You Can Hear The Oboe From Here

Greg O'BrienCodfish PressWe?ve come full circle in Lewis Carroll?s imagination?on a crash course today toward a ?nonsense? world where ?nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn?t.? Alice wouldn?t be pleased. We live on a planet where mutations?from infectious disease to climate change?are altering life, as we knew it.On the medical front, drug-resistant microbes are becoming smarter than us, evoking images of the menacing computer Hal in 2001 Space Odyssey. Likewise in this script, there may be no means of controlling the mutations. We?ve had sound bites of it in the SARS outbreak, HIV/AIDS epidemic, the West Nile virus, and metamorphosing infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and staph. Three weeks ago, my 22-year-old son, Brendan, almost died of a mutating, drug-resistant strain of staph. Avian flu, the latest threat, has the potential, if it reaches the pandemic stage, of killing up to 2 million Americans, based on projections. President Bush has proposed a $7 billion super-flu strategy, but that will take years to play out. ?Pandemic viruses aren?t the only threat,? the Wall Street Journal reported last Wednesday on its front page. ?Drug-resistant bacteria and terrorist attacks spreading anthrax, smallpox or other deadly substances are also big worries in Washington.??The emerging consensus: Private drug makers have to be encouraged to produce more medicines protecting public health,? the Journal reported, noting a medicine gap of planetary proportions.This medicine gap has been an issue for some time, and it has critical national security implications. The chairman of the National Intelligence Council wrote in a lengthy report several years ago, ?These diseases will endanger US citizens at home and abroad, threaten US armed forces deployed overseas, and exacerbate social and political instability in key countries and regions in which the United States has an interest.? On the ominous weather front, scientists also need to be encouraged, and funded, for more research on climate change and the phenomenon that makes many big-business conservatives cringe: global warming. If the trend continues, the melting artic may soon be a summer resort or a wide swath of sea, and catastrophic hurricanes, fueled by warmer ocean temperatures, could be as routine as a driving rainstorm. A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study indicates the intensity of North American hurricanes has more than doubled in the last 30 years and the force of western North Pacific cyclones has swelled by an alarming 75 percent since the mid-1970s.But for years, critics?many of them corporate defenders fearing government regulations on chlorine-based fluids for refrigeration, plastic foam compounds and aerosol cans?have tried to poke holes in global warming presumptions, questioning their veracity and insisting global temperatures are directly related to sunspot activity.Put away the sunglasses and the rose-colored ones, too. The medical and climatic challenges threatening us today are real and require a greater commitment of research and dollars.As Police Chief Martin Brody said in the movie Jaws when confronted with the monster shark, ?We?re going to need a bigger boat!?

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