Wednesday, April 24, 2019

National Poetry Month: Gene Editing

I Cloned a Woolly Mammoth

I cloned a Woolly Mammoth
Using tissue from a fossil
Fully formed and found
Frozen in the Lappish tundra

I merged a cell from the mammoth’s tongue
With the de-nucleated egg from a pigeon
And fused the two in a Petri dish
Hand-painted by a monk

The monk paints dinner plates
As well as laboratory dishes
And lives a frugal life
On the arid plains of the Mahabharata

In that the tongue had been frozen
For some fifteen thousand years
I was reluctant to insert the growing embryo
In the surrogate mammoth mother

I’d chosen an African Elephant by the name of Molly
To carry the embryonically infused egg
And had become so attached to Molly
That I was loath to see her chilled

And so rather than implant the egg
I separated stem cells for the embryo
Then fused these embryonic stem cells
To an enucleated mouse egg

Then I implanted the enucleated mouse egg
In Molly my surrogate mammoth mother
And waited while she meandered about my farm
Eating tons and tons of bamboo

The monk doesn’t have a name
Names inhibit separation from the ego
And so the Petri dish was simply signed

Six hundred and forty-four days later
Molly stopped eating and simply stood
Staring off towards the mountains
When she started to slowly sway

I knew then that she was about to give birth
I watched as Molly swayed and squatted
Then exclaimed in awe as
Forty pigeons flew off looking for cheese

But doesn’t signing the Petri dish signify attachment to the ego?
This is something I’ve wondered about

According to James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence, gene editing is a  “weapon of mass destruction and proliferation.” Clapper was reporting on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment of 2016. Genome Editing, under the section on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation, states that,

Research in genome editing conducted by countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of Western countries probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products. Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications. Advances in genome editing in 2015 have compelled groups of high-profile US and European biologists to question unregulated editing of the human germline(cells that are relevant for reproduction), which might create inheritable genetic changes. Nevertheless, researchers will probably continue to encounter challenges to achieve the desired outcome of their genome modifications, in part because of the technical limitations that are inherent in available genome editing systems.

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States was carried out in 2017 by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, and involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Until the Portland study, scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. Up until then, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

According to Stephen Buranyi, in NYR Daily,

"If CRISPR has an agreed-upon red line, it is human germline editing (which, in effect, entails editing human embryos to create babies that will carry the edits in all of their cells, and will pass the changes on to any offspring they have). That line was crossed in November at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, when a relatively unknown Chinese scientist named He Jiankui announced that he had introduced genetic changes in at least two human embryos that were carried to term, meaning that the first two gene-edited humans in history—twins, as it happens—exist somewhere in China."

Buranyi wrote that, "When the journal Science chose the radical gene-editing technology CRISPR as its 2015 breakthrough of the year, the editorial team closed its description on a dire note. 'For better or worse, we all now live in CRISPR’s world.'”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

National Poetry Month: Water Pollution

 Petie Macaroni

Giampetro Maroni, aka Petie Macaroni
put his plate in the sink and walked out of the kitchen
His mother shouted from the living room
"Put'a you plate in'a dishwash
Like I toll you tousand time

Maroni took the plate
smeared with pasta sauce
from the sink and put it in the dishwasher
Then he went to the hall closet
reached up to the shelf
and took down his Glock 17
with its customized grip

He checked to see that it was loaded
and then slipped it into the waistband at the back of his pants
He took a black leather jacket from a hanger
and shrugged his considerable bulk into it
He patted his front pocket for his keys
his back pocket for his wallet
and walked out the front door
His mother shouted
"Doan slam'a da door!"

Weeks later
after Petie hadn't been heard from
Mama Maroni would wonder if she'd driven her oldest son away
with all of her haranguing

That wasn't the case
Petie would've come back home
had he been able to swim up from forty feet under the Passaic River
with two concrete blocks tied to his ankles
and having inhaled a toxic soup of muddy water
mixed with
and cancer-causing
Maxus, Tierra Solutions, owned by the Diamond Alkali plant in Newark, NJ, dumped cancer-causing dioxin in the Passaic a half century ago while manufacturing the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.

Documentation indicates that the Argentine Company YPF SA hatched a scheme to siphon assets away from its subsidiary, Maxus, so it could declare bankruptcy and avoid paying out possibly hundreds of millions of dollars toward cleaning up the Passaic, which is so polluted that the lower portion of the river is a Superfund site.

According to the EPA’s latest National Rivers and Streams Assessment, 46% of our Nation’s rivers and streams are in poor biological condition, with only 28% in good condition. Human health screening values for mercury in fish tissue are exceeded in 13,144 miles of U.S. river length. In 23% of river and stream length, samples exceed an enterococci threshold level for protecting human health. Waters with high levels of bacteria may be unsafe for swimming and other types of contact recreation, let alone drinking.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

National Poetry Month: Gun Violence

Guns Don't Kill People

Guns don’t kill people
people kill people with guns
it’s their constitutional right to own
the more the merrier
there’s little barrier to lethality
that’s the reality

The advantage that a small or light bullet has over a heavy one when it comes to wound ballistics, is that it tumbles once it hits flesh. Bullets are stabilized to fly through the air, and not through water, or a body, which is approximately the same density as water. Bullets, like the .223 Rem fired by the AR-15, are stable as long as they are in the air. When they hit something, like a child, they immediately go unstable. This is what makes a small bullet so lethal in wound ballistics.

Heather Sher, a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States for 13 years, wrote this in a 2018 Atlantic article:

"I was looking at a CT scan of one of the mass-shooting victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?"

"The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange."

Thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Two roads diverged in a wood and I --

The last lines of Robert Frost's well-known poem, The Road Not Taken, are:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Donald Trump is a master of misdirection and unless we're careful, he will have us racing down the wrong road and that will make all the difference.

Americans who have over the years considered themselves liberal in the modern sense of the term,  associated with or, like myself, migrated to the Democratic Party, because it, as a whole, best reflected our values. There is no "liberal" party. The term liberal has evolved over the years and still has different meanings in different parts of the world. I take my personal meaning of liberal from the speech by John F. Kennedy, delivered in 1960 -- my Junior Year at USC -- in which he said,

"...liberalism is not so much a party creed or a set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of Justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves."

There's an IDEOLOGICAL battle within (as well as against) both camps of the traditional establishment parties. Trump has taken the Republican Party by the throat and shaken the moderation out of it, but there are still moderates who identify as Republicans and conservatives, who feel completely set adrift.

Independents who, according to a March 2019 Gallup poll, actually make up a larger percentage of the voting population than either Democrats or Republicans, swung the 2016 election for Trump with many thinking he would become "more presidential" once in office.

The POLITICAL battle before us is between Republicans, led by Donald J. Trump, and Democrats, with Tom Perez as prima facie leader. Perez is Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). That, however, does not make him the leader of the left. Bernie Sanders emerged as the leader of the "old new left" in 2016, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a meteoric rise to lead the "new new left" in 2018 when she defeated Congressman Joe Crowley, the boss of the Queens County Democratic Party and someone widely thought to be the next speaker of the House.

In order to win in 2020 against Trump and his far-right faction of the Republican Party, the currently balkanized left must form strong coalitions with the same goal (if not the exact same platform) of ousting the monster in the White House.

For the next twenty months, in order to avoid the catastrophe of an 8-year Trump Presidency, establishment Democrats, Justice Democrats, Progressives, Democratic Socialists, and other "left and left-leaning" organizations need to find common ground and work together to achieve the common end -- the end of Trump. To do this, they must bring Independents into the fold, which will be tricky, given the leftward lean of the coalition.

This doesn't mean that Justice Democrats must "knuckle under" to Tom Perez and Cheri Bustos and toe the party line. It means meaningful dialogue free of recriminations geared toward goal-oriented compromise. If they can't do that, maybe they don't deserve to the lead the nation. Chances are, they won't anyway.

DONALD TRUMP will continue tweet about the themes that rile his base; "illegal immigration," "infanticide," "fake news," the Mueller "witch hunt," countries taking advantage of America, from China on trade to NATO countries on defense, and the old reliable, Hillary Clinton emails. Whenever the news cycle tilts against him, he finds a way to alter the balance by saying or doing something outlandish, but generally inconsequential. When he's actually done something outrageous and consequential, like separating families and their children at the border, he tries to pass the blame off on someone else, e.g., Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Trump will also attempt to probe divisions he spots within the opposition, like the Bernie and Biden factions arguing over which candidate has the worst record with women. The fact that Trump himself is a serial abuser doesn't stop him. He's glad to bring others into his orbit. Democrats must avoid eating their own. If they don't, Trump will serve up plenty of "what about ism."

Finally, as 2020 draws nearer, Trump will brag about all that he's accomplished and make more promises about the great things he's going to do in his second term, e.g., he just promised that when he's reelected in 2020, he will implement the greatest health care plan ever. Yes folks, he is indeed a con man.

Democrats -- center, left, moderate, new and old -- must avoid barking at the moon -- avoid responding angrily to Trump's attempts at misdirection and stick to the issues that resonate with the majority of Americans. And believe me, when Democrats control the White House, the Senate, and the House, we will see a great health care system enacted -- because no matter what their leanings, Democrats believe in serving the people, and that will make all the difference.

Monday, April 1, 2019

National Poetry Month: Climate Change

Kayaking along Market Street

The waters are rising
Inundating islands
occupied by the innocent
Surging over cities seething
with the unrepentant
Kayaking along Market Street
enjoying the novelty
Until Charleston became a swamp
According to our government's Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, the social, economic, and environmental systems along the coasts are being affected by climate change. Threats from sea level rise (SLR) are exacerbated by dynamic processes such as high tide and storm surge flooding, erosion, waves and their effects, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers and elevated groundwater table, local rainfall, river runoff, increasing water and surface air temperature, and ocean acidification.

Although storms, floods, and erosion have always been hazards, in combination with rising sea levels they now threaten approximately $1 trillion in national wealth held in coastal real estate and the continued viability of coastal communities that depend on coastal water, land, and other resources for economic health and cultural integrity. The effects of the coastal risks posed by a changing climate already are and will continue to be experienced in both intersecting and distinct ways, and coastal areas are already beginning to take actions to address and ameliorate these risks. Charleston is one such city. Others are ignoring them, or even prohibiting their mention in city planning documents.