loss of 2% of GDP will mean if someone doesn’t act in a meaningful way like, now. I love that part.

As far as I can tell, the major crime the French have committed is living too close to the Germany that—while the US and England stood by and watched—built and turned a war machine on them. Twice. That and they get a little cranky sometimes when we get all out of shape because they don’t feel like explaining to American tourists in English that there is no parking lot for the Eiffel Tower like there is in Las Vegas.

Winding, indeed! What a mess this post is! Anyway, I apologize to serendipitous farmers everywhere and recommend they “bioneer” their own radio station. Thanks to the missus for being right and the rest of you can view me as the anti-thing of the Liberal-Conservative machine for now, whatever that might mean.