Along the Tracks

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Parrish resignation, armed bobbies and stem cells

From this week's column:

It was good to see an embarrassing chapter close for the Williams County Fair Board. There are still some loose ends to tie up between former board President Howard Parrish and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, but with Parrish’s departure as a fair official, the board has the opportunity to move forward and demonstrate its commitment to responsibility, fair play and, most importantly, the county’s young people.

The Professor has heard some early-arriving students: “The chirping outside my office is no longer made by birds.”

I haven’t seen this mentioned much on television or newspaper articles, but the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot by undercover cops on the London subway a day after the latest round of attacks, may have roots in Britain’s relationship with firearms.

Whereas the United States defends, within certain limits, a person’s right to bear arms and to act in self-defense, Her Majesty’s government has kept a tight grip on weapons and their use. Most folks know that London’s uniformed police force, the “bobbies,” do not carry pistols. Other special units do train for weapons use, and do carry them when the situation warrants.
Yet training and experience are two very different levels of familiarity, as the shooting of Menezes illustrates.

London officers who most likely never have drawn their weapons in the public suddenly were called upon to shoot to kill anyone they suspected of attempting a terror attack.

American police officers, who almost universally carry guns, are heavily trained in rules of engagement for a variety of situations and have the weapon at their side during a wide range of potentially volatile incidents. Many officers with time on their respective forces have needed to draw their weapons in dangerous, fast-changing situations. A few have even had to fire.

This wealth of experience helps officers recognize times when guns are needed and times when they are not.

The British police simply do not have this fund of knowledge from which to draw.

This is not to say American cops don’t sometimes make mistakes – obviously, they do. This is also not necessarily a criticism of Britain’s tradition of the unarmed cop in a nation where firearms are strictly regulated and gun violence is fairly uncommon.

Rather, this is yet another example of how the world really has changed due to Islamic terrorism – and all of us, whether British, Spanish, French or American, need to change in order to defeat it.

Backhanded Compliment of the Week: “The plywood nailed to this stump sure makes a nice picnic table.”

The embryonic stem cell debate took a new twist when Republican Sen. Bill Frist (the majority leader in the Senate) announced he now supports federal funding for research.

Almost everyone recognizes the promise stem cell research holds for a wide range of debilitating conditions and diseases. The research which has already been completed indicates embryonic stem cells are more “pliable” than stem cells drawn from adults, and therefore more potentially useful in medical treatments. There is certainly much more to be learned – but it is difficult to learn without applying greater resources.

The hesitation for many – myself included – is based on how those stem cells are acquired.
At present, research takes place on the extra embryos after couples go through in vitro fertilization procedures. Typically, several of the mother’s eggs are fertilized “in the test tube,” then allowed to grow. The strongest two or three are implanted in the uterus; the rest are generally destroyed or put in “cold storage” for potential future use by the couple. In the U.S., thousands of extra embryos are discarded each year.

Embryonic stem cell research takes one of these extra embryos and allows it to grow into a clump of cells which contains the “seeds” of different systems and organs: stem cells. These stem cells are then removed, a process which kills the embryo.
Many on the pro-life side see this as comparable to abortion, in that an embryo is intentionally killed. Others are bothered more by the idea of using human life, in any form, for experimentation.

Frist and others with strong pro-life credentials have pointed out the embryos do not have any chance of growing into humans, since they are extras from the in vitro fertilization process which will be discarded at some point. If the American people and their government believe in vitro fertilization is a morally legitimate procedure to allow couples with fertility problems to have children, then the American people and their government must also accept the other half of that equation: Some embryos will not be implanted and instead will be discarded.

Rather than lose the unique value and essence in each of those embryos to be discarded, the argument goes, why not use those embryos to provide stem cells for research and, eventually, cures?

When one considers the above facts and argument - as well as recognizing a substantial percentage of eggs fertilized naturally never successfully implant in the uterus and are “discarded,” too, by nature – embryonic stem cell research, with proper restrictions, does seem like a legitimate use for those embryos in danger of being wasted.

The question of experimentation on human life is perhaps not as difficult to answer. Humans are already the subjects of medical experiments. Drug studies, novel procedures, “experimental” surgeries – these are all done as part of the quest for more effective treatments. Occasionally, the subjects of the experiments even die. While we are saddened by this, we do not ban such experiments. Rather, we set up standards to make certain the experiment is useful and promising, and the subject’s death, should that occur, will not be in vain.

With strict standards in place, embryonic stem cell research could similarly provide untold benefits for humanity while assuring human life – the embryo – is not allowed to die in vain.

Male Proverb #384: “Sweet corn is followed by tomatoes, which are followed by watermelon, which is followed by school.”

Paul, I read your column, Along the Tracks, weekly. I usually glaze over the top, as I did this week, to see if there is anything of local interest. Usually not. I wonder, with your obvious interest in digging deep into stories and finding the 'truth', if you could possibly attack the atrocities a little closer to home? We have a vast cache of corruption and misappropriations of state funding in Ohio that deeply affect us here in the Northwest corner. Schools and some businesses are consistently left in the cold to benefit some other "greater good". We have enough blowhards and bloggers commenting on issues insignificant to those of us living day to day when we are basically powerless to do anything about the issue BUT rant. I think your talents would be much better put to use pointing a critical eye, and perhaps raising awareness and empowerment, here Along the Tracks.
As for school funding in Ohio, we all know it has been judged unconstitutional, and that recent tax changes are decreasing state funding by great measure. But, I question if the state would really pull that rug from under schools and just leave them hanging. If so, it is shameful at the state level. But are there budget issues at the district level also? Many citizens complain about over-spending, administrative salaries, etc. Are these complaints justified? Is it reasonable for a Superintendent of a 500 student district to make a base salary of over 85 thousand a year, when the average household income in the community is teetering at 30 thousand? We all know that schools need the BEST in technology for our kids to remain competitive in the world after graduation...but how do you convince a tax payer of that when they are a member of the 'working poor' and living pay-check to pay-check?
These are some of the issues facing Williams County and NW Ohio today. They are in our face and having a profound affect on OUR future. It would be interesting to see what you could do to raise awareness on these issues and possibly spread important information.
As I'm sure you may wonder, I don't do this myself because I am held to a clock by one who pays my bills, and my family. Blogging and investigative reporting are not my profession; therefore, there aren't enough hours in the day for me to answer every question I have, or to find the answer, let alone publish my findings.

I appreciate what you're saying. My "Along the Tracks" mixes some local, plenty of national/world and a little humor. This is the formula I came up with while I was at the Montpelier Leader Enterprise, and they liked it enough to keep printing it after I left.

However, I do like to dig into local stories a bit more, and so I've created a news portal site,, and a new, completely local blog, Newshound ( I hope to post to it almost every day, always on local issues. Please feel free to check it out and comment as you like.
Post a Comment