Thursday, November 11, 2004

A pox on all our houses

In what should be today's top news story, a World Health Organization (WHO) committee has recommended allowing genetic alterations to variola, the virus which causes smallpox. According to WHO spokesman Dick Thompson, "They recommended that experiments be done that would speed the screening of drugs for anti-smallpox activity."

Thompson confirmed this would constitute genetic manipulation — as reported early Thursday morning by National Public Radio — but stressed that the purpose of the experiments would be to try to improve smallpox treatment.

The World Health Assembly — the ruling body of the 192-nation WHO — would make a final decision on whether to approve the experiments. "It will go through the bureaucratic process," Thompson said. "It will be a political decision."

In the United States, however, a senior smallpox expert said he was wary. "I think that it is unwise for us to be continuing research with a smallpox virus," NPR quoted Dr. Donald Henderson, President Bush's former bioterrorism czar, as saying. Henderson ran the successful WHO campaign to wipe out smallpox in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America from 1966 to 1977.

The aim of the genetic alteration is to speed up the screening of anti-smallpox drugs and help to use up the last remaining stocks of the virus, which are being held in secure laboratories because the disease is so virulent. The modified version of the virus would only be used in testing drugs for people who already have the virus and not for smallpox vaccines. Currently no treatment is available for small pox and the only vaccine is unsafe for people with weakened immune systems, and can seriously harm some healthy people, because it is made with a live virus.

Historically the mortality rate for smallpox was 20% to 40%, however in non-immune populations like the native Americans of the Sixteenth Century the mortality rate has been estimated between 50% and 75%; as the disease swept through North and South America ahead of the Europeans tens of millions of people died.

The last naturally occurring case of Variola Minor was diagnosed on October 26, 1977 and the last naturally occurring case of the more deadly Variola Major was detected two years earlier in November 1975. In 1978 the virus escaped from a research laboratory in the United Kingdom; one person died from the disease, and a second killed himself because he accidentally let it out.

Today no one has a natural immunity, and very few people outside the military have recieved vaccination recent enough to have effect (10 years). Despite recent attempts of the US government, private citizens are less concerned about the potential for smallpox release than about potential side-effects from vaccination (which in the case of smallpox can be quite substantial). Consider then, the disaster of a more widespread smallpox release; 50% to 75% of the US (or even world) population dead within months!

Following the 1978 accident, and because of such concerns, all known smallpox stocks were destroyed except those at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, in Atlanta) and the Moscow Institute for Viral Preparation. Under such tight control, smallpox would, it was thought, never be let out again. Even though the WHO ordered variola's destruction was ordered in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996, the stores continue to be maintained in Atlanta and Moscow. Additional collections of the virus almost certainly exist as the result of military and biological warfare programs, such as the Soviet State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (also known as Vector) labs. Smallpox scabs were also recently found in an envelope in a book on Civil War medicine in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it is extremely likely that other remnants exist outside of medical settings.

Edward Jenner, discoverer of the smallpox vaccine, said, "The annihilation of smallpox - the dreadful scourge of the human race - will be the final result of vaccination." Sadly, that day has not yet come.

In Memoriam

Today, on the eighty-sixth anniversary of the Allied-German armistice at Compiègne, Yasser Arafat (ياسر عرفات) born Muhammad Abd al-Rahman ar-Rauf al-Qudwah al-Husayni and also known as Abu Ammar; President of the Palestinian Authority (leader since 1993, elected to a five-year term in 1996); leader of Fatah and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1969, and co-winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize died at Percy training hospital of the Armies, in Clamart, France at the age of 75.

He was a guerrilla leader, regarded as a resistance fighter or freedom fighter by Palestinians and their supporters, and as a terrorist by Israel and its supporters. There is little that I can add to the numerous comments and articles about him, but that I am sure he will continue to be as controversial in death as he was in life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Coming soon...a beach near you!

According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, released Monday (11-8-2004), average temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have increased as much as 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) in the past 50 years, nearly twice the global average. The study projects that temperatures will rise 7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 7 degrees Celsius) over the next hundred years. The rising temperatures are likely to cause the melting of at least half (and possibly all) the Arctic sea ice by the end of the century. A significant portion of the Greenland ice sheet — which contains enough water to raise the worldwide sea level by about 23 feet (about 7 meters) — would also melt.

The four-year study of the Arctic climate involved an international team of more than 300 scientists. They used a number of climate models and made a "moderate estimate" of future emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are widely believed to be contributing to the recent warming trend of the Earth's climate.

"The impacts of global warming are affecting people now in the Arctic," said Robert Corell, chairperson of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, in a news release. "The Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth. The impacts of climate change on the region and the globe are projected to increase substantially in the years to come."

"Everything is under threat," said Chief Gary Harrison of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. "Our homes are threatened by storms and melting permafrost, our livelihoods are threatened by changes to the plants and animals we harvest. Even our lives are threatened, as traditional travel routes become dangerous."

However, the biggest danger, many experts warn, is that global warming will cause sea levels to rise dramatically; as water warms its volume increases. Thermal expansion has already raised the oceans 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). "The consequences would be catastrophic," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Even with a small sea level rise, we're going to destroy whole nations and their cultures that have existed for thousands of years."

A map showing that a 6-meter (20-foot) rise would swamp Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and the entire Florida coastline, in addition to parts of Orlando and other inland areas.

Overpeck and his colleagues have used computer models to create a series of maps that show how susceptible coastal cities and island countries are to the sea rising at different levels. The maps show that a 1-meter (3-foot) rise would swamp cities all along the U.S. eastern seaboard. A 6-meter (20-foot) sea level rise would submerge a large part of Florida.

"The impacts of global warming are affecting people now in the Arctic," said Corell. "The Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth. The impacts of climate change on the region and the globe are projected to increase substantially in the years to come."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Face value

In 1925, an Austrian who had been wounded in the closing weeks of World War I published a bitter diatribe against the French, English, Russians, and particularly Jews. By the time Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, Mein Kampf was a bestseller on par with the Bible; it was frequently given as a gift at marriages and birthdays. Despite this widely-published policy statement, the USSR was still lulled into a false sense of security by a non-agression pact, and the Allies were shocked to discover the Nazi's persecution of Jews, homosexuals, and other "deviants."

Why do I mention this, nearly eighty years after the book's publication?

Less than a fortnight ago al-Jazeera aired a new (recent) video of Osama bin Laden. In the video bin Laden stated that he was not opposed to the United States or opposed to "freedom", but that his goal was to change American policy in the Middle-East. (This has been interpreted variously to mean US policy toward Israel and Palestine, toward Iraq, toward Iran, and toward Saudi Arabia.) He suggested that the Afghani mujahadeen bled the USSR into bankruptcy and that he intends to do the same to the United States. He pointed out correctly, that for every dollar al Qaeda has spent, the US has spent about $1,000,000.

Predictably, the American response to the video has been to take it as a signal or a threat. Security across the nation is being tightened. Radio and TV talk shows are abuzz with one question: "When and where will al Qaeda strike next?"

What if we took bin Laden's speech at face value? If by simply filming a videotape and mailing it to al-Jazeera every six months he can send the entire nation into a panic and slow shipping and transport to a crawl, isn't he well on his way to winning this economic war that he has declared?

In bin Laden's speech he compared the United States to the Soviet Union. It's important to remember the values that make the United States different and helped us win the Cold War: freedom, including free flow of people and information. Without that we're simply another military superpower just trying to hang on.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Sailing, sailing!

This January the Planetary Society, in cooperation with Cosmos Studios and Russia's Babakin Space Center in Moscow will launch Cosmos 1, a 3-foot-wide experimental "solar-sail" powered spacecraft. Once it reaches Earth's orbit, inflatable tubes will force the lightweight sail to fan out into its orbital form. The eight blades of the craft's beach umbrella-like sail are programmed to lock into position, and can then be manipulated to allow photons in the solar wind to propel the craft. In a test three years ago, Friedman's group launched a suborbital version of Cosmos 1 that never managed to open its two-bladed sail.

The concept of "sailing" using the sun's rays was first devised nearly 400 years ago by astronomer Johannes Kepler, who noticed that comets' tails are blown by an apparent solar wind. He theorized that the same force could be harnessed to propel space vessels. The solar sail designed by Friedman's group isn't really blown by solar winds; unlike a breeze which pushes the canvas of a traditional sail, light particles generate their force by striking the mirror-like surface of the ultra-thin sail and reflecting off it. This reflection creates a very tiny force (about the force of a postage stamp resting in your palm), but it is constant and, in the vacuum of space, can accelerate over weeks and months to reach velocities faster than any chemically fueled spacecraft to date.

Solar-sails and similar technologies have been fertile ground for science fiction authors for decades (one of the best such pieces is Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, about interstellar travellers on a Bussard ramscoop ship that runs into trouble), so as a science-fiction enthusiast it is very exciting to see this become reality.

NASA researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have been working on their own space sail concept and had planned to launch a probe that would zip around the outer solar system using the force of solar particles. A flight test of the craft had been scheduled for 2007, but was indefinitely postponed due to a lack of funding, according to JPL's Sarah Gavit.

Other scientists, meanwhile, are investigating a form of space sailing that wouldn't rely on direct energy from the sun. Robert Winglee of the University of Washington in Seattle says his concept could get people to Mars and back in an anstonishing three months, putting the planet well within reach (current technologies would take approximately two-and-a-half years). The shorter trip would also be much less expensive, because everything the astronauts need must be packaged (food, water, air, etc.) and propelled along with them. The new concept would deploy an intermediate space station that would beam a stream of plasma, or magnetized particles. The space station would use solar energy to generate the beam of magnetized particles from a nozzle about 100 feet wide, focusing the solar energy. By capturing these particles in its sail, the spacecraft would be propelled as the particles bounce from its surface. Winglee estimates the system could propel a craft to spectacular speeds of about seven miles per second (25,200 miles per hour). To put it another way, this craft powered by light would be able to travel around the earth's equator (25,050 miles) in less than an hour!

Although a solar-sail might be the fastest and cheapest idea available, it's unlikely to play a role in President Bush's mandate announced last January to send manned missions back to the moon and then on to Mars. Despite the speed and cost advantages, the science, says Friedman, is still far out.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The road now traveled

In an interview aired on NPR's "On The Media" this weekend, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy commented that "If the First Amendment had been a ballot proposal this week, it wouldn't have passed."

Sad, but true.

The American people (59,459,765 anyway) have just chosen four more years of the most secretive executive branch in history. President Bush has given fewer news conferences than any other modern president. He has extended the classification time on decades-old documents scheduled to become declassified. Many documents have been arbitrarily classified in violation of the government's own proceedures. For example, the investigation into the prisoner torture at the Abu Ghraib prison was classified despite containing no national security information - the only apparent reason for the classification was to avoid further embarassment to the administration.

So this is what the American people have chosen. Government secrecy instead of freedoms of press and speech. Religious fundamentalism over religious freedom. Nationalism, unilateralism, pick your -ism. This is the road down which we are now traveling.

Third Party Time?

According to an opinion piece in today's Miami Herald, the only solution to America's political polarization is a third party that stresses the importance of traditional ethics and family values, as well as the same economic, social, and foreign issues as the Democratic party. "The two-party system is the source of the polarization. People are being forced to vote on a specific issue that may fall under only one party's platform rather than a majority of beliefs that represent their lifestyle."

I agree fully.

The problem is that the Democrats and Republicans are so entrenched that the creation of a viable, competetive third party on a national scale is very difficult. Ballot access standards tend to be difficult for third parties to meet. Third parties are generally excluded from televised debates, and most media news coverage focuses on only Democrat and Republican candidates. Many voters are reluctant to support a candidate who, they believe, does not have a chance of winning, and instead choose the "lesser evil."

Legal changes which could support the viability of a third party include instant runoff voting, free TV airtime for campaigns, and fair ballot access and debate access standards.

Without these changes, we can look at history as a predictor of third party success. Over the last 140 years, only seven "third party" presidential candidates have earned electoral votes: George Wallace (46), Harry Byrd (1), Walter Jones (1), Strom Thurmond (39), Robert LaFollette (13), Theodore Roosevelt (88), and James Weaver (22). Only four third party candidates have recieved over 10% of the popular vote: Ross Perot (18.9%), George Wallace (12.9%), Robert LaFollette (16.5%), and Theodore Roosevelt (27.4%). The longest time any third parties maintained success were the Progressive Party (36 years: 1912 - 1948), the Socialist Party (28 years: 1904 - 1932), and the Prohibition Party (24 years: 1892 - 1916).

Without some major change to level the political playing field for third parties, we can reasonably expect another century of the same.

Third Party Time?

Recent Third Party and Independent Presidential Candidates Recieving At Least 1% of the Popular Vote or 1 Electoral Vote

2000 - Ralph Nader, 2.74%, Green
1996 - Ross Perot, 8.4%, Reform
1992 - Ross Perot, 18.9%, Independent
1980 - John Anderson, 6.6%, Indepedent
1972 - John Schmitz, 1.2%, American
1968 - George Wallace, 12.9%, 46 EV, American Independent
1960 - Harry Byrd, .73%, 15 EV, Independent
1956 - Walter Jones, .6%, 1 EV, Independent
1948 - Strom Thurmond, 2.4%, 39 EV, Dixiecrat
1948 - Henry Wallace, 2.4%, Progressive
1936 - William Lemke, 2%, Union
1932 - Norman Thomas, 2.2%, Socialist
1924 - Robert LaFollette, 16.5%, 13 EV, Progressive
1920 - Eugene Debs, 3.4%, Socialist
1920 - Parley Christenson, 1%, Farmer-Labor
1916 - Allan Benson, 3.2%, Socialist
1916 - James Hanley, 1.2%, Prohibition
1912 - Theodore Roosevelt, 27.4%, 88 EV, Progressive
1912 - Eugene Debs, 6%, Socialist
1912 - Eugene Chafin, 1.4%, Prohibition
1908 - Eugene Debs, 2.8%, Socialist
1908 - Eugene Chafin, 1.7%, Prohibition
1904 - Eugene Debs, 3%, Socialist
1904 - Silas Swallow, 1.9%, Prohibition
1900 - John Wooley, 1.5%, Prohibition
1892 - James Weaver 8.5%, 22 EV, Populist
1892 - John Bidwell, 2.2%, Prohibition

In favor of slavery reparations

An excerpt from's Anarchist FAQ. This is an excerpt from the section on "Why is the history of capitalism important?" which I present here as a compelling argument in favor of slavery reparations.

Let us assume a ship sinks and 50 people get washed ashore on an island. One woman has foresight to take a knife from the ship and falls unconscious on the beach. A man comes along and steals her knife. When the woman awakes she cannot remember if she had managed to bring the knife ashore with her or not. The man maintains that he brought it with him and no one else saw anything. The survivors decide to split the island equally between them and work it separately, exchanging goods via barter.

However, the man with the knife has the advantage and soon carves himself a house and fields from the wilderness. Seeing that they need the knife and the tools created by the knife to go beyond mere existing, some of the other survivors hire themselves to the knife owner. Soon he is running a surplus of goods, including houses and equipment which he decides to hire out to others. This surplus is then used to tempt more and more of the other islanders to work for him, exchanging their land in return for the goods he provides. Soon he owns the whole island and never has to work again. His hut is well stocked and extremely luxurious. His workers face the option of following his orders or being fired (i.e. expelled from the island and so back into the water and certain death). Later, he dies and leaves his knife to his son. The woman whose knife it originally was had died long before, childless.

Note that the theft did not involve taking any land. All had equal access to it. It was the initial theft of the knife which provided the man with market power, an edge which allowed him to offer the others a choice between working by themselves or working for him. By working for him they did "benefit" in terms of increased material wealth (and also made the thief better off) but the accumulate impact of unequal exchanges turned them into the effective slaves of the thief.

Now, would it really be enough to turn the knife over to the whoever happened to be using it once the theft was discovered (perhaps the thief made a death-bed confession). Even if the woman who had originally taken it from the ship been alive, would the return of the knife really make up for the years of work the survivors had put in enriching the the thief or the "voluntary exchanges" which had resulted in the thief owning all the island? The equipment people use, the houses they live in and the food they eat are all the product of many hours of collective work. Does this mean that the transformation of nature which the knife allowed remain in the hands of the descendants of the thief or become the collective property of all? Would dividing it equally between all be fair? Not everyone worked equally hard to produce it. So we have a problem -- the result of the initial theft is far greater than the theft considered in isolation due to the productive nature of what was stolen.

In other words...when the property stolen is of a productive nature, the accumulative effect of its use is such as to affect all of society. Productive assets produce new property, new values, create a new balance of class forces, new income and wealth inequalities and so on. This is because of the dynamic nature of production and human life. When the theft is such that it creates accumulative effects after the initial act, it is hardly enough to say that it does not really matter any more. If a nobleman invests in a capitalist firm with the tribute he extracted from his peasants, then (once the firm starts doing well) sells the land to the peasants and uses that money to expand his capitalist holdings, does that really make everything all right? Does not the crime transmit with the cash? After all, the factory would not exist without the prior exploitation of the peasants.

Read the whole FAQ here. Available in 9 languages.

Ohio voting "glitch" favored Bush

According to a report by the Associated Press, errors in electronic voting machines in one Ohio precinct gave President Bush an extra 3,893 votes. The machines reported Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democratic Sen. John Kerry's 260; however records show that only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365.

Sean Greene, research director with the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project, said that while the glitch appeared minor, "that could change if more of these stories start coming out." In one North Carolina county more than 4,500 votes were lost in the election because officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did, and in San Francisco a malfunction with custom voting software could delay efforts to declare the winners of four races for county supervisor.

While we are on the subject, it is worth remembering that Diebold Election Systems' CEO Walden O'Dell was a Bush Pioneer who raised more than $600,000 for the Bush/Cheney campaign and promised in 2003 to "deliver Ohio's electoral votes to the president next year."

According to Democratic, "in EVERY STATE that has paper audit trails on their [sic] EVoting, the exit poll results match the actual results reported within the margin of error...EVERY STATE that has EVoting, but no paper trails has an unexplained advantage for Bush of around +5 percent when exit polls are compared to actual results."

Perhaps this one "glitch" wasn't enough to cover the margin of difference. But was this the only "glitch"?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Is Business Week reading me?

When I opened my email this morning what did I find, but a link to a Business Week story ("The World Has Changed, Not the Dems: Another Presidential election has been lost, and more could be on the way unless the Democrats shake up the party").

This is basically what I've spent the last two days saying here (see "Democrats in Denial" and "The Day After")

Is someone at Business Week reading this blog? Or am I just so good that I know what the days' headline will be before its written?!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The joke's on them

My wife has a story about a stupid joke (all her jokes are stupid) and told at her grandfather's house, which is in the middle of nowhere. Several years later someone she knew told her that joke. Unfortunately I can't remember the joke to share with the world, but the point is that things that you say and do have an eerie way of sticking around.

I've been online for a relatively long time, first using Bulletin Board Systems (remember BBS's?) and then on the World Wide Web since the early 90s. I built several web sites using various free (advertising-supported) services such as GeoCities and Tripod. And then I left them. I changed jobs a few times, moved several times, and some joke websites that I had built as a hobby and for fun were about the last thing on my mind.

Just out of curiousity, I googled myself today, using both my real name and my usual username. Along with a lot of the usual suspects I found that had linked to a page of one of my old websites.

Yes, our "number one place to start looking for answers to your questions about education, college, university, degree and student loan information" with "a vast collection of college resources, education resources, university resources, college degree resources, online degree resources and student loan resources" has decided that MY guide to the University of Kentucky is "what you need."

P.S. If I can remember the joke my wife made up, someday I will post it!

Democrats in Denial

According to a report on NPR this morning, Democrats believe that the close outcome of the race vindicates their decision to ignore the South, the West, and rural areas in general.

Hello? McFly?? YOU LOST AGAIN! With one of the strongest economies of the last 50 years, the Democrats still managed to lose in 2000. With one of the weakest economies over the same time period, the Republicans managed not only to retain power, but to strengthen their hold (see The Day After...). Clearly, it is NOT the economy, stupid!

According to exit polls (which clearly underestimated Republican support), about 22% of voters felt that "moral values" were the most important issue of this campaign. Not the economy. Not the war in Iraq. Not terrorism. Moral values. This is the driving force behind the overwhelming passage of gay marriage/civil union bans in 11 states.

If the Democrats are to ever regain power, they must find a way to appeal to these voters.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Look out, Jon Stewart ..."

I have watched the Daily Show regularly since way back. I remember the days when Craig Kilbourne would "quiz" his guests with 5 questions. When Kilbourne left the show for late-night broadcast TV, I wondered who could possibly continue the show. And I will admit, at first I doubted that Jon Stewart was the right person.

But he has done amazing things with the Daily Show, turning it into what is certainly the best fake news show on television, and living up to their old slogan - "When news breaks - we fix it!" Whether it was small-town politics, such as the mayor who skipped a town hall meeting to go to a Cher concert, or the sometimes insightful, sometimes hilarious interviews with all 9 (?) Democratic candidates in early 2004, Jon Stewart has certainly exceeded anyone's expectations.

So why does USA Today say that Jon Stewart has gone too far, has become the very thing he criticizes? They argue that Stewart has staked a position as a media critic, and has now become a "media darling" - an impossible duopoly to maintain.

If the Tables Were Turned....

The mid-day headlines blare, "Kerry calls Bush to concede."

According to CNN, a Kerry adviser said the campaign had concluded that the too-close-to-call battleground state of Ohio was not going to come through for the Democrats. The adviser said there was no way to gain votes on Bush without an "exhaustive fight," something that would have "further divided this country."

If the tables were turned, what would Bush have done?

Four years' experience suggests that he would have fought with every ounce of strength he could muster, with every penny he could raise, regardless of the divisive effect on the nation. Four years' experience suggests that if the tables were turned, Bush would seek another "judicial election," or any other means to serve his goal.

There is a saying: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." For four years Americans have been able to argue that they had been fooled, or that Bush had been foisted upon them by the Supreme Court. Today I begin to wonder if we as Americans deserve everything that this administration serves us. Shame on us all.

The Day After

So here we are again, the day after election day, still waiting to find out who will be President of the US. But regardless of how the few remaining votes in Ohio (and hence the Electoral College) go, it is clear that President Bush has won the popular vote by more than 4,000,000 people. In the House of Representatives the Republicans increased their lead to a majority of approximately 30 seats. In the Senate the Republicans attained a solid 55 to 44 majority (with one independent), and defeated Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Of eleven states with ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage, all eleven passed. Republicans held 28 governor's mansions and Democrats 22, and there seems to be no change in this balance.

The few bright spots for Democrats include Barack Obama's landslide victory over Alan Keyes in Illinois and Ken Salazar's defeat of beer magnate Pete Coors. In the strongly Republican state of Alaska, Democrat Tony Knowles made a strong showing against incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski but lost by 4% despite gaining traction with charges of nepotism (Murkowski was appointed to the Senate by the Governor of Alaska - her father).

So now the Republicans hold the Senate, the House of Representatives, a majority of Governors, a majority of state houses, and probably the Presidency. A majority of Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican administrations. Even in many states won by Democrats, their margin of victory was razor thin. The question now is clearly where do the Democrats go from here. They appear to be a party in disarry, with few leaders left and little sense of direction.

A cursory look at maps of the 2004 and 2000 elections will show that the parties seem to have become more sectional, with the Democrats drawing support from the Northeast (New Englant), Midwest (Rust Belt), and Pacific coast, and Republican support coming from the South and West. If this sectional division continues, demographic trends strongly favor the Republican party. Also, Republicans seem to have made much more of an effort to woo Hispanic voters, another demographic in their favor.

In short, although the close popular votes of the last two presidential elections may not reflect it, the Democratic Party runs the very serious risk today of becoming marginalized. We may be headed for a (brief) period of one-party rule, as was seen in the early- and mid-1800s, followed by the growth of a new party out of the ashes of today's Democratic Party.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

WHO Flu Summit

Partly because I'm getting tired of posting about politics (and we haven't even gotten to the recounts yet!)...

The World Health Organization will host representatives of vaccine manufacturers and of large nations (including the US) in Geneva, Switzerland on November 11 for a summit on the potential for an influenza pandemic.

The World Health Organization's influenza chief recently told the American Society for Microbiology that the world is closer than ever to a pandemic, a world-wide epidemic in which tens of millions of people die. Influenza normally kills about 36,000 people in the US and 1,000,000 worldwide every year, but a pandemic would push the global death toll into the tens of millions.

He said the bird flu is becoming established in Asia, and several worrisome human cases can't be linked directly to exposure to infected poultry. A pandemic is likely to develop when a flu strain changes so dramatically that people have little immunity from previous exposure.

Of course no discussion of influenza epidemics would be complete without mention of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than World War I. It is widely considered one of the most devastating epidemics in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the bubonic plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe," the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster. The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. The death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds of influenza and pneumonia were 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years - particularly striking because this is the age range normally least affected. For more information on that particular epidemic, visit this page.

Also in the related realm of epidemiology readings, I recommend Laurie Garrett's excellent book The Coming Plague, which includes a thorough discussion of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. The focus of the book is on how global climate change and weakened public health systems (see also Laurie Garrett's Betrayal of Trust) have left us more open than ever before to the possibility of a devastating epidemic. Her thesis has already been partially borne out by the continuing spread in the US of West Nile Viral Encephalitis and other previously tropical (or rare) diseases.

Osama bin Laden's True Strategy?

While most of the US is focused on what we hope will be the last day of the 2004 Presidential Campaign, al-Jazeera released the full transcript of Osama bin Laden's most recent video (aired Friday 10-29-2004).

"We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy," bin Laden said adding it was "easy for us to provoke and bait this administration." As part of the "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan," each US$1 al-Qaida has spent on strikes has cost the United States US$1 million in economic fallout and military spending, including emergency funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. "Every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs," he said.

"As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers," bin Laden said, estimating the deficit at more than US$1 trillion. In reality, spending in the war against terror and other factors have resulted in an expected US$377 billion shortfall for 2003 - the highest deficit since World War II when inflation is factored out. The total US national debt is near the US$7.4 trillion statutory limit.

Bin Laden said that he and the mujahadeen in Afghanistan "bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."

Bin Laden claimed al-Qaida was winning its war with the United States, and that US defense contractors linked to Bush "like Halliburton and its kind" were also benefiting, while the losers were "the American people and their economy...Over 15,000 of our [Iraqi] people have been killed and tens of thousands injured, while more than 1,000 of you have been killed and more than 10,000 injured ... all for the sake of oil and keeping their private companies in business," bin Laden said.

The al-Qaida leader also accused Bush of ignoring advice from various quarters against invading Iraq, "but the darkness of the black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America."

If bin Laden's goal is to drive the US government into economic ruin, he has certainly gotten a good start to it.

He concluded, "I am Osama bin Laden, and I approved this message." (Not really, but it would have been damn funny if he had!)


In the spirit of Blog the Vote I thought I would put up my own little election story here.

I have voted in every possible election since I was eligible (because I have a summer birthday I began at age 17!) - that includes primary, school board, library, etc. I have never seen as many people show up to vote as I saw this morning. My wife and I showed up early this morning and were in line for about an hour. Our neighbors, who have the misfortune to have last names late in the alphabet, waited nearly two hours! Turnout in some counties in this area has been forecast near 80%.

Usually when we see long voting lines, we think of a brand new democracy, a country where people have only just won the right to vote. At home in the US we have become accustomed to much lower turnout. It was a very refreshing change, and for once, I didn't mind waiting in line.