• June 30, 2004 | 5:20 PM ET
STILL MORE ON AGING
My post on aging and longevity got a fairly lengthy response over at the Fight Aging blog. Diet, exercise, and healthy habits like good nutrition and not smoking are the only effective ways of promoting longer life today:
It's not rocket science. Today, despite amazing, continuing progress in laboratories around the world, there is no proven way to increase your maximum potential life span other than to practice calorie restriction - and it's possible that CR will only add a few years to that maximum life span. The anti-aging medicine of the future is simply not here yet.
There are, however, a great many things you can do to avoid reducing your actual life span below your maximum. There are many things you can do to improve your health thoughout your life. . . .
If we keep ourselves in shape, we can be healthy and active to benefit from the medical technology of decades to come - which will almost certainly provide real, meaningful anti-aging benefits and additional decades of healthy life. If we get off our collective behinds and support the funding and research process, that is. The future doesn't make itself, after all.
Indeed. On the other hand, let's not take the rather unpleasant attitude taken by one reader:
Name: Eric Smith
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
One can only hope that sometime a member of the Bush famly or Administration is faced with an illness that might only be cured by stem cell research.
There are more constructive ways to work for funding than hoping that someone in President Bush's family gets an incurable illness.
Several readers also e-mailed that adult stem cells may turn out to do everything we want, making embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. I hope so, but at the moment it's too soon to say for sure, and I don't like the idea of closing off avenues of research. That's especially true as embryonic stem cells just might provide the necessary clues to let us use adult stem cells later on.
But stem cell research is a topic for another day. Meanwhile, I've posted the final column in my series on aging and longevity, over at TechCentralStation. I'm going to give this subject a rest for a while now, lest it grow, er, old. But I think you'll be hearing a lot more about it elsewhere.
• June 29, 2004 | 10:52 PM ET
THOUGHTS ON THE WAR
You might not think it from reading some news acccounts, but the war is going surprisingly well. StrategyPage's Jim Dunnigan explains why:
Iraqi terrorists released a video showing them killing a captive American soldier by shooting him in the head. The terrorists have learned that the beheading routine is counterproductive and even offends many of their own supporters. The terrorists are probably also debating their suicide bombing campaign, which has killed over a hundred Iraqis in the past week. Perhaps the al Qaeda leadership is also pondering their long string of failures over the last decade or so. The fact of the matter is that al Qaeda, and their predecessor, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, have turned Arab populations against them whenever they practiced their terror tactics "at home." Moreover, when al Qaeda was in control of the government, as they were in Afghanistan, they quickly became hated by the average Afghan.
Al Qaeda was most popular in Arab countries when it was not operating in any Arab countries, but instead concentrating on attacks on Western targets. But the war on terror has forced al Qaeda back to its homelands, and concentrated them in Iraq. There, al Qaeda is becoming as hated as it already is in the West. This hatred led to the Moslem Brotherhood's defeat, and expulsion from Egypt over a decade ago. The same thing is happening again in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Recent surveys have shown support for bin Laden and al Qaeda shrink dramatically in Saudi Arabia (from 96 percent in late 2001, to less than a quarter of that currently.) It's easy to admire terrorists from a distance, rather more difficult when they are terrorizing you. Iraq is rapidly becoming al Qaeda's graveyard.
Let's hope he's right. Dunnigan's track record has been pretty good.
Meanwhile, here's what Iraqi blogger Omar has to say about watching the handover of power with friends in Iraq:
Then suddenly Mr. Bremer appeared on TV reading his last speech before he left Iraq. I approached the TV to listen carefully to the speech, as I expected it to be difficult in the midst of all that noise. To my surprise everyone stopped what they were doing and started watching as attentively as I was.
The speech was impressive and you could hear the sound of a needle if one had dropped it at that time. The most sensational moment was the end of the speech when Mr. Bremer used a famous Arab emotional poem.
The poem was for a famous Arab poet who said it while leaving Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera had put an interpreter who tried to translate even the Arabic poem which Mr. Bremer was telling in a fair Arabic! “Let this damned interpreter shut up. We want to hear what the man is saying.”
One of my colloquies shouted. The scene was very touching that the guy sitting next to me (who used to sympathize with Muqtada) said, “He’s going to make me cry!”
Then he finished his speech by saying in Arabic,”A’ash Al-Iraq, A’ash Al-Iraq, A’ash Al-Iraq”! (Long live Iraq, long live Iraq, long live Iraq).
I was deeply moved by this great man’s words but I couldn’t prevent myself from watching the effect of his words on my friends who some of them were anti-Americans and some were skeptic, although some of them have always shared my optimism. I found that they were touched even more deeply than I was. I turned to one friend who was a committed She’at and who distrusted America all the way. He looked as if he was bewitched, and I asked him, “So, what do you think of this man? Do you still consider him an invader?” My friend smiled, still touched and said, “Absolutely not! He brought tears to my eyes. God bless him.”
Another friend approached me. This one was not religious but he was one of the conspiracy theory believers. He put his hands on my shoulders and said smiling, “I must admit that I’m beginning to believe in what you’ve been telling us for months and I’m beginning to have faith in America. I never thought that they will hand us sovereignty in time. These people have shown that they keep their promises."
Have we done as well as we might have? No. Could we still blow it? Yes. Has it been a success overall, and would we have considered it such in March of 2003? Absolutely.
• June 28, 2004 | 5:08 PM ET
MORE ON AGING, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
Last week, I wrote about efforts to retard or reverse aging, and what people think about that. Several readers were pleased that I did so, though several others noted that the Bush Administration's restrictive policy on stem cell research may stand in the way of important work along those lines. That's possible -- I'm not a scientist, but it sounds plausible -- and the stem cell policy is just one of many areas in which I disagree with the Bush Administration (see this column of mine on the White House's bioethics council, for example -- and read this article for more on the problems there). Indeed, if I could trust Kerry on the war, I might prefer him to Bush. But I've been unable to muster that sort of confidence, and I think that the war is job number one at the moment.
At any rate, some readers wanted to know what they could do to live longer now. Er, you mean like diet and exercise? Those really do help, you know. As I can attest from personal experience observing my friends (and, increasingly, my law students) by the time people get past the mid-thirties, those who exercise and eat sensibly -- and who don't smoke -- tend to look, and act, and feel, a lot younger than those whose habits are less healthful. Vanity alone would seem to be reason enough to adopt those healthy habits, but you're certainly likely to live longer, and to enjoy better health along the way, if you do.
If you want a pill instead, well, good luck. There's some research indicating that resveratrol, a substance found in red wine and a variety of foods, can retard aging significantly. And you can buy pills containing it, but they get a pretty negative review in terms of effectiveness. Apparently resveratrol does better in wine than it does in capsules. Of course, if you don't have an alcohol problem, or other health issues that get in the way, moderate red-wine consumption will probably help, but it's no panacea.
Some people think that alpha-lipoic acid looks promising, but the jury's still out on that one, too. And neither of these substances will deliver miracles even if they live up to their boosters' fondest hopes. At most, they offer a modest delay in aging; nothing to sneeze at, but nothing huge, either.
For that sort of thing, we need science, and time. If you want to live long enough to take advantage of future advances, well, then you should probably exercise, eat sensibly, and not smoke, so as to maximize the chance you'll still be around when treatments that really work come out.
If you'd like to read more about the general subject, you might want to look at this book from the Brookings Institution, entitled Coping With Methuselah: The Impact of Molecular Biology on Medicine and Society, and this book from Oxford University Press: The Fountain of Youth: Cultural, Scientific, and Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal.
Maybe you can read them while you pedal the exercise bike. . . .
• June 24, 2004 | 8:35 PM ET
GROWING OLD NEGLIGIBLY
Every day we're a day older. And for everyone, aging gradually brings disability and death. Exercise and proper diet can slow the process a bit; bad habits can accelerate it, and heredity has a lot to do with how it unfolds, but that's all a matter of degree -- everybody, if something else doesn't kill them first, gets old and weak and dies eventually.
For a long time, people have wanted to do something about it. Mythology abounds with stories of fountains of youth and other aging cures (usually with cautionary tales attached, though most of those bear a strong resemblance to another fable, the one of the fox and the grapes). Quacks and snake-oil salesmen have been peddling longevity and rejuvenation treatments forever, along with baldness cures and treatments for impotence.
Of course, the latter two are real, now. And there's some hope that medicine, which has already extended ordinary life by some decades, might actually make further progress on aging. Because I think we're approaching a take-off point in this discussion, I've been writing about it a good deal elsewhere.
In this column I look at political barriers to funding research on aging, and wonder whether the situation might change:
Most voters would be happy to live longer, healthier lives, and presumably they'd be grateful to the politicians who made that possible -- or even the politicians who promised to make it possible. If the promise of a government-funded retirement in our old age is supposed to earn our votes, the promise of an extra twenty or thirty years of youth in place of that old age ought to do the same.
In this column, I look at arguments that the demographic consequences of longer lives would stultify society, and note that the extension of the average American lifespan by over two decades in the 20th Century coincided with one of the most dynamic periods in human history. I speculate that extending lifespans to, say, 140, might do the same.
But then I decided to turn to an expert, and interviewed biogerentologist Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University. You can read the results here. One notable point is that he thinks my estimate of 140 is way too conservative.
As the biological revolution continues, progress on retarding -- and perhaps even reversing -- aging is likely to move fast. I hope that it does. I'm not getting any younger, after all. . . .
• June 23, 2004 | 10:21 AM ET
MORE GUERRILLA MEDIA
Today I was on a radio show hosted by Mickey Kaus, to talk about many of the same issues I've been writing about here. (You can listen to an archived version by going to the KCRW Web site and selecting "Politics of Culture" from the keyword list.) Also on the show were Robert Wright, who often writes for Slate, and Joe Trippi, who masterminded Howard Dean's Internet campaign and who has a book coming out called The Revolution will not be Televised.
(People like to run down the Dean Internet campaign now, but I think it worked miracles, elevating for a while a guy who otherwise wouldn't have gotten off the ground to frontrunner status. It wasn't Dean's Internet campaign that cost him the election, but the rest of his operation, and Dean himself.)
Good talk radio is supposed to involve people shouting over each other, but in fact we mostly agreed. All of us thought that new technologies like the Internet are making it easier for little guys to publish, communicate, and self-organize.
My take is that it's "back to the future." A couple of hundred years ago, large organizations got a technological boost that gave them an advantage via efficiencies of scope and scale that rewarded large size. Now the technology has moved on, and that boost is wearing off.
That's both a good and bad thing. It's good because many of those large organizations -- like, say, the government of the Soviet Union, or the People's Republic of China, or Nazi Germany -- used the advantages of technology for evil. On the other hand, today many small organizations, like al Qaeda, are also using technology to their advantage, and their ability to inflict mass casualties is much higher than it would have been in the old days. And, of course, there is a good side to how large and small organizations use technology as well.
Like all technological changes, the impact of the Internet is likely to depend more on what we do with it than with the technology itself. Personally, I'm optimistic about the future.
• June 21, 2004 | 1:13 AM ET
It's becoming increasingly easy for the little guy to keep up with the big guys where media power is concerned. Just ask Michael Moore.
Michael Moore's first film, Roger & Me, involved his efforts to get an interview with General Motors chairman Roger Smith, so that he could ask him questions about the damage his company's downsizing moves were doing to Flint, Michigan.
Now Moore is an award-winning filmmaker, and the hero of the Cannes film festival. But he's finding himself pursued by an upstart filmmaker, Michael Wilson, who wants to ask him questions about how Moore's films are hurting America. (Wilson's film Web site is here, and you can watch a couple of online trailers for Wilson's film, Michael Moore Hates America, here.) Wilson's film is scheduled to be in theaters later this summer.
I've noticed the change in technologies, as I've mentioned here before. My wife is a filmmaker (you can see her film's Web site here, and watch online trailers here), though her subject matter (murderous teen girls) is less political in nature. The equipment just gets smaller and better, and the production costs just keep getting lower.
I've written about this phenomenon before, from the perspective of technology and economics, but lately I think the Guerrilla Media movement may be the only thing that saves the First Amendment. As my earlier posts -- and recent polls -- indicate, people are losing faith in the media. As Robert Samuelson writes:
We in the news business think we're impartial seekers of truth, but most Americans think otherwise. They view us as sloppy, biased and self-serving. In 1985, 56 percent of the public felt news organizations usually got their facts straight, says the Pew Research Center. By 2002 that was 35 percent. In 1985 the public thought the media "moral" by 54 to 13 percent; by 2003 opinion was split 40 to 38 percent. Americans think the "media make news rather than just report it," says Pew's Andrew Kohut. . . . Almost all major media have suffered confidence declines.
Confidence is declining fast. At this rate, it will soon be gone. When that happens, support for the First Amendment, never as strong among average Americans as among elites, is likely to fade. If people perceive that the First Amendment is just a legal privilege of elites who use it to lie with impunity, we're likely to see First Amendment protection contract until, perhaps, the First Amendment is as under-enforced as the Second.
There are two possible antidotes to this. One is for the Big Media to become better custodians of the truth. I hope that will happen, but I have my doubts.
The other is for so many ordinary Americans to become involved in speech and publication that they see the First Amendment as "ours" rather than "theirs;" as part of Americans' general heritage of freedom, not as a license for elites to lie and spout off without consequences.
Will technology save freedom of the press? I hope so. It's more likely than the press saving itself, alas.
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