Friday, April 08, 2005

I've Had It With CBS

As if the Mainstream Media isn't in enough trouble already, and as if CBS itself hasn't suffered enough for its own blustery boondoggling, now this:

A CBS photo-stringer was arrested today by American MPs in Iraq for--it is alleged--he is an insurgent (or, for you who are more comfortable, a terrorist). And the evidence is pretty damning: "One official said at least four videos in the man's camera show roadside bomb attacks on U.S. troops. All had been shot in a manner that suggested the cameraman had prior knowledge of the attacks and had scouted a shooting location in sight of the target."

Bastard. I can't count on both hands the number of journalistic ethics lines that blatantly crosses.

And that's the least of it: He's the enemy!

This only bolsters the criticism the AP took earlier this week for its Pulitzer photo shot by a stringer who Powerline suggested was of the same ilk.

I'll continue defending good journalism, but I'm running out of protaganists.

Marburg in Angola

Ever since reading The Coming Plague, medical journalist Laurie Garret's phenomenal discourse on the sorry state of the world's health-care systems with regard to the proliferation of virulent virus- and bacteria-borne diseases, I have been interested in all things epidemiological.

Now Marburg virus, a haemorrhagic-fever virus in the same family as Ebola, has emerged in Angola, with devastating effect. This is the latest report from the World Heath Organization:

As of 7 April, 205 cases of Marburg haemorrhagic fever have been reported in Angola. Of these, 180 have died. Zaire Province has reported its first 6 cases, bringing the number of affected provinces to seven, all concentrated in the north-western part of the country.

Mobile surveillance teams in Uige were forced to suspend operations yesterday when vehicles were attacked and damaged by local residents. As the situation has not improved, no surveillance teams were operational today in this province, which remains the epicentre of the outbreak.

WHO staff in Uige were notified today of several fatalities but teams were unable to investigate the cause of death or collect the bodies for safe burial. Discussions have been held with provincial authorities to find urgent solutions.

The dramatic symptoms of Marburg haemorrhagic fever and its frequent fatality are resulting in a high level of fear, which is further aggravated by a lack of public understanding of the disease. Moreover, because the disease has no cure, hospitalization is not associated with a favourable outcome, and confidence in the medical care system has been eroded.

WHO is familiar with such reactions, which have been seen during previous outbreaks of the closely related Ebola haemorrhagic fever. Two medical anthropologists are already in Uige and will be joined shortly by experts in social mobilization from Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique. Public compliance with control measures is not expected to improve in the absence of intense campaigns to educate the public about the disease.

In African countries, the single most important factor in controlling viral haemorrhagic fevers is the engagement of affected communities as partners in control. To achieve this engagement, local belief systems about the causes of disease and traditional rituals for mourning the dead must be respected. When the public understands and accepts a few simple messages – avoid contact with blood and other fluids when caring for the ill, don’t touch bodies of the deceased – transmission within the community can be stopped and the outbreak brought under control.

International appeal

Specialized international staff and equipment have been deployed rapidly and measures are beginning to have an impact. Control of the outbreak will require intensified and sustained technical support from multidisciplinary teams, and additional materials and supplies. Provision of adequate personal protective equipment is a particularly urgent need. Increased field coordination of technical, operational and logistic support is likewise needed.

Today, WHO has launched an appeal, through the United Nations, for funding to support the emergency response to this outbreak. WHO needs US$ 2.4 million to support the Ministry of Health, Angola to intensify ongoing operations in the field.
To reduce the risk of transmission in the community, priority activities include intensive social mobilization and health education in the towns and villages of Uige Province. To reduce the risk of transmission in health care facilities, priorities include the provision of personal protective equipment for front-line staff and essential supplies for infection control, including disinfectants. Additional activities that urgently need to be strengthened include the early detection and isolation of cases and the tracing and follow up of contacts.

My reactions:

1) 180 of 205 is a very high death rate, even for Marburg.

2) Locals fear hospitals because they see family, friends, and community members go there with headaches and leave as corpses. Therefore, they want nothing to do with modern medicine and the associated WHO/international surveillance teams whose caravans they attack. This is a stark case of ignorance claiming lives.

3) WHO needs $2.4 million to support its Angolan field operations, while battling the virus is as much about battling the people to educate them as it is about not touching bodily fluids or corpses. Which raises the question: While Marburg and Ebola are rare, wouldn't it be worth WHO/international-community resources to educate villagers about the viruses before they break out? Maybe that education takes place. I don't know. But I doubt it. It's a resource problem, I'm sure. Hence the $2.4 million request.

(I can't fail to mention the directly related problem of educating legions of third-world peoples all over the world about drinking clean water and other sanitation techniques. And for that matter, finding, making available, or giving them clean water.)

4) Clearly, this is a fairly thin branch of a large tree that represents many, many problems in Africa (esp. sub-Saharan Africa), but it is indicative of the larger problem: The combination of corrupt or (physically and morally) absent national governments (Angola's civil war has left nothing but carnage, fear, and distrust), warring factions and their ruthless warlords, economic despair, and poverty poses the most daunting challenge the Western world has on its plate. And I suggest it is obligated to take on this challenge. Yet, the continuing devastation in Darfur and the Congo, as just two vivid examples, rarely find airtime on Western TVs or ink in Western papers.

The only reason we hear about Marburg is because it's the stuff of made-for-TV movies (think "bleeding from all orifices").

Everything else is too messy.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

ANWR News and Cost-Benefit Analysis Out of the Box

If you haven't been over to this site in a while, go to ANWR News and check out the fine work this journalist is doing. His recent posts, among them a senator's demand for details on U.S. oil exports that is denied, a polar bear focus, and an honest talk about the "drilling footprint" are especially worth note.

His posts brought to mind an environmental economics class I took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment. Aside from the usual microeconomic perspectives on natural resources, we studied somewhat "out-of-the-box" concepts like the following two, which should be discussed in light of the ANWR controversy:

1) Existence Value :

"Value from knowing environmental goods exist independent of use or option value. If we lose a species in the wild, such as the Bengal tiger, very few of us will have our welfare directly affected by not being able to see it, photograph it or hear it. That 'use value' is very small. But many people will lose the option to do that in the future, should they care to. Economists call that 'option value.' Further, many people around the world derive some benefit just from knowing that Bengal tigers exist in the wild. That is 'existence value.'"

What is the existence value of the ANWR coastal plain and its caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, nesting birds? For that matter, what existence value should or does attach to the landscape as whole, unscathed, and rare?

2) Coase's Theorem :

"The assertion that if property rights are properly defined, then people will be forced to pay for any negative externalities they impose on others, and market transactions will produced efficient outcomes."

Here, property rights are not properly defined, because ANWR, despite the provision setting aside the 1002 area for potential future drilling, is federal property; as such, oil companies should not have more influence over its use than you and I and the other 270 million Americans do. Because of lobbyists and republican-representative government (which for the most part I happen to like, don't get me wrong), the vox populi takes second seat.

I submit that because of the existence value of the ANWR coastal plain, the negative externalities of drilling (degredation of the non-economic value of the plain and its inhabitants) cannot be offset by in-kind or other "payments" of any kind. (Or payoffs by 25 years "without Saudi Oil," which is a spin concept I and many others have deflated.)

Where housing and industrial developers are usually required to offset destruction of wetlands by creating new ones (which is itself hugely controversial because the quality of the "man-created" wetlands is often strikingly less), the oil companies or the complicit federal government agencies/Congresspeople who want drilling cannot "create" another ANWR.

That said, what about paying for the negative externalities of oil production and use in order to create more efficient outcomes? Emission taxes, regulatory fees, oil prices to some extent do this. These are beginnings. I'd like to find a comprehensive evaluation of all the negative externalities of oil production and use. Does anyone know of one?

By the way, I got the two definitions from an interesting site, The Environmental Valuation and Cost-Benefit Website.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

20 Thoughts for Today

1. It looks like the Bush Doctrine might just be working after all. Judging from the progress on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria (we’ll see), George W.’s move to knock the legs out from under totalitarianism might eclipse Reagan’s then-criticized push to yank down the Berlin Wall. I’m gonna wait 5 or 10 years before making a final call on this, though. The mullahs in Iran are still living high on the hog. Goodness knows Bush wants at ‘em. The question of every age: At what cost?

2. The irony of Peter Jennings’ lung cancer is that he quit smoking 20 years ago and has been an anti-tobacco advocate for years. This in the same week that a Harvard report showed that Massachusetts' restaurant-and-bar smoking ban has not hurt its economy. Some day I’ll write a wickedly blunt anti-smoking piece that will prove acerbic and divisive . . . and right.

By the way, the longtime-coming, Geritol-swaddled demise of the Big Three, 6:30-p.m. media conglomerates has just about concluded. Now if we can find a way to tell the stories without everyone turning into a pompous ass like O’Reilly. (Although I admit, entertains me. I actually agree with him once in a while, too. Then I remember Franken’s nicely-researched chapter on him and change the channel over to Animal Planet where no one has an opinion except Khaki Pants).

3. I’m tired of the Right ripping on the Mainstream Media, the MSM, the Liberal Media. I am the first to say that it is in dire need of some redirection and retooling. However, without the big media outlets, none of us would have anything to bitch about. As much as I respect (and often disagree with) the Powerline guys, would they have much to talk about if it weren’t for the White House Press Corp, the AP, UPI, CNN, and the rest? Nope.

4. More on the media. The Right (look for "The Pulitzer Prize for Felony Murder") has mounted an inquiry (read "indictment") of the AP using an Iraqi stringer-photographer who had tribal, neighborhood, or familial connections to the terrorists/insurgents in Baghdad. This guy was tipped off that a "demonstration" would happen, and ended up at the scene, photographing the terrorists shooting three election workers in the head in a busy street last December. Then the photo was one of 20 to win the Pulitzer Prize this week.

The Right says that this shows the AP’s complicity in the killings. I think there’s an issue here, no doubt. It’s one thing to hire Iraqis as freelancers because they know the streets and the people. It’s another to hire any journalist to do anything when he knows or has supportive relationships with his subjects.

A bigger issue has been raised, which I think is more important. It’s not new. The Vietnam War fostered the very same debate except with regard to NVA and Viet Cong militants. The question: Is shooting, then publishing, photos of terrorists shooting election workers "legitimizing" or otherwise "aiding" the enemy?

My simple answer: There is no doubt in my mind who the good guys are, and that they are engaged with evil people who do evil deeds like kill election workers. But even evil people have stories. Every person on the face of the Earth has a human story. A Conservative Evangelical friend told me yesterday (I paraphrase, with apologies if necessary): "They are pure evil. Their stories are not worth telling. All the AP is doing is fostering their cause."

I agree that they are evil. But their stories are absolutely worth telling. Because to understand the enemy is to defeat him. To understand the enemy is to make sure that his progeny do not rise from the same dung. To understand the enemy is to understand that "pure evil" emerges from complex real-life circumstances where human beings only see black, or whose idea of black and white is reversed, or are prevented from understanding what is right. Or worse, are prevented by threat of force or force itself from acting on what is right.

To prevent the pictures from being shot or shown is to prevent the world from knowing the truth. Journalism–ideally, and in its best light–is about telling the truth about our world, whether we like it or not.

Whether the stringer was a courageous countryman covering the horrors of his day-to-day existence or a propagandist/protaganist/militant-sympathizer in the pockets of both the terrorists and a naive or money-hungry AP is another question all together.

5. They are terrorists. And they are insurgents. We’ve been over this one.

6. Been reading the Bible a lot. I’m tired of humans interpreting everything for me. Everyone has their take. So I’ve asked God to just tell me what he thinks of all my good-deed-doing, loving-their-neighbor Jewish friends. For the two commandments that sum it all up are: a) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and b) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

7. Faith is a pain in the butt for evidence men.

8. But evidence men are left with empty hands too.

9. I see God in my wife’s eyes and my daughter’s eyes. It’s no illusion or contraption of mind.

10. Will Bolton–if he gets the seat–gut the U.N. and make it an arm of U.S. unilateralism? Or just run it into the ground through U.S. influence? He did say that it would make no difference if 10 stories of the U.N. building suddenly disappeared. That’s a bold statement. I’m happy to admit that the U.N.’s leadership is questionable and its inclusion of states with abysmal human-rights records is downright problematic.

It is possible his bold voice–and Ned Flanders-looking face–will help fix it.

11. I’m no longer speculating whether Condi Rice is a lesbian. I’m now focused on her hair.

12. Chicago is a great city overlooked by lovers of great cities. So get on the bus!

13. I’m the most creative immediately before going to the bathroom.

14. That said, let me change the topic: There’s a Norwegian wolf hunt, too. And the Swedes are perturbed to say the least.

15. I hate job searches but love good jobs.

16. I like raisins. And I like bran. And raisin bran.

17. I wish I had an Amish friend.

18. My definition of discipline, something I admire in others and drill every day in myself: Doing something that is only hard because you have made it hard to do. That, of course, doesn’t get to the fact that your or my "making it hard to do" might mean putting on extra pounds over years, or developing mental roadblocks to self-understanding, or whatever. Still, if something is worth doing, it’ll present a challenge of one kind or another. Rise up and start.

19. I love my dog. And not just because he likes the way I take care of him. He’s got good spirit.

20. Speaking of good spirit, here’s this: When you’ve started something good, Maintain the Seed.