Bog project unwise

I have been traveling through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan this summer. Every place I have been, every place I look, we are destroying our most precious ecosystems — the bogs and wetlands. In the process we are destroying ourselves.

In Minnesota, 52 percent of our original wetlands have been destroyed, and there is currently a peat mining project that will cause an environmental nightmare.

Pine Island State Forest is a part of what is known in Minnesota as the Big Bog, the main freshwater aquifer for the northern part of the state. A company from Canada received the green light to mine this pristine, wetland ecosystem for horticultural sphagnum peat moss. The plan is to mine the bog for the next 30 to 50 years! Reclamation will be impossible; this bog took Mother Nature over 6,000 years to create.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, politicians, and various other government and private agencies have bulldozed this project into fruition. The Red Lake Band of Ojibwa has a longstanding opposition to any type of commercial development of the bog. This area is their land and they have survived on it for many years. The agencies that have pushed this project through have left them totally out of the picture.

We have to start thinking about what we are allowing corporations to do in the name of accumulating profits.

Janet Johnson

Eveleth MN

State-based health care solutions not viable

I am sure Marilyn Bechtel means well when she promotes California’s health care bill (PWW 7/30-8/5). But this is a place where incrementalism is destructive.

There is really no place for state-generated and administered programs in our struggle for a national health care service. If the states take a stab at it, Congress can sit further back and say it doesn’t have to act.

No state, even the wealthiest like California, Texas and New York, can afford meaningful health care for its people. Only the federal machinery has the resources to carry out such a needed program. The potential for extortion, nepotism and fiscal shenanigans is bad enough in Washington. Imagine how it would be in any state capital.

Health care must be single-payer, federally administered, comprehensive, universal, portable, readily accessible. Only the feds can pull this off. It will dilute our efforts if we settle for anything else.

Don Sloan, M.D.

New York City

Marilyn Bechtel responds:

I share your goal that one day, a national, federally funded health care system must provide comprehensive care to all people in our country without charge or discrimination. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has repeatedly introduced a bill to establish a U.S. Health Service: HR 3000. In the meantime, however, many health policy analysts believe comprehensive, single-payer health care can be effectively implemented at the state level and can contribute to the struggle for a national system. As we aim for a national solution to the health care crisis, it seems worthwhile to strive for interim measures like California’s SB 840 that can bring relief to millions now uninsured or with inadequate coverage.

Cloning blooper

In Emile Schepers’ article “The soul of the anti-abortion stance” (PWW 7/9-15), there is a glaring scientific error that, although probably unintentional, should be clarified.

Describing cloned offspring as individuals with half the number of chromosomes as their parent is incorrect: that would make the clone a different kind of being from its parent, which if nothing else contradicts the definition that “clone” means “exact copy.”

A cloned individual is simply one that is created by asexual reproduction. It still has the same number of chromosomes as its parent. I am guessing the author meant to say “traits” when he wrote “chromosomes,” because having two parents provides seemingly double the number of traits for the offspring. (But it should be noted that the parents could have some traits in common as well, such as human baldness, and that not all the available traits are acquired by the offspring.)

In the end, the author makes excellent points, noting that life began billions of years ago and it doesn’t begin at conception, and that the Christian discussion of the morality about sperm, embryos, etc., is somewhat new (and self-serving) because there was no knowledge of such entities when Christianity was “born.”

However, all things evolve and religion is no exception. Apparently, to paraphrase a comedian I heard recently, George Bush and the “Christian” right discovered that upon more in-depth reading, the Bible actually does state that Social Security should be privatized and the New Deal was not ordained by God and should be abolished.

Bruce Smith

Via e-mail

Emile Schepers responds:

You are correct in that I absentmindedly conflated the concept of parthenogenesis with cloning, as in the case of Dolly the sheep. They are related, but not the same. Parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction, sometimes produces haploid individuals (having only half the normal number of chromosomes) and sometimes diploid (having two sets of chromosomes, as most of us do), depending on differences of species and circumstances too complicated to go into here.

In some closely related species of bees, you have parthenogenesis that produces haploid individuals in one species and diploid ones in another species. The late Dolly was, of course, diploid, in spite of having no papa. But there are even weirder variations.

When two species of salamanders in the U.S., the Jefferson’s salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium) and the blue spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale), interbreed, they produce a whole series of all-female genetic anomalies some of whom have three, four or five complete sets of chromosomes, and can evidently also reproduce asexually (they are characterized as polyploid). But in all cases, they militate against the idea that a sperm coming from a male and an ovum coming from a female are the be-all and end-all definition of when life begins.

Anti-abortion militants falsely accuse the left of secretly plotting to create cloned humans so we can chop them up for body parts, but it is in reality they themselves who want to define life in such a narrow and invalid way. As for me, I don’t care how many sets of chromosomes you have; if you have human emotions, you’re human, and I will try to treat you as such.

Emile Schepers

Via e-mail