Sunday, December 16, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week:Ending December 15, 2012

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

U.S.and Russia Spar Over Human Rights: An article in Reuters shows that relations between Russia and the United States are as normal as they have always been.
Russia's foreign minister urged parliament on Sunday to agree a tough response to a U.S. law punishing Russian human rights violators, increasing the risk of a chill in relations with Washington. Moscow announced restrictions on meat imports from the United States on Friday although it denied suggestions it had done so in response to the U.S. Senate's passage a day earlier of the so-called Magnitsky Act.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the parliament should now respond and Alexei Pushkov, a senior parliamentary deputy from President Vladimir Putin's party, said the State Duma lower house would discuss retaliatory measures this week. "As this is an attempt to interfere in our internal affairs, I would be very interested in a reaction by the state Duma that would be collective, on a multi-party basis and representing all party groups," Lavrov said in televised remarks.
Puskhov, who heads the chamber's foreign affairs committee, said a majority of lawmakers wanted a tough response, calling for visa restrictions on U.S. citizens who have violated human rights. He did not say who this might include or what rights violations they were accused of making. "The Americans have reminded us about the way Russia is viewed on Capitol Hill," Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Putin, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. "Stereotypes about our country persist and no one can get rid of them. So the Americans have made an extremely unfriendly move against us."
Russia's views of government and democracy have long been different than those of America, and it is hardly a case of stereotypes if actions reveal otherwise. If Washington now views Russia's human-rights record as poor, Russia has itself to blame. Yuri Ushakov said a truth when he said "No one can get rid of them." Russia remains committed to the past, now more than ever. It is up to its leaders to show that it has changed, including embracing democracy and all of its institutions with firm conviction. This, however, is unlikely to occur under the administration of President Putin.

Should Doctors Alone Decide On Human End-Of-Life?: The Question on whether doctors alone ought to decide the level of care an individual receives, notably in cases that are both costly and offer little hope of recovery, is what seven Supreme Court of Canada justices must now decide. At the heart of it all is deciding the rules and regulations for end-of-life decisions for patients that physicians deem as hopeless. An article in CBC News reports:
The case is about Hassan Rasouli, who has been on a ventilator and feeding tube for the past two years at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, after bacterial meningitis destroyed parts of his brain following surgery for a brain tumour. Rasouli, at first in a coma, was deemed to be in a persistent vegetative state, but that diagnosis was changed to one of "minimal consciousness" after he seemed to wake up and could occasionally give a thumbs-up sign, or grasp a ball.
Nevertheless, Rasouli's doctors at Sunnybrook didn't change their minds that he should be taken off hydration and feeding systems and moved into palliative care. Rasouli's family sought an injunction to prevent removal of the tubes, and then argued successfully at two lower court levels that the doctors did not have to right to halt use of the life-preserving equipment. The doctors appealed those decisions to the highest court.
Outside the court in Ottawa Monday, Rasouli's daughter Mozhgan said, "My father represents the value of life … I know that he wants to be alive." She continued, "It is unfair, it is unfair — he should be treated like anyone else."
When modern medical technology can help better the lives of individual, as countless medical advances have done over the years, society lauds and applauds its efforts. And rightly so. When the technology, however, is used to prolong life but one where the individual is kept alive artificially, the medical profession considers it both futile and a poor use of resources: To wit: money.

This rubs against religious and societal ethics that says life is sacred and worth prolonging "at all costs"; and the argument is made that a miracle might happen, and the individual might recover. It's possible. Again, there are valid arguments on both sides to which people agree,which reveals much. How one views such human of cases says much about how one views many such things human. The Supreme Court justices will need the wisdom of Solomon to arrive at their decision. Its ramifications will be felt across Canada for generations.

North Korea Launches Rocket; Puts Satellite Into Orbit: The North Korean regime went ahead with its announced rocket launch, says a report in the New York Times, and in doing so defying the international community. Choe Sang-Hun and David E.Sanger of the Times write:
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, said it had detected the launching and tracked the missile — a Galaxy-3 rocket, called the Unha-3 by the North — as its first stage appeared to fall into the Yellow Sea and the second stage into the Philippine Sea.
“Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit,” Norad said. “At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America.”
But the timing of the launching appeared to take American officials by surprise. Just an hour or two before blastoff from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri on North Korea’s western coast, near China, American officials at a holiday reception at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Washington said they thought the North Koreans had run into technical problems that could take them weeks to resolve.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the rocket succeeded in the ostensible goal of putting an earth-observation satellite named Kwangmyongsong-3, or Shining Star-3, into orbit, and celebrations by members of the North Korean media were reported.
Although the launching was driven in part by domestic considerations, analysts said it carried far-reaching foreign relations implications, coming as leaders in Washington and Beijing — as well as those soon to be chosen in Tokyo and Seoul — try to form a new way of coping with North Korea after two decades of largely fruitless attempts to end its nuclear and missile ambitions. 
The launch was an important test and victory of sorts for Kim Jong-un, North Korea's young leader, who has now achieved some credibility with his military and has also shown the international community that North Korea's plans to build an intercontinental ballistic missile are real. Then there's the symbolism; the successful launch came five days before the one-year anniversary of the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il. Its significance cannot be denied.

But more important, the missile launch and advancing warfare technology will do little to feed the millions of North Koreans who are impoverished and starving.

Preventing Syria's Use Of Chemical Weapons; An article in the Christian Science Monitor gives a reasonable response for making it difficult for Syria to deploy chemical weapons during its civil war. Daryl G. Kimball and Paul F. Walker write:

In the end, the fate of Syria’s deadly arsenal may depend on the decisions of a few key Syrian officers and soldiers on the ground. Consequently, one of the most important steps that can be taken is for regional leaders to issue coordinated statements that reinforce Mr. Obama’s message to Assad, as well as to military personnel now directly in charge of the chemical stockpiles, that individuals will be held accountable if the weapons are used or pilfered.
Assad’s allies in Russia, as well as in Iran – which itself suffered from chemical warfare during the 1980-1988 conflict with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – can help reinforce this message by threatening to withdraw all forms of support if Assad orders the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition.
The Syrian rebel command and its emerging political leadership must also make it clear that individuals who maintain security of the weapons will be given favorable consideration in the post-Assad future. And the opposition must commit to secure these sites in the short run, without major injury or deaths, and to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention to verifiably eliminate the stockpiles over the longer term.
The eventual destruction of Syria’s remaining chemical arsenal will require international support, including technical expertise and financing. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has inspected and verified the safe destruction of over 54,000 tons of chemical weapons in six of seven declared possessor countries since 1997 (the great majority in the US and Russia). The OPCW will be needed to verify and inspect any such post-conflict operation in Syria.
It sounds as reasonable a plan as any devised thus far. Yet, during civil wars, reason is often not considered as important as conquest for each side; concomitant with that is the thirst for destruction and victory at all costs. And the deteriorating situation in Syria reminds us that we are now living in extreme times, similar to those that were present during the early part of the twentieth century..

Treating Jellyfish Stings With Zinc: Jellyfish stings are painful and can be life-threatening. An article by Chritie Wilcox in Scientific American shows how one scientist, Angel Yanagiharabitten by jellyfish in 1997, looked to find not only how the venom within the jellyfish (Chironex ) releases its toxins,but also whether she could find an effective antidote for such painful attacks.

Wilcox writes:
When human flesh brushes up against a jellyfish tentacle, the tiny stinging cells jellies carry, called cnidocytes, can discharge their painful venom in as little as 700 nanoseconds. During the winter months, Australian waters are home to an abundance of the deadliest jellyfish in the world, the box jelly Chironex fleckeri, which has been known to kill a person in less than five minutes.
Chironex even looks scary, with a bell that can be large as a basketball and tentacles up to ten feet long carrying millions upon millions of stinging cells. But Chironex didn’t earn its title as the deadliest jellyifish in the world based on looks. Anyone who has come in contact with Chironex knows its fearsome reputation is justified, as even mild stings are excruciating. Yet despite decades of research, exactly how Chironex and other jellies deal their sometimes-fatal blows has remained a fearsome mystery.
“For over 60 years researchers have sought to understand the horrifying speed and potency of the venom of the Australian box jellyfish, arguably the most venomous animal in the world,” explains Yanagihara. It’s not that scientists have been unable to isolate any toxins. Yanagihara’s initial work discovered pore-forming toxins called porins in a related species, Carybdea alata, capable of tearing holes in blood cells, and since scientists have found similar porins in every jellyfish species they’ve looked at. The conundrum is that severe sting victims don’t suffer from profound destruction of red blood cells, seemingly counting out the porins as the cause of fatal stings. But if it’s not the porins, what in jellyfish venom is to blame? How does it act so quickly, leading to such sudden cardiovascular collapse? And is there anything we can do to slow or stop its deadly activity?
Now, in a new paper published today in PLOS ONE, Yanagihara and her colleagues from the University of Hawaii have revealed the key mechanism by which Chironexvenom—and, specifically, the overlooked porins—quickly dismantle the cardiovascular system. Armed with physiology, the team was able to find a safe treatment that could be used to improve survival in sting victims.
This treatment is zinc gluconate, which is more effective than the commercially available antivenom; in animal studies, it was twice as effective as what is now used. The article adds:
Zinc gluconate isn’t a cure-all; it won’t stop all of the excruciating pain associated with severe stings, and victims are still at risk of going into shock and cardiovascular failure. But, Yanagihara is hopeful that treatment with zinc gluconate might be effective enough at prolonging survival in severe sting victims long enough to get them to medical professionals that can save their lives, and may provide welcome relief to mild sting victims.
That would be a good thing since dozens of persons in Australia and the Philippines die each year from such jellyfish stings.

& One More, Because Its Importance Extends Beyond America

Mourning In America: On Friday, a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children, at a U.S. school where his mother worked in some capacity. There have been too many such murders in the U.S., not only in schools, but also in shopping malls, movie theaters and public spaces. I thought that U.S. President Obama gave a thoughtful and compassionate speech after the elementary-school shooting in  Newtown, Connecticut; I too as a parent had tears in my eyes. An article in  The National Post gives the full text of the speech that President Obama eloquently delivered, often pausing to wipe away tears from his eyes; you can view and hear it here:
This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.
We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.
The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.
So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.
Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.
As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight, and they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans, and I will do everything in my power as president to help, because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need, to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories, but also in ours.
May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
Yes, I hugged my children a little tighter and told them I love them. But there's more to be done. In the best of cases, our grief ought to to lead us to action. To make things better. To rid society of its polluting evil. Yes, in the days to come there will be all kinds of media stories on what motivated the gunman, and the media will bring in all kinds of psychiatrists and other mental-health experts  to try to explain this abnormal act, as if it were such an immensely rare act in America. It's not. So it's easy to conclude that the panel discussions analysing motives will not change anything about America's violent gun culture. (Some will argue for more guns, including inside the classroom.) It's only a needless distraction from the real problem.

President Obama hit the right tone when he said "meaningful action." Getting to the heart of the matter, I would say that there has to be a serious adult discussion in America about easy access to handguns, a weapon whose design and purpose is to kill. Too many persons invest too much energy in defending the indefensible, using the Second Amendment itself as a weapon, which says too much about what currently ails America. It is hard for me to understand America's irrational (and delusional) love affair of guns, and the concomitant need to silence all dissenting voices on that matter.  Has the Second Amendment become more important than the First Amendment?

No, and the First Amendment need be used for its chief purpose: to speak truth and dismantle falsehood. For too long, there has been a false line drawn between democracy and gun ownership; between freedom and loosening gun laws; between free speech and increasingly violent films, TV shows, videos and games aimed at the young whose end result normalizes and glorifies a culture of guns ; this all needs to be erased; education is the key and government needs to play a large role, as they successfully did with the dangers of cigarette smoking. If the will is there it can be done, and parents can take the lead.

Forget the politics; forgot the narrow interests of the gun advocates (i.e.,the NRA); forget the fallacious arguments that "guns don't kill, people do." Handguns kill and do so with greater effect and efficiency than than any other similar-sized weapon; that's its only purpose. It's not primarily a weapon of self-defence, but of self-offence. To say otherwise is simply to perpetuate a lie, and a big one too.

Personally, I would like to all handguns banned. Completely. Irrevocably. I doubt that it will ever be considered by any political party; even so, it would solve a lot and make America safer. Measurably safer. Is anyone listening?

December 15th In History
1612Simon Marius is the first individual to observe the Andromeda galaxy through a telescope;
1791: U.S. Bill of Rights ratified when Virginia gives its approval;
1877:  Thomas Edison patents the phonograph;
1917: World War I: An armistice is reached between the new Bolshevik government and the Central Powers.
1918: The American Jewish Congress holds its first meeting;
1945: During the American occupation of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur orders that Shinto be abolished as the state religion of Japan;
1961: Adolf Eichmann convicted of crimes against humanity in Israel;
1970: Soviet spacecraft Venera 7 successfully lands on Venus, making it the first successful soft landing on another planet and transmit data to earth. The craft recorded a surface temperature of 475°C.

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