Letters to the editor for Jan. 17

Some are ethical,

some are not

A new medical breakthrough sounds suspiciously like old-fashioned theft. I write in reference to the story "Herb lore may bring new drugs."

After reading a 17th century book on folk medicine, Mayo Clinic researcher Eric Buenz interviewed Samoan shamans for information about medicinal uses of nuts from the Atun tree. Discovering that an extract from the nuts treats diarrhea and serves as an antibiotic, Buenz and the clinic patented the finding.

"It was lost traditional knowledge," Buenz said.

Right. Tell that to the shamans. They didn't lose anything. They kept this knowledge alive through many generations and massive cultural upheaval for the benefit of their people.

Perhaps Buenz and Mayo will split profits from the patent with the Samoan people.

That's unlikely.

Although there are ethical scientists who insist on sharing credit, and income, for their research with the indigenous people who guided them, they are exceptions to the rule. Most researchers and the moneyed interests who back them - including hospitals and universities - simply take ownership of indigenous knowledge for their own benefit and profit.

I fear there are two things that the people of Samoa can expect from this, however. First, the company that (through a license with Mayo) manufactures a drug from this breakthrough will happily sell its product to any Samoan who needs it - if he or she can afford it.

And second, Mayo will sue anyone else who tries to make medicines based on the information it has patented - including Samoans.

John F. McLain, Olympia

Screen candidates

for the presidency

The time has come to revise the way candidates for president of the United States are selected. The process needs to be modeled on the way large corporations select new CEOs.

The board of directors, in this case party leaders and the media, (notice pollsters and fundraisers are not included) will aggressively recruit qualified individuals and even use headhunters.

The board of directors will compile a list of the qualifications necessary for office. I submit the following for starters:

n The candidate must have experience and some success in the diplomatic arena.

n The candidate must have in-depth knowledge about the politics, culture and economy of most foreign countries, the problems they face and why we should care.

n The candidate must have managed a large organization.

n The candidate must be well grounded in economics and finance.

n The candidate must be able to articulate his positions with clarity, conciseness and SUBSTANCE.

n All candidates must submit a resume, not a platform or puff piece.

In the extensive interviews that will take place, the interviewer, not the candidate, will be in control of the agenda.

Perhaps readers can improve on or add to these suggestions.

Has anyone approached Bill Gates?

Phyllis Antonsen, Shelton

Have Americans been

frightened into absurdity?

A recently published article reveals that, since 1960, more people have died from peanut allergies than died during 9/11. Americans should be shocked! We obviously need a war on peanuts.

And, while we're at it, we need a war on highway terror, because every month, 3,000 Americans are killed in highway accidents.

Think of the possibilities for additional government departments to make us safe. A Department of Peanut Security, with numerous well-paid contractors, protecting us from the dangers posed by undetected peanuts in our midst. Add to this a Department of Highway Security with a requirement that travelers file a trip plan three days in advance in order to monitor and control highway access and make us all safer.

Ridiculous, you're thinking? While peanut allergies, highway deaths and terrorism are serious matters, Americans would not lose their perspective as described.

Think again.

Last New Year's Eve, at a home in Carmel, N.Y., someone broke a rectal thermometer. Inexplicably, 9-1-1 was called and dozens of police and firefighters responded to the mercury spill. Firefighters wearing chemical protective gear sponged up the few drops.

What have we become? Have Americans been frightened into absurdity by those who would most gain from the increased command and control thereby exercised over us?

Governments, often at the behest of influential special interests, have long used crises, both real and contrived, to expand their power.

We must resist attempts to make us fearfully dependent and unduly submissive to authority, lest absurdities become our reality.

Duane E. Colyar, Lacey