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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Even as I write, a ship is steaming directly to Amsterdam from the hot zone of the worst Ebola epidemic of all time. It's an ordinary cargo ship, and in a week or two, its crew will be downing beers and visiting the local talent of one of Europe's biggest port cities. The worst part is, it's not the only one.

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A flotilla of cargo ships leave from Europe each month to visit a variety of West African ports. The last of these ports, terrifyingly, are in each of the Ebola-stricken countries. As if it were perfectly intentional, these ships return straight away to Hamburg or Amsterdam for more cargo.

This is not just a recipe, but the recipe for disaster.

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Almost nothing could be more efficient in spreading the disease than a fleet of express steamers running from the hot zone into Europe's largest ports, starting with Hamburg and Amsterdam before going on to Tilbury, Antwerp and Bilbao.

For instance, the Grande Atlantico returns to Amsterdam from Freetown, Sierra Leone on October 10th. It leaves today.

The Grande Africa returns to Hamburg from Monrovia, Liberia on October 7th.

Likewise for the Grande Francis, the Grande Sierra Leone, Grande Nigeria, and Grande Brasile. Each ship has an almost identical trip planned for the following months as well, and each of these ships make their final stop in the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic before returning to the major port cities in Europe two weeks later.

Each of these ships has a crew of approximately twenty people, meaning over 100 Ebola candidates a month are stopping in the largest port cities in Europe, one after the other. All this, fourteen days after potentially being exposed to the disease, when people are, naturally, most contagious.

It is spectacularly careless that this trade route continues, since an epidemic amongst merchant seamen starting in Hamburg would all but ensure the disease would be scattered to the wind and land in practically every country in the world.

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

I'm pretty down on government officials, elected or otherwise, I make no secret of it. But, I do love to watch a good game, and I can appreciate a master when I see one. While Vladimir Putin is a despot extraordinaire, he is awfully good at what he does.

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Truth be told, Michael Jordan wasn't paid millions in sponsorships and salary because he could put a ball through a net. He was paid his megamillions because he was fun to watch. If he put people to sleep while playing, no one would know his name. It was his miraculous dunks, his whirling fakeouts and electrifying play that made him a star. Admittedly, missing a dunk makes you look like a stooge, and his success was part of his allure, but his gamesmanship was what defined him. He was fast, he was smooth, and he always made the right moves.

Same with Vladimir Putin. Like an ex-KGB Wilt Chamberlain, Putin is dribbling circles around the international community and dunking on the gangly, aging centers representing pretty much everyone else. He is currently the most talented living politician, and though he plays for crooked fascists, he sure can dunk.

He scored an op-ed trashtalking Obama in the New York Times. Name the last Russian premier that landed an article excoriating a sitting US president in the country's largest newspaper. Day after day, newspapers around the world print Putin's every word as he drops cruel, subtle jabs against the US. Amidst the taupe backdrop of carefully crafted political messaging, Putin stands alone in his trashtalking skill.

He invaded and annexed Crimea without even admitting having done so. Not even Hitler thought to invade a country, then deny it was even happening as the tanks rolled in. Only a political genius, with a flair for the sociopathic would ever think that he could invade a country in full view of a huge constellation of US spy satellites, then roundly deny anything was going on. The worst part is that his denials seem to be stalling the awkward UN/EU/US attempts at scolding Putin for being a very bad boy. It is a lie so fabulous, a song and dance so preposterous that no one would ever think to attempt it in the 21st century. Putin did.

Putin has made a game of endearing himself to the third world by embarrassing US government representatives. Putin's team looked especially ace when Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister refused to take John Kerry's phone calls during a North Korean missile flap. Having "better things to do" than talk to the US Secretary of State (it's not even the first time, Lavrov gave Hillary Clinton the switch in 2012) is a calculated move, and an awfully good one at that. Vladimir Putin was similarly three hours late for a meeting with John Kerry. One can picture Putin and friends laughing at closed circuit TV footage of Kerry fuming in a Kremlin waiting room, crossing and uncrossing his legs, trying to read Pravda while checking his watch.

Putin has managed to make a mockery of the United States with his numerous international talks and "negotiations", mostly regarding his noninvasion of the Ukraine. By gladly speaking with the United States, and then refusing to make the slightest concession, he's managed to make the US team look useless and ineffective, as they've returned again and again from the negotiating table with nothing. Putin knows this, and will give the Obama team as many faux negotiation sessions as they can stomach. Maybe the US will catch on eventually, but in the meantime the Russians have been happy to bring John Kerry's bloviating gas-baggery into sharp focus.

In dealing with Edward Snowden, Putin leapt at the opportunity to embarrass the United States and offer himself as an enlightened ruler that stands up for liberty and the rights of the downtrodden. Putin, before any other despot, recognized and seized the opportunity to simultaneously endear himself to the international community, mask his own extensive crimes against human rights, and gain exclusive access to a valuable intelligence asset.

As the US consulate continues to shoot its foot off, one toe at a time, in the Ukraine, it seems more and more likely that the whole debacle was planned in the Kremlin from start to finish. Putin likely could have seen the admonishing finger-wagging coming, the sanctions and the UN saber-rattling coming long before he ever set into motion his gradual annexation of Crimea. Putin may have seen the value in Crimea not only in terms of land and treasure, but also as an international whipping post for the United States public image. Putin can take his time offending the UN, enraging the US and teasing the EU, and will likely drag out the annexation of Ukraine over many years to exaggerate his benefit. By showing that the West's most strident threats can be ignored without consequence, he reduces the West to a distant, barking dog. He could only have done so by invading a patch of land so inconsequential to Western interests that no one could credibly commit lives and billions to preventing it, and Crimea was just this place.

Putin is a master of doing precisely what he wants while embarrassing those that oppose him. Knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em is the essence of statecraft, and unfortunately this skill seems to elude most everyone in the political realm today.

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

A just war, or a morally justifiable war, should look like a morally (and legally) justifiable killing. The reasoning behind a just war should be quick to explain, with an obvious motive like self defense. It should be nearly impossible to find fault with a just war.

By comparison, the longwinded articles that I'm reading on the Wall Street Journal reference Neville Chamberlain, Henry Kissinger, soft power, appeasement and isolationism while trying, and trying hard, to get people to sign the dotted line for another war.

It got me to wondering: because the pro-war articles are long, is that all anyone needs to know? If you can't explain why thousands of people's children need to die for a cause in 25 words or less, is it possible that the cause isn't especially worthy?
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To take the extreme example, if the Canadians were lining up thousands of American civilians in front of firing squads, storming down the Mississippi River, destroying all in their path, would there be need for a foreign policy debate, and careful crafting of arguments in favor of military intervention? I think I wouldn't be alone in supporting a war if there were Maple Leaf death squads patrolling Louisville, even without a thoughtful op-ed by a think-tanker.

Sending America's youth off to die is, although recent history might make you think otherwise, a really big deal. Therefore, it should be trivial to explain exactly why we are sending our children to get shot. If it requires considerable thought, and significant filtering of information to craft a decent argument, drawing on historical precedent, lawyerly rhetoric and a dash of jingoism to get people fired up for war, a war must not be all that valid to begin with.

If there were a situation so uncontroversial as repelling a genocidal foreign invasion, there would be no need for op-eds beating the war drums. So, does it stand to reason that a pro-war op-ed's very existence denies its validity? Widely circulating newspapers publish op-eds that spark debate; to wit, an article opining that parents ought to feed their children wouldn't get much attention. Controversy sells, and a just war is uncontroversial.

All in all, if a war doesn't receive enough unanimity to escape the op-ed section, then it isn't worth fighting. Likewise, the only just war is so simply explained that there can be no interesting debate over whether or not to fight it.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

The official party line, offered by the World Health Organization, is that the Ebola virus spreading across Africa (and likely other parts of the world), is that it is spread by "direct contact" with infected body fluids.

"Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people. Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles."

I don't believe this, and neither should you. Ebola is behaving like an airborne disease, apparently infecting those who have taken reasonable precautions based on the old information still offered by the WHO. 

The number of people being monitored, and the number people under suspicion of infection as a result of a single person traveling to Port Harcourt, Nigeria tells of an airborne disease. In a period of less than a month, over 200 people are suspected to have been exposed, with 60 of them considered to be high risk. It is unlikely that the "patient zero" to Port Harcourt and his contacts had quite so many other contacts with broken skin and blood involved. The disease is wildly contagious.

The number of physicians who have known they were treating an Ebola patient, but have become infected nonetheless, tells us that the WHO is off the mark. It is relatively trivial for a properly trained physician to avoid getting infected body fluids in his or her open wounds and mucous membranes, as surgeons routinely perform surgery on AIDS patients without getting infected themselves. That basic care has resulted in hundreds of dead health workers suggests that Ebola is spreading by as-yet unidentified routes, most likely by airborne droplets.

The sheer number of people becoming infected at a time when most are well aware of the epidemic tells a different story than the WHO. In previous epidemics, quarantine of infected people and standard protective equipment were enough to contain fatalities to a few hundred. These measures appear to be ineffective, and the disease is behaving more like the flu than other Ebola epidemics.

The WHO, and other organizations, will continue to claim that Ebola is caused by direct contact until it becomes obvious that other routes of infection are also in action. Until this time comes, the epidemic will continue to worsen as people act with a false sense of security amidst serious risk of infection. 

Because the WHO doesn't know what is going on, or won't admit that its information may be wrong, people living in the affected zones should take proactive measures, like wearing face masks to avoid inhaling infectious aerosols being coughed or sneezed out by infected persons. Depending on a central authority for information is risky, because the WHO has a reputation to consider before raising the level of alarm. People in affected zones, however, have their own lives to consider before accepting the WHO party line as fact. 

Ebola, in the ongoing epidemic, appears to be acting airborne. How little it would cost everyone to behave as if this were the case.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Just when you thought the Cold War was dead and buried, the war contractors and their lobbyists decided to dust off a tried and true model to line their pockets.

The same foolish old men that brought us a war with Afghanistan and Iraq are eager once again to stuff other people and their money into a Ukrainian meat grinder. War is the word. War with Russia, of all nations, as if the US hadn't tried it before. Other pseudo-tangles with the Russians brought us North Korea, the Vietnam War, the Taliban, the Bay of Pigs and other bright spots in world history. In spite of poor historical outcomes, the wise men of Washington see no downside in blasting Russians in their backyard.

To be clear, US Marines probably won't face off against Spetnasz operatives. Perhaps there will be some "advisors" dotting the Ukraine, as they were called before Vietnam heated up. Maybe there will be UN peacekeepers, the euphemism used during the Korean War. One thing is certain; a war with Russia means that the US taxpayer will be robbed again to arm and advise a people they couldn't care about to fight a political situation they don't know about.

For about 70 years, the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. In 1992 or so, it split off. Neither one of these developments was used as a casus belli. However, the US war machine is getting hungry, and Russia taking over the Ukraine, as it has done several times before, seems to be an adequate excuse to spend American lives and money. It is understandable, though. Without a war to fight, the war contractor/campaign finance machine was getting dry. When you're starving, lots of stuff starts looking like food.

Russia may even seem like a foolish choice of enemy given their forest of nuclear missiles, but in reality "fighting" a nuclear enemy is the perfect war for cowardly politicians. Nukes aren't aimed at Cowpens, South Carolina. They're aimed at the White House. They're aimed at the Kremlin. Both sides know it, and won't rock the boat, lest they place their physical selves in any danger. They've never had a problem sending endless waves of fellow countrymen to die in whatever pointless adventure they've picked for the election cycle, they consider their own physical safety truly inviolate. When two nuclear-capable nations pretend to go to war, its more of a chess match than a street fight.

Appearing to face off against a great Russian enemy provides politicians a stage to jaw about morality, courage and sacrifice with prior knowledge that it will personally cost them nothing. The dying part is for the little people, the politicians have lobbyists to satisfy and campaigns to think about.

It is hard to imagine just exactly how replacing a Ukrainian-brand crony government with an almost indistinguishable Russian-brand crony government would have strategic impact on a town in Utah, but that isn't stopping the war machine from trying to convince people to send their children to die for their cause.

 

 

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