A stimulating conversation with Beer-Drinkin' Bob
What is it they say, the swallows return every spring to San Juan Capistrano's Mission? Well, since giving up the daily multiple-martini addiction years ago, I still wind my way back to the old neighborhood bar occasionally. A little more than once a year, actually, but I only drink beer now... preferably cold, fresh, local microbrew.
Speaking of beer, Bob Budweiser (not his real name) always seems to be there when I show up. That's Beer-Drinkin' Bob, who passes as a manufacturers' rep for bar stools. He'd nurse one beer per hour, over a period lasting as many as eight hours. What he did for a living was a matter of speculation, but us regulars guessed it wasn't rocket science.
"Hey, man, what's shakin'?" as I grab some adjacent stoolage.
"Truman, how you been?! We heard you got work in Dallas, and some belle snapped you up to play house with," he said warmly.
"Well, nothing so exciting I'm afraid. She found out my incredible good looks don't pay the mortgage. Where's the others?"
Bob proceeds to recount what he knows of the other regulars' whereabouts. "Nobody talks about it, but I think the BALPs (blood-alcohol level police) have been keeping the pillars of our drinking community at home. We may be the Last of the Mohicans, so to speak."
"Damn, hate to see a lovely way of life bite the dust. Pretty soon it'll be like Europe, piss into a Dixie Cup before you can ride your bicycle down the driveway. Welcome to Big Brother... or is it Big Mother?" I exclaim. "What's new? Anything majorly bugging you on CNN these days?"
As a young libertarian-American years ago, with a lot of piss and vinegar, I tended to generate a lot of political conversation during my tavernal sojourns. Many's a problem that became clear as mud through the bottom of a rocks glass, let me tell you. Bob usually had a few practical observations, but stayed on the sidelines if the talk got intense. He seemed to maintain a look on his face of bemused, interested bafflement.
Bob thought a minute, and came back, "You know, 24/7 they keep running tape of Michael Jackson walking to court in his pajamas, or that runaway bride hiding from reporters, or Pope-in-a-Box being paraded before European dignitaries. Then there's all those ads from the drug dealers: Viagra©, Cialis©, Levitra©, geez, how's a fella supposed to choose the boner pill that's right for him!?"
"Anyway, okay," Bob continued, "there's one brief clip this morning from the 'bubble-headed bleached blond' about the House of Representatives passing a bill for stem cell research. What's that all about? Are these rose-blossom stems, long stems, short stems... damned media never gives you any specifics."
I replied, "Bob, no this isn't about plant life at all. The stem cells they're talking about are special kind of human cell—other species have 'em, too, I think—and these cells have certain qualities that make it possible to someday grow specific cell types for any organ or tissue in a person's body. They're immortal and flexible.
"You know how the skin on your elbow gets flabby and lifeless, won't snap back into place as fast as it used to after a long smokey session in here? Well, how would you like to go down to your local sawbones and pick you up a package of "Bob Budweiser Elbow-Skin Replacement Cells?" And be back in the beer-drinking business, next day, like you're 21 again!
"Well, it isn't quite that quick or straightforward, but research on these human stem cells can get us there. Of course, other quality-of-life ailments may get the first treatments: spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes. You get the point. Eventually, they'll get around to the really important things, like the enhanced ability to enjoy beer."
Bob was getting excited, as he glanced furtively at his elbow flesh and ordered another brewski.
"Just how does that happen, then," he asked. "I mean, a stem cell doesn't just automagically become an elbow-skin replacement cell. There must be some extremely high technology involved."
"Well, yes, that's true," I admitted. "But it's not as complicated as you may think. This application of stem cell research is called therapeutic cloning, where you take one of these stem cells (several, actually) and replace the nucleus with another nucleus. Usually the replacement nucleus is from a cell in the patient's, or client's, own body.
"That way, whatever specific cells come out later from the stem cell multiplication (they multiply by dividing, you know, ha ha) won't be treated like an alien invader by your body's immune system."
Bob can hardly contain himself at this point, "Damn, let's get cracking with this stem cell stuff then. What's the big hold up? My right elbow's worn down to the nub, I've recently had to shift these heavy mugs to my left elbow, and I don't know how many more bends and lifts I can expect before Jesus calls me home."
"Well, I'm with you 100%, Bob, but there's a problem."
"What kind of problem can there be? I'm having a crisis."
"Okay the bill passed the House, and is now in the Senate (S. 471: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005), which is expected to pass it. But the yahoo sitting in the Oval Office, the theocrat in chief, will veto it. And Congress probably doesn't have the votes to override."
"See, here's the deal. (All this bill does, by the way, is authorize the federales to research a reasonable quantity of special stem cells, stem cells that come from embryos.) The fact is embryonic stem cells have a lot more potential than other kinds of stem cells to grow desired tissues and organs—at least with present technology.
"It's like entering a Formula 1 race with multimillion-dollar Ferrari driven by Michael Schumacher versus entering a Formula 1 race with your mother's minivan driven by your grandmother. No comparison."
"Again, what's the problem?" Bob insists.
"Most of the embryos—an embryo is a fertilized egg, you know—are from fertility clinics, where they have been voluntarily donated by people for personal future use. The ones researchers want to use would otherwise be discarded or kept forever 'til they're NFG. These embryos, these potential stem-cell dream machines, could also, under the right circumstances, become people like you and me."
"What are you talking about?" Bob is getting more and more impatient.
"All I'm saying is some people think the nucleus inside the embryo is, say, a little Kenny. And they think if you replace it with a little Bob—or make it turn into anything except a little Kenny—you kill Kenny. It doesn't matter Little Kenny is going to be discarded or rot in the deep freeze, anyway. They just don't want to send a message that it's allright to kill Kenny for something so frivolous as saving a person's life or helping Bob drink beer better."
"The barbarians!" Bob cries out. "They're nuts."
"Technically, I agree, that is the exact term," I reply.
I also tell Bob the South Koreans have just demonstrated the beginnings of the technology, cloning embryos to create viable stem cells. So this is yet another area where America is being upstaged by a third-world country. I appeal to his patriotism to write a letter to his Congresspeople. I finally mention the fine work going on with several organizations to get funding going, such as The Christopher Reeve Foundation.
Sad, another man from the old haunts who could be living the dream if we just let him have the tools. But something tells me the science will be approved eventually, and Bob will get his critically needed new-elbow package. Everyone else simply gets a fair shot at a new life.
The following Salon article is a good source of information on the issues surrounding stem cell research and therapeutic embryonic cloning. Also, I'd like to mention, nothing we suggest is meant to advocate any government activity, including medical research, outside government's primary charter of protecting rights. Any such advocacy should be understood as contextual only.
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