24 June 2010

"It’s not a technical issue. It’s the financing."

As I've mentioned in my previous posts, the development of the atomic bomb was a collaborative effort by three countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  These three countries have a long history of working together and most recently are working together in Afghanistan.

These three countries also have something else in common; only a minority of the citizens support the war effort in Afghanistan. Not just people in Canada, or in Britain, but in the US, too.

According to a June Angus Reid Poll, only 33% of Canadians support Canada's efforts. With 59% of Canadians opposed to the government's war in Afghanistan, the Canadian government will spend, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, $18.1 billion by the end of 2011. That's $1500 per Canadian household.

In Britain, according to yet another June Angus Reid poll, only 38% of UK residents support the government's war in Afghanistan, with 55% of the population opposed. Still the government of the United Kingdom will spend £5 billion in 2010.

The USA, a country where 53% of people believe that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, will have spent a staggering $299 billion between 2001 and September 2010 .

Whether you agree or disagree with the war, it's a lot of money to spend when the majority of people living in the countries funding the war disagree.

I won't bother adding up the US/UK/Canadian spending for the war as you can do that yourselves, but you have to wonder why. Is it to protect the 100,000 plus foreign troops fighting in Afghanistan? Is it for the freedom of the 29 million people in Afghanistan? Is it to protect us from further terrorist attacks?

Now compare this to the list of the following diseases that stem cell research could potentially cure: Multiple Sclerosis,Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Lou Gherig’s disease, lung diseases, arthritis, sickle cell anemia, organ failure, cancer. I won't bother adding up the figures for the number of lives that this would save either. But for stem cell research, not only is it underfunded, we don't even get a clear figure from governments about how much they're spending. 

You might even think that the lack of funding comes from majority opposition to stem cell research, especially the more controversial embryonic stem cells. It would be reasonable to think so using basic logic...

...Most citizens of the Canada, the US, and the UK are against the war in Afghanistan...
...but these governments are spending billions and billions on that...
...Therefore we must not be spending billions and billions on stem cell funding because there must be massive opposition

Well, it makes sense, but you'd be wrong.

According to the most recent poll data, a majority in all three countries clearly favour further stem cell research. Canada 64% in favour. The United States, 52%, and a whopping 79% in the United Kingdom.

You might want to find out the answer to why we're not spending more on stem cell research by going to the source. If you're so motivated, try writing to Messrs. Obama, Harper, and Cameron.

Just cut and paste the text from my message and go to the link for one of the three leaders to send your message.

I am writing to you in regards to your government's commitment to stem cell research. Great strides are being made in research but due to a lack of funding we are still not able to transfer this research from the laboratory to the hospitals to treat human illness. 
Dr. Hans Keirstead, a leading stem cell researcher, made the following comments on 60 Minutes in 2007. "For me it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And there’s a pivotal point here; is it going to be in several years, or is going to be in a couple of years? The deciding factor there is not can we do it or not. It’s not a technical issue. It’s the financing."
In a light of this statement, I have two questions for you.
1. How much is your government spending on stem cell research?
2. When will your government make the same financial commitment to stem cell funding, which a majority of the public supports, as to your war in Afghanistan, which a majority of the public does not support?
Thank you.

Please also send me an email to let me know if you've sent an email and if you get a response. I just sent mine off.

19 June 2010

Einstein's letter to Barack Obama - 2010

Albert Einstein is probably one of the most recognizable names in the world. What part did he play in the atomic bomb and how I think he would react to today's stem cell research is the subject of today's post.

Einstein's 1905 Special Theory of Relativity (E=mc2) made the point that a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter and the atomic bomb illustrated this principle clearly. But this theory didn't create the atom bomb, it was merely proved by it.

Even though he publicly declared himself to be a pacifist in 1929, stating that if war broke out he would, "unconditionally refuse to do war service, direct or indirect... regardless of how the cause of the war should be judged," Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 changed his position and he no longer fit his previous self-description of an "absolute pacifist".

Einstein's greatest role in the invention of the atomic bomb was signing a letter written by Leo Szilard (the physcist who conceived the nuclear chain reaction and held a patent on the nuclear reactor) to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939. The letter urged that the atomic bomb be built by the Americans as Nazi Germany had already split the uranium atom and might themselves be building an atomic bomb. The letter was delivered in October and that same month President Roosevelt struck the Briggs Committee to study uranium chain reactions.

Einstein would write three more letters to the president to urge him to move quickly. The weight of his name is often cited as the force behind the Manhattan Project and the ultimate making of the atomic bomb.

But again we find no joy in what Einstein, the scientist, may have felt compelled to participate in. In fact he made no public comment until one year after the atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at which time he stated that, "he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate."

In 1954, just before his death, he talked about his role in the making of the atomic bomb. "I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them."

Again, a scientist who felt compelled to something he thought to be morally repugnant. Could Einstein's letter have played a positive role in society? Some say that it did. It may have sped up the Japanese surrender therefore saving what some say could have been up to five million lives.

Knowing what we know about the potential of stem cells, would Einstein have felt compelled to intervene to save many millions of lives? Einstein's letter follows below.
Albert Einstein

Old Grove Rd.
Nassau Point
Peconic, Long Island

August 2nd 1939 June 20th 2010

F.D. Roosevelt Barack Obama
President of the United States
White House
Washington, D.C.


Some recent work by E.Fermi and L. Szilard many researchers, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium stem cells may be turned into a new and important source of energy cures for many diseases in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations:

In the course of the last four months five years it has been made probable - through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America numerous scientists the world over - that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass ofuranium, by which vast amounts of power and use large quantities of stem cells new radium-like elements would be to regenerated the body and cure disease. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs cells, and it is conceivable - though much less certain - that extremely powerful bombs cells of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb cell of this type, carried by boat bred in a laboratory and exploded in a port delivered internally, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory currently incurable diseases. However, such bombs cells might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air great a secret to hide and we would be compelled to share this life saving discovery with the rest of the world including our enemies.

The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities limited research at present. There is some good ore research in Canada, and the former Czechoslovakia, and in many other countries. While the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo is currently embryonic stem cells, with enough research, adult stem cells may replace these.

In view of the situation you may think it desirable to have more permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists scientists working on chain reactions stem cell research in America. One possible way of achieving this might be foryou to entrust with this task a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an inofficial capacity. His task might comprise the following:

a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore stem cells for the many diseases for the United States and the world;
b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary equipment.

I understand that Germany George Bush had had actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. That she should have taken such early foolish action might perhaps be understood on the grounds that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated that he didn’t understand how many people stem cell research would truly benefit.

Yours very truly,

(Albert Einstein)

17 June 2010

Let's increase G20 military spending by US$55,226,000,000

To: ALL G20 leaders
Mr Jacob Zuma (President, S. Africa), Mr Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, Canada), Mr Felipe Calderon (President, Mexico), Mr Barack Obama (President, USA), Ms Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (President, Argentina), Mr Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (President, Brazil), Mr Hu Jintao (President, China), Mr Naoto Kan (Prime Minister, Japan), Mr Lee Myung-bak (President, S. Korea), Mr Manmohan Singh (Prime Minister, India), Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President, Indonesia), His Excellency Abdullah I (King, Saudi Arabia), Mr Nicolas Sarkozy (President, France), Ms Angela Merkel (Chancellor, Germany), Mr Silvio Berlusconi (Prime Minister, Italy), Mr Dmitry Medvedev (President, Russia), Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Prime Minister, Turkey), Mr David Cameron (Prime Minister, UK), Mr Kevin Rudd (Prime Minister, Australia)

From: Dennis Tesolat (paralyzed guy, Osaka, Japan)

Re: Let's increase G20 military spending by US$55,226,000,000

Great news guys and gals!

I know that people always treat these G8/G20 events cynically. Complain about how much money it costs to host (sorry Steve). Even make fun of your intelligence and question your integrity. Well, no more!

This year we're going to have you create a G20 Commemorative Stem Cell Fund worth 29 billion dollars, AND still have you leave Toronto with a cool $55,226,000,000 in your pockets for increased military spending AND not have to increase taxes by even one cent.

People will swarm! Beautiful people will faint! Newspapers will call it a historic event and I promise that you will come out looking magnanimous.

I've tried to make the math as simple as possible and once you get your Finance Ministers to confirm the figures, please send me an email (stemcells.and.atom.bombs@gmail.com) to let me know that you're in. 

Just one small thing; I don't have the ready access that you do to your military spending, so sorry, but I've had to make due with the figures from your 2008 and 2009 military spending. So if I'm a couple of billion out here and there, please forgive me.

Below is a clear plan to pull it off. Your 2008 and 2009 military spending (don't forget to add six zeros after each number as it's in millions of US dollars) is shown in the two left hand columns after your country's name.

Since you're all rich in your own ways, I decided that the number one military spender (take a bow Mr Obama) should also be the one to show the most generosity. Therefore for the 29 billion dollar G20 Commemorative Stem Cell Fund  the US will pay 51.072% (US$14,810,784,068) and Argentina (sorry guys) will only have the privilege to contribute 0.201% (US$58,237,819).

The spin (if you're not a G20 leader, please do not read this part)
If you look at the far right column you'll see that I did the math on a per capita basis (your country's total contribution divided by your country's population). You need to announce that each person in your country will contribute the per capita amount (e.g. Mr. Kan from Japan will announce that each man, woman, and child in Japan will pay $8.21 to the fund).
Read this part carefully as this is where you come out looking good. Then you announce that so as not to burden each man, woman, and child with the per capita rate,  your government will pay the costs out of your military spending (Australians will therefore not have to pay $20.11 each).

"Hurra!" each German will not have to pay $13.12. The Turks will say, "Evet!" as they will not have pay $5.85 each.

But actually, little will anyone know that since you increased military spending in 2009 by US$84,226,000,000 you'll still be able to have an increase of $55,226,000,000 for your armies (also it was your citizen's money to start off with so it doesn't cost you anything).

You still get the armies, people get the stem cell research, and it's won't cost anything more than you're already spending. Remember, the military spending increase is secret.

The truth (if you are a G20 leader, please stop reading here)
They think that we're stupid anyway so let them have their little victory. We got $29,000,000 for stem cell research to cure world diseases.

14 June 2010

Not only possible, but inevitable

When we think of the atomic bomb we often lay the blame on or are in awe of the United States and their scientific ingenuity. People often forget that the government of three countries and scientists from many different countries were part of the team that made the atomic bomb possible.

Canada participated because of its rare uranium deposits and also played host to many British scientists that took their research to Canada because of the bombing of Britain. British scientists were also after the atomic bomb and in 1940 had set up the MAUD committee to examine the critical amount of uranium needed for the bomb. The United States, Britain, and Canada cooperated in making the atomic bomb in record time as they were in a race against the Nazis.

James Chadwick is not a name that most people associate with the atomic bomb. He came to prominence in 1935 when he won the Noble Prize for physics for his 1932 discovery of the neutron. If you remember back to junior high school science class you'll remember that atoms are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Until 1932 people didn't yet know about the neutron. Thirteen years before the atom was split to unleash it's terrible force, most scientists knew less about the atom than today's twelve to fifteen year olds.

As a member of the MAUD committee James Chadwick was privy to many of the uranium studies. In December 1940 after seeing the results of some of the research he concluded that, 
"a nuclear bomb was not only possible, it was inevitable. I had to then take sleeping pills. It was the only remedy." 

Less than five years later the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki bore witness to Chadwick's terrible prediction.

This prediction reminded me of another one that I saw during my stem cell research. 

"Neuroscientists around the world agree that repairing the damaged spinal cord is not a question of if, but a question of when ."

After reading about how Chadwick's prediction came true after only fifty seven months, I rushed to see when the part about repairing damaged spinal cords was said. I can't be sure, but the earliest known record of this statement is from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation which advocates for more research into stem cells and spinal cord injury. Sadly it was made forty eight months ago. 

From my reading I don't believe that we are now nine months away from being able to say that, "today the world bears witness to the awesome force of stem cell treatments."

10 June 2010

Canada kicks in the first 1.1 billion (minus skype costs)

Thank you Canada!

Got an email from Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper last night. Says that he was reading yesterday's blog and didn't realize that I was only after 29 billion dollars.
View Details

He did the search on Google like I suggested. Yes, in today's money, the two billion for the atomic bomb in 1941 would work out to twenty nine billion.

Where's he going to get the 1.1 billion? He said that he was cancelling the G8/G20 meeting scheduled for the end of June. Says that he's been getting a lot of slack in the press over the costs (especially the fake lake) and decided to just cancel the whole thing. 

He admitted that an article he'd seen about the summit also got him thinking. He included the link and I admit that I was shocked, too. G8 summit costs could treat 4 million HIV patients. I would have got him thinking even more if he'd of realized that they weren't talking about the 1.1 billion he's spending, but rather the $430 million spent by the Japanese government to host the summit in 2008. (Let's see: 4 million X about 2.2 = just under 10,000,000 HIV patients).

I wrote back in a panic as I didn't want to be blamed for the cancellation and persuaded him not to cancel it completely. We spent a few minutes looking at Skype and when he realized that you can have up to 25 callers on line at the same time, he had a brainstorm. At $84.99 for the Freetalk headset and webcam times twenty people, he'd rather go ahead on Skype (plus, he said that he was afraid of the protesters).

Not to be outdone by his neighbour to the north, Mr Obama called to let me know that the stem cell stuff would get 0.5% of the Recovery and Reinvestment money.  Pulling out our online calculators we figured it out to be $3.935 billion. When I queried him about the making it an even four billion, he told me not to press my luck. 

Now I had just over five billion dollars.

Just as I finished with Mr Obama, I could hear the phone ringing again, and again, and again. The nurse was talking to me now (in Japanese) telling me that she doesn't even look like President Obama.

It was all a dream. And then it clicked. What I told Mr Harper was wrong, it must have been a dream. Skype doesn't allow up to twenty five callers on video conferencing; it's only five.

Even though it was just a dream, it was encouraging. Imagine that one sixth of the money could come from cancelling a one week event and giving up 0.5% of something.

The money is definitely there. Just got to get it.

09 June 2010

All in the Family - the $2,000,000,000 question

If you're like me, you have a lot of questions about things and how they work. When I was a kid I loved going to the library and reading the encyclopedia, but the library wasn't anything like the the internet in terms of getting information.

I'll give you an example. Last week I was watching an episode of All in the Family on YouTube. In this episode Mike and Gloria were showing Archie a trick that women can do but men can't.

The episode was called "Judging Books By Covers". Gloria was up against a wall face first with a chair nearby. She takes three steps back from the wall, then takes the chair and places it in front of her so that the back of the chair is to her left. Bending over so that her head touches the wall and her back is parallel to the floor she lifts the chair just a few inches off the ground before returning to a full upright position.

Mike and Archie both tried after that and could not return to an upright position. Edith, however, was able to do it without any problem.

Immediately, I went to the internet to see what I could find out about this trick. You can learn how it works, or doesn't work, by going to Google and typing in "All in the Family chair trick". Bang! The first ten results give you the answer.

Most important things that you'd like to know is on the internet, and stuff like the chair trick that's not really important. Not only is the information there, but with a good search, you should be able to find the answer in seconds. I could never do that at the library.

Since this blog is about StemCells&AtomBombs you can imagine that I spend a lot of time searching for both. Here's some more searching that you can do yourself using Google.

Try searching for "atomic bomb costs". The first five hits will give you the costs of the Manhattan Project and the costs of dropping the bomb.

Now try searching for "stem cell research spending", or "stem cell funding", or "stem cell research costs". With any search string you can imagine, try finding something current about how much has been spent or is going to be  spent on stem cell research. If you can find this number, I'd be happy to hear it. I won't bet you $2,000,000,000 that you can't but I don't think you'll find the number.

I didn't come up empty handed though. I found some interesting things. California has offered $3,000,000,000 in funding. Thank you California. Other than that, I found millions of dollars here and millions of dollars there and even a report from 2007 stating that private philanthropies have thus far donated 1.7 billion to stem cell research.

I must say that I went to bed disappointed last night since I couldn't find the information about stem cell spending that I was looking for. So this morning I tried one last search. Seeing that California has ponied up $3,000,000,000 I wanted to know how this compares to the $2,000,000,000 given to create the atomic bomb in 1941.

The number I found didn't give me any great hope that governments are serious about stem cell research.
Go to Google and type in "in today's dollars". Item number three on the search gave me what I was looking for. Check for yourself to see how how stem cells and atom bombs compare. Once you've seen the figure yourself, I think you'll agree that we haven't yet made stem cell research a priority.

08 June 2010

Kalo Asmi Loka-ksaya-krit Pravardho, Lokan Samartum iha Pravattah

Ever heard this before?

Kalo Asmi Loka-ksaya-krit Pravardho, Lokan Samartum iha Pravattah.

It's from the Hindu holy book and it translates as, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

oppenheimer's aria :: ryuichi sakamotoDo you know what famous person quoted it? Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the World War II project that developed the first nuclear weapons. He is sometimes referred to as the "father of the atomic bomb", but after hearing him quote, "Kalo Asmi Loka-ksaya-krit Pravardho, Lokan Samartum iha Pravattah," I'm not sure that he would be proud of this title.

...and finally I've started talking about the bomb.

When we give scientists the resources to build something destructive, even if it's a world first like the atomic bomb, we don't getting many people jumping in the air and cheering. Robert Oppenheimer's public actions and comments about the bomb are contradictory. Was it a good thing? Was it a necessary evil? Oppenheimer's public statements don't clearly tell us what he thought, but in the moment after the first artificial nuclear explosion nearAlamogordo on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer's feelings were clear, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

He also talked about how those around him felt on July 16, 1945. "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent." You can see Oppenheimer recall this day in a 1965 interview. There is no joy in this man's face. There is no joy in knowing that he oversaw a world first. In the interview it looks like he's scratching his eye, but I wonder if he's crying.

Contrast this with the real joy in Hans Keirstead's voice and face. He's so happy with his announcement that you can see he's trying hard not to shout for joy in front of the camera. Read about him and see the pure joy in his face.

So who is Hans Keirstead, what did he do, and why is he so happy? Find out on youtube (you can already guess that it has something to do with stem cells). After watching him make this announcement, it would be hard to imagine him "scratching his eye" in an interview 20 years later recalling this event. How will he remember this event in twenty years? He may even quote Oppenheimer himself, "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent." But he will stop there. He will not go on to call himself "the destroyer of worlds".

You can see the difference yourself. The difference between StemCells&AtomBombs. Two world firsts. Two completely different reactions from the men who made it possible. 

07 June 2010

Before I start talking about the atom bomb...

I've already gotten a few emails and one comment. Of course, the messages were all from friends, so I'd like to say thank you for your support.
One email that I received concerned me a little, so I thought I'd make it the focus of today's post.
The writer was wondering why I would criticize all the amazing work going on in stem cell research. The focus of this blog is not to criticize the people (or the companies or the foundations) doing research in this field. Without them we would be nowhere close to finding ways to use stem cells to benefit human kind. 
What I aim to write about in this blog is the fact that there is no concerted effort from any government or governments to further stem cell research. 
Today's small post will give you background reading (and viewing) in stem cell research and spinal cord injury. Enjoy the reading; it's fascinating.

Spinal Cord Injury: Hope through research.
Stem cell treatment improves mobility after spinal cord injury
Stem cell therapy to be tested on spinal cord injuries

06 June 2010

Stem Cells and Atom Bombs - What are you talking about??

You may be asking, "What do stem cells and atom bombs have to do with each other?" 
As you'll see in my profile I've just become a paraplegic and I've been in the hospital for almost a year now. Well, as you can imagine, being a paraplegic has really got me interested in stem cell research. I read about it everyday, I get all the most recent news, not only about stem cells but new research about spinal cord injury.
The problem is that sitting in my hospital room waiting for a breakthrough is not making the breakthrough come any quicker. Then I got to thinking...
I'm a union organizer. My job is to get people in the union in order to help them improve their own lives, but when it comes to my own health problem, I just sit and read what others have done, but am not doing anything myself.
So I asked myself, "Why not do what you're good at and organize people to help themselves and others?" So that's what I aim to do with this blog. I'm still working out what to exactly, but I have some ideas. That will come later.

But wait a second! I still haven't answered my first question. What do stem cells and atom bombs have to do with each other? That's for the next post.