The Long View 2004-11-29: Reactors; Stem Cells; Architecture; UN

I'm dubious of embryonic stem cell therapies too. They don't seem to have gone through the formality of working yet.

Reactors; Stem Cells; Architecture; UN

Yes, I do watch The West Wing, which is sort of like a yakitty yakitty police drama, except that it's set in the the West Wing of the White House, and the gruff-but-lovable police commander is the president of the United States. In the most recent episode, one of the subplots involved a meeting in the White House of the proponents of various sources of energy for a post-petroleum economy. There was a solar-energy fanatic, a wind nut, and various people who had complicated ideas about bio mass. The show was honest enough to admit that none of these notions would quite work, but the president directed that similar meetings should be held regularly, because someday they would reveal a solution.

Conspicuous by its absence from those discussions was any mention of research into new forms of nuclear power. In the real world, however, that is where the solution is coming from:

Nov. 27 - Researchers at a government nuclear laboratory and a ceramics company in Salt Lake City say they have found a way to produce pure hydrogen with far less energy than other methods, raising the possibility of using nuclear power to indirectly wean the transportation system from its dependence on oil...The part of the plan that the laboratory and the ceramics company have tested is high-temperature electrolysis. There is only limited experience building high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, though, and no one in this country has ordered any kind of big reactor, even those of more conventional design, in 30 years, except for those whose construction was canceled before completion.

When I read this, I was a little astonished that no one had done it already. The problem with commercial nuclear power is that it is still using scaled-up versions of nuclear-submarine reactors, the system that Admiral Rickover devised for nuclear submarines over 50 years ago.

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One should take all initial reports of medical breakthroughs with a grain of salt, but this story is an illustration of why the debate about embryonic stem-cell research is a misdirection:

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean woman paralyzed for 20 years is walking again after scientists say they repaired her damaged spine using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood...So-called "multipotent" stem cells -- those found in cord blood -- are capable of forming a limited number of specialised cell types, unlike the more versatile "undifferentiated" cells that are derived from embryos...Additionally, umbilical cord blood stem cells trigger little immune response in the recipient...embryonic stem cells have a tendency to form tumors when injected into animals or human beings.

Again, this result might not be replicated, and I am frankly of two minds about banning research that uses embryonic stem cells. Something I am certain of, however, is that the hype for embryonic stem-cell research is a hoax. Embryonic stem-cells are the last avenue to pursue, not the first.

* * *

Frank Gehry designs the most god-awful major buildings in human history. Everybody knows this. Why are people afraid to say so out loud? Consider his recent crime against Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Just looking at it makes my brain hurt. But that's the least of it. Even from a distance, the damn thing is dangerous:

Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los just too brilliant. That is the conclusion, anyway, of a new report to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which will decide whether to sandblast portions of the building's shimmering facade of stainless steel to reduce its glare on motorists. Although no traffic accidents are known to have been caused by the building's reflected light, consultants found that the rays irritate drivers and cause temperatures on nearby sidewalks to rise as high as 138 degrees, The Daily News of Los Angeles reported. The county supervisors are to decide on the sandblasting in January; as a temporary solution, a gray mesh fabric was placed over one section.

For those readers living outside the United States, that's 138 degrees Fahrenheit (59 degrees centigrade). Or so we must suppose; with a Gehry building, you can never tell.

* * *

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a Instapundit) has some thoughts in The Wall Street Journal Online about the increasing demand to relieve Kofi Annan of the cares of high office and replace him with Vaclav Havel as Secretary General of the United Nations:

But however you assess Mr. Havel's chances of becoming secretary general, for Mr. Annan the comparison is devastating. Mr. Havel, after all, is a hero on behalf of freedom...Mr. Annan, by contrast, is a trimmer and temporizer who has stood up for tyrants far more than he has stood up to them.

As Reynolds remarks, Havel would be unlikely to take the job if it were offered to him. Be that as it may, it would be a mistake to appoint any statesman of the first order to the secretary generalship. The Secretary General is supposed to be more like a chief of staff than like a head of government. Half the job is pure bureaucratic management; the other half is facilitating discussions among the UN's members, especially those who are not publicly on speaking terms. This is a job for a good manager, not for a hero.

The Reynolds piece makes light of the United Nations as an institution, by the way. Many of the criticisms are merited, but some such entity has to exist.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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