Saturday, September 03, 2005

Now that Kos is down to one diary a day

and those disappear damn quickly, I think I'll probably be posting more here. Hopefully this will turn into a less-sterile exercise as I gain some readers.....

Beware the Stalking Horses of the Apocalpyse

The effects of Hurricane Katrina may represent a turning point in U.S. political ideology and political culture, but only if we aren't betrayed by stalking horses in our own camp who let the Bushies and their ilk off the hook for us. This could happen, either because they're really on the other side, or because some Democratic politicians may be too stupid to realize that the current situation represents an inflection point where real change could be made -- and the dice must be cast -- and instead want to butter up the righties for the crumbs of power they receive in return, the sort of risk adverse politics that has damned us since Reagan.

While I'm normally of the "big tent" school, and have weighed in against the purity brigade elements of the left, this is one instance where there is no space for people in the Democratic Party, and we have to be prepared to attack people at least nominally on our side who are clearly acting as stalking horses. I don't know what it takes to get people from the Democratic caucus, but this is the time for it, if needed.

The stalking horses will function basically like this:

1) Going along with the Bushies when they attempt to float a revisionist version of the federal government's response to the crisis.

2.) Saying the Bushies were slow to react -- not entirely their fault really -- but it's okay now because the government's swung into action. People FUCKING died because the delay, and it's bloody-will NOT okay. Day late and a dollar short, folks.

3.) Go along with the argument that now's not the time for partisanship and that later we should stir the ashes. This has been discussed at greater length elsewhere.

The politically -- and humanly -- correct emotion in response to what happened in the U.S. south is anger. Anyone helping to diffuse that anger is doing a disservice not only to their cause, but also to the memory of the people who died. They are betraying the main potential good that could come out of this crisis, which is the reentry of the federal government into essential public services.

If the vox populi is in fact the vox dei, now is the time for us to sort the political sheep from goats, and if I may mix metaphors, it's time to send the stalking horses off to graze in ultima thule.

Flood Control Is a Basic Function of the State

If you look at scholarship on the origins of the state as an institution -- and there's been a lot of it, mostly based on archaelogical evidence -- it's pretty clear that there were three fucntions of government that convinced people to band together under formal institutions (optimistic historical interpretation) or to accept authoritarian rule by an aristocratic elite (pesimistic, and probably accurate interpretation). Those state roles were:

Ending the pervasive communal violence that pervaded prestate societies (see some of the scholarship in murder rates)

Irrigation

Flood control

Flood control, tied to irrigation, played a role in state formation in Mesopotamia, and one of the functions of the Egytian state was to help manage the effects of the annual flooding of the Nile with (the Egyptians developed geometry to keep everyone's landholdings straight).

In fact, one of the mythical Chinese culture-hero emperors, I think it was Yu, had as is accomplishment the taming of the Yellow River floods through control measures such as dykes. The Chinese were also big fans of the pathetic fallacy (that events in the natural world such as earthquakes and floods are directly linked to political events in the human world). The more rationalist Chinese philosphers said that this was actually because in a well-ordered state disasters would have a smaller impact because the response would come quickly. And if the dykes were well maintained -- no floods.

George W. Bush and his crew didn't seem much interested in flood control before Katrina, and they didn't seem much interested in making a rapid response afterwards. As a result, the catastrophe is much worse than it had to be. I think this may explain the visceral, and almost uniformly negative popular and media response to the administration's handling of the crisis: at a subconcious level (and I'll avoid getting too Jungian here) I think people realize that flood control and helping people after disasters are two of the fundamental functions of the state, and Bush has clearly bobbled the ball, if not dropped it down the sewer.

And frankly it's not relevant whether Bush knew about the problems with the levees: either he should have known, or he should have had someone in charge of that area of responsibilty who was competent and adequately funded. It's a federal responsibility and ignorance ain't an defense.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It's hard to catch pig fever

You may have noticed not noticing panicky newspaper reports on the outbreak of pig-borne disease in Sichuan province in southwestern China. That's because there hasn't been a new case reported in about three weeks (Aug. 5 was the last) and it's fallen pretty much off the radar. Which is kind of a shame, because more attention might have led to a closer examination of farming practices, which are the reall issue here.

Below are some points about the pig-borne disease, aka streptococcus suis, which killed about 40 people in China this year. There have also been cases reported in Guandong province in the south and in Hong Kong, but the disease is endemic in Asia and these infections may or may not be tied to this outbreak.

Most of the below is based on first-hand info, so i'm not going to be able to provide links to all of the below.

--It wasn't bird flu, and it wasn't a cross-infection with birdflu. This theory was being retailed by people who should have known better. No trace of avian influenza turned up in tests.

--It wasn't ebola. The ridiculous idea that it was was being retailed by some people who almost certainly DID know better, but didn't want to pass up the opportunity for some propanda.

--It didn't pass between humans. Only people actively involved in pig butchery or cooking contracted the disease (doctors from Hong Kong who speak the language were given unlimited clinical access to patients hospitalized with the disease.)Immediate household contacts didn't get sick.

--It's not clear whether the disease was caused by a variant bacterial strain in a meaningful sort of way. While there were mutations from the index form, bacteria are a lot more complicated than viruses and it isn't clear what impact the changes would have. Smart money, however, is on it being a mutated form of the bacteria.

--What would have caused the mutation? Well scientists and pig farmers in Hong Kong have said that Chinese farmers both overuse antibiotics and (this is almost unbelievable) develop their own homemade vaccines. This provides a fantastic breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant strains.

--Supporting this suggestion is the fact that China's Ministry of Health has released its full report on the outbreak (and the World Health Organization has generally been hapy with the human-health response), but the Ministry of Agriculture has NOT released its report.

--Anxiety in Hong Kong has moved on to malachite green, a (possibly) carcinogenic industrial dye that was used to treate infections in farmed fished raised in China, despite the fact that Beijing had banned the compound (as had many industrialized countries.) China's government said that no one was using the addititive -- but then proceeded to shut down a bunch of fish farms anyway (obviously the first part was a lie.)

My conclusion: the basic problem is that if you raise animals at high densities you're asking for disease outbreak problems. China, a densely populated, developing country full people hugely eager to get rich, and with a regulatory system that's struggled to keep pace with growth. Plus the system is incredibly corrupt, so what oversight there is is often compromised.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Now that I have the damn blog

I don't feel like writing anything. Predictable, I guess. I'll get over it, verbose bastard that I am.

If at first you don't succeed....

This is my second attempt at my first blog (which I guess makes it my second blog.) My first attempt was marred by my inability to spell the name of the historic figure I had intended to name it after, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, the Roman prefect who attempted to preserve the legality of Paganism in an increasingly Christian Rome. At least in the assessment of the late medievalist Norman Cantor, Symmachus played liberal opposition to the religious authoritarianism of St. Ambrose (Ambrosius, Bishop of Milan), who KNEW he had the truth and thought the state had every right to force it on people. Not that I'm trying to draw any modern parallels here.
I'm to crosspost all major entries (but not the minor stuff and ephemera) to my dairy at Daily Kos.

I'm no doubt going to be really pathetic

and publish hundreds of entries in the first few weeks and then nothing....some graduate student will stumble along in 2025 or something and use it as a footnote in a dissertation on turn-of-the century angst and the great blog bubble. I'll get an email asking me why I stopped and started, and i'll barely remember having written the damn thing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Doesn't the name

Festus sound like a character's name from the Latin version of the Addams Family? No doubt dubbed into the language for Finnish television. The Finns are keen on Latin, from what I've read, mainly because it's easy for Finnish speakers to pronounce. It's kind of funny given that Finland is a majority-Protestant (Lutheran) country that was never part of the Roman Empire....