A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, October 12, 2002
Britain's BSE scare is often held up as classic example of Thatcherism gone horribly wrong. In the 1980's, the Conservative government deregulated the British animal-feed industry; predictably, most firms began to cut corners, primarily by reducing the temperature at which the feed was sterilized. A risky move, considering that most types of feed were supplemented with ground-up animal remains (soy is an alternate source of protein, but is extremely expensive and not frequently used). As the argument goes, the sheep pathogen scrapie was allowed to survive in the feed; it subsequently crossed the species barrier into cows and became bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

It is now believed that SE's may be caused by infectious protein particles called prions. A prion is a mutated version of a protein known as PrP; the mutant and wildtype forms differ only in their physical conformation. However, a mutated PrP molecule can induce adjacent wildtype PrP molecules to take on the mutant conformation, thus providing a means for the prion to "replicate". Infection of neurons with prions can therefore result in wholesale PrP conformational changes and neuronal degradation.

However, the prion hypothesis throws a wrench into the comfortable theory of how British cows developed BSE. Prions are extremely resistant to degradation by a variety of means, including protease digestion, chemical treatment and heat sterilization. According to one experiment, heating an SE agent at 360 degrees for 1 hour still did not reduce its infectivity! So perhaps the Thatcherites can be let off the hook in this one respect.

However...the Guardian reports on another case of shocking British government bungling. Ironically, the victim here was the British army, which has been forced to contend with the substandard SA80 rifle. While the story begins in the '80's, several governments have perpetuated the stupidity, which has been the result of "the decline of British engineering, the sacrifice of skills for political and financial gain, a complacent cold war military bureaucracy, and Britain's role as America's subservient ally in Europe".

[with thanks to The Lincoln Plawg].
Friday, October 11, 2002
GREEN WITH IRONY: What if Canada ratified the Kyoto Accord despite the kicking and screaming of a certain very wealthy oil-exporting province, but the result was to make that province even wealthier than ever?

Intriguing stuff about linking two kinds of green, especially as it comes from John Ibbitson.
YOU KNOW THE SITUATION IS GETTING UGLY WHEN...people (especially liberals) start touting the CIA as a harried oasis of integrity within the American government.

The craziest part about all of this is that the claims are completely plausible.
LOOK! REASONABLE PEOPLE DISAGREEING IN A REASONABLE MANNER: I keep writing these long comments to other comments to my posts, and I'm only now realizing that it might make sense to just post them. Here's my response to Andrew Edwards' most recent salvo in an amicable mini-debate that started completely in the comments boxes:

I favour war with Iraq on similar terms as I favoured war in Kosovo. I'm trying to trace out a foreign policy that centres around the application of economic, then, if needed, military force to achieve positive human rights outcomes. I think Clinton has started something good, which is a foreign policy that involves us in a greater humanity outside the borders of the West.

I'm a left-liberal. Which means that I believe (at core) in applying the power of the state to seek the betterment of society. Why can't I extend that to Iraqi society? Does the obligation to do good stop at the borders of my country?

I'm also a left-liberal who supported the Kosovo and Afghanistan interventions, so I agree with Andrew's philosophical justifications for invading Iraq. The reason we disagree (for the moment) on Iraq is that I am not convinced that the justifications are sufficient in this case when weighed against the costs--not in terms of U.S. funds, but in terms of lives on both sides, damage to the international system, and icky unintended consequences like Turkey killing many Kurds to prevent a greater Kurdistan from forming; mass reprisal killings by formerly oppressed Iraqi Shiia; or Israel getting into a spin-off war with other Arab countries because it retaliates against a random Iraqi missile attack with too much force.

As Walzer (whom I quote way too much, but he just kicks ass) writes, "war is itself a kind of tyranny." Yes, because war's tyranny is (for us, at least) only temporary, we do sometimes believe that it is worthwhile to impose it. I had a hunch Andrew would call me on my equivocation of "wholesale human rights violations" and "massacring lots of people," but because of the crudeness and nastyness of war, there's not a lot else that can justify the costs of modern war. What the Taliban did to women is one good example, but Saddam and his Baath are no Taliban. Oddly enough, if those massive numbers about Iraqi children dying that the left often cites are correct, and if you could convince me (it probably wouldn't take that much, but it would take some solid evidence) that it's Saddam and not the sanctions that are the cause, then that might work too.

And even if we do kill some civilians doing it, do you seriously believe that the total well-being of all Iraqis combined will be negatively affected by the overthrow of Hussein?

It depends on a lot of things--most importantly of all, how the U.S. goes about doing it. If there was actually a coherent non-evil opposition movement in Iraq (I'd even settle for something mildly evil as we did in Afghanistan) with broad popular support, then I could see a decent chance of a being received by a street party. Or if Saddam started rounding up and killing large numbers of his people. But I wouldn't count too strongly on those parties because people like their sense of self-government (which is itself a human right), and in our screwy world in which nationalism is still a big player, a lot of people would side with a home-grown dictator--even a rather harsh one--over a democracy imposed by a foreign invader. We would not gotten street parties if we had invaded and occupied Serbia. I mean, there were thousands of very Western Serbo-Canadians who protested the Kosovo bombings day in and day out. I admit that I didn't fully understand them at the time and I still don't. But that's nationalism for you. We did get street parties in the end, because our bombing broke Slobo's power and allowed the Serbian opposition to organize and force him out. But when those street parties happened, they were waving Serbian--not American or NATO--flags.

As it is, we're just as likely to start a massive 4-way civil war in Iraq--I'm no Middle East expert, so I don't even want to speculate on probabilities. It does seem to me, however, that too many people are ignoring much of the (total possible negative outcome) part of the equation.

Anyway, the type of foreign policy Andrew supports is one with which I agree in principle. But the devil is in the details of its application, and this is causing our disagreement. Most prominently, I would argue that this kind of humanistic, internationalist foreign policy cannot be pursued unilaterally, at least not in a world in which no one country possesses a monopoly over liberal democratic virtue. It's perhaps this last concern that generates the majority of my opposition to a U.S. invasion if it's done with little or no international support. Not because it's an invasion simpliciter, but rather because it's an invasion that one or two countries have no right to impose on the rest of the world.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
"EEWWWW!!!" DOESN'T BEGIN TO DESCRIBE IT: Uh, yeah, so if you found this site by Googling "killing kittens" porn, please don't bother to pass Go or to collect $200, but instead send yourself directly to professional counselling...

Those @#$@ ref logs should come with warning labels...
A POSITION: I originally wrote this in response to a comment that Andrew Edwards had posted to the previous entry by Manu, but I figure that I might as well just put it right on the front of the blog. It clarifies what my position is on this whole Iraq deal, which I guess is necessary if you thought my participation in the Open Letters Blogburst means that I've now become an intransigent dove.

The judicious Mr. Edwards (I figure as long as we're making allusions to Locke...) writes:

Eric said below in his letter to Colenette:

"So long as Iraq cooperates with unfettered weapons inspections, does not commit wholesale human rights violations, and is not currently implicated in supporting terrorism, no country has a right to begin a war against it."

I think that this article shows that the second point is satisfied, and the first very well might be too.


I guess this reveals a major difference in perception, because I spent many precious minutes reading Bowden's article, and I have to say that I got more or less the picture of Saddam and Iraq that I expected from Manu's description of the article (which is not to say that the article wasn't fascinating). What I didn't get was a big revelation about whether the latest attempt to implement a weapons inspection regime will work or about Saddam committing ongoing and wholesale human rights violations.

But, hey, the moment Saddam start massacring lots of people again, I'm all for taking him out, so long as doing so doesn't require killing more people than it would save (the second part of this sentence, by the way, is one of the reasons why we don't go around declaring war on brutish dictators who do violate human rights but not on a large scale).

The fact is, however, he isn't killing large numbers of people right now, so the best case for invasion that I can see is continued refusal to admit weapons inspectors. If he doesn't comply with non-unreasonable weapons inspections demands, then I'm ready, aye, ready.

How does that sound, my more invasion-minded friends? I'm dovish but that doesn't mean that I'm necessarily a dove.

Now I have a question for you hawkish but openminded folks: if Saddam is willing to comply with a strict regime that's supported by rest of the UNSC and much of the rest of the world (besides the US), and assuming he doesn't start massacring large numbers of people, are you willing to hold off? Or has getting rid of Saddam regardless of the costs and consequences become an idée fixe?
Via YalePundits, an article by Mark Bowden from Atlantic Monthly chronicling Saddam Hussein's bloody and single-minded rise to power. Bowden argues that Saddam -- a product of insular, clannish and lawless rural Iraq -- has essentially overrun the entire country on behalf of his clan, becoming a tribal patriarch on a massive scale. The co-operative, compromise-driven, "networked" urban Iraq barely stood a chance. Makes you wonder who would win the unification bout between "Oscar de la" Hobbes and "Fernando" Locke...
Monday, October 07, 2002
BLOGBURSTING: Here's a few of the Open Letters Blogburst entries that caught my eye:

Hindsight Afterthought:
The administration has no compelling evidence that he poses an imminent threat to this country, nor that he bears any responsibility for any prior terrorist attacks on America, in particular the attacks of September 11, 2001. I lost my office in the World Trade Center that day. An acquaintance of mine lost his life. Nothing would make me happier than to see the men responsible for orchestrating those attacks brought to justice. Attacking Iraq is not only irrelevant to this task, but it will make that task harder by alienating many allies and potential allies whose cooperation is essential.

Body and Soul:
You will be voting this week on a war powers resolution authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq. This is not a simple declaration of war. It gives the president the right to attack countries that have not attacked us and have not even threatened to do so. It gives the president the power to launch an attack without demonstrating that he has exhausted all other possibilities.

This is un-American. Tyrants overthrow regimes because they believe they should be overthrown, and they answer to no one. Presidents, in democracies, do not send a single citizen into battle until they have demonstrated the need to do so, and responded to citizens' questions. So far, all we have heard from this administration are intimations of secret evidence and demonization of anyone who questions them. That is not the way a democracy works.

Bob's Links and Rants:
There is no need for war against Iraq, and no excuse for an illegal pre-emptive strike. There may be some danger in not attacking Iraq, but it is much less than the multitude of dangers which we will face if we do attack Iraq. I cannot believe that our elected Senators will allow this un-elected President to lead us into World War III.

Sisyphus Shrugged:
In the pages of today's Washington Post (a paper certainly not hostile to the President's interests), you'll find the results of a Zogby poll in which Arabs across the middle east agreed that while they respect the freedom and opportunity of the United States, they resent our politicies in their region of the world. They see us, the poll says, as clueless and hamhanded in our dealings with them.

As former Governor Cuomo pointed out on CNN last week, we have no information about the danger that Saddam Hussein poses to his region and to the world that we didn't have when Mr. Bush ran for office. At that point, his resolve was apparently lacking. At this point, all we have is what appears to be a strong determination to send a message to the arab world that the United States considers itself the de facto ruler of their lands.

Ruminate This:
We are already learning that a unilateral preemptive strike against Iraq will spawn similar attacks throughout the world. Once we cross that line, it will be countless other hot spots where nations may find the dealing with regional conflicts more easily solvedThe American Way...through rapid and offensive unilateral punishment. Global stability will be sacrificed at the altar of immediate gain and vengeance. Diplomacy will be boxed up for museum display, and regarded an archaic and quaint method of resolving international dispute. Is this what you have in mind?

Alas, a Blog:
On one side is reason: Inspections are restarting, and must be given a chance. Hussain has never been suicidal, and attacking the U.S. with WMDs would be suicide. The administration has repeatedly failed to produce evidence connecting 9/11 to Iraq. We are not even remotely prepared for the long-term commitment to "nation building" that regime change requires. Destabilizing the Middle East will have consequences we cannot control or turn back. And the doctrine of preemptive war for peace is simply nonsense.

On the other side is hell: a blank check allowing the White House to put us at war for any or no reason.

skippy the bush kangaroo:
the millionaires who run washington have decided that we, the people, have no say in the matter, and are running this country, head first, into armed conflict with a man who, while probably crazy and devious, runs a fourth-rate country that has no air force, a very small army, and, by its secular nature, no obvious ties to the religious fundamentalists of the al qaeda.

Please, if oil is not a motivating factor in this mad rush to fill body bags with our young servicemen and women, then i can only think it that the proof of how big one's manhood is.

Officials and diplomats worldwide are working to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The Bush administration, meanwhile, appears to be stonewalling just as vigorously to keep inspectors out of Iraq as Saddam used to.

green fairy dot com:
The military assault against Iraq currently being planned by the US Government would be a gross violation of international law and risks killing large numbers of civilians.

In 1998 the Pentagon warned President Clinton that a military attack on Iraq might possibly kill 10,000 Iraqis.

In a Blog's Stead:
After waging an undeclared (and unconstitutional) war on the Iraqi people for the past decade via bombings and embargoes, the United States finally gave Iraq an ultimatum: agree to let in our weapons inspectors, or we'll invade. So Iraq agreed to let in our weapons inspectors. And now we're going to invade anyway??

Despite the fact that Iraq has met our demands? Despite the fact that no credible link has been established between Iraq and the September 11th attacks? Despite the fact that Iraq is no worse than dozens of other tinpot oppressive dictatorships around the globe (many of which actually possess weapons of mass destruction right now, rather than in some imagined future)? And despite the fact that whatever weapons of mass destruction Hussein may have, he (not being suicidal) is unlikely to use except in the event of an invasion, when he has nothing left to lose?

OPEN LETTERS BLOGBURST: The following letter to my Member of Parliament is part of a blogburst against an unjustified invasion of Iraq. A blogburst is a simultaneous, cross-linked posting of many blogs on a single theme. For a guide to other letters in this blogburst, go to The Open Letters BlogBurst Index.

To the Honourable David Collenette, MP, PC,

I am writing to urge you to work to continue Canada's principled opposition against an invasion of Iraq. So long as Iraq cooperates with unfettered weapons inspections, does not commit wholesale human rights violations, and is not currently implicated in supporting terrorism, no country has a right to begin a war against it.

It is clear that if an invasion of Iraq were to occur despite the apparent lack of a justified cause, the risks would be immense. As well as creating a great deal of instability in an already volatile and troubled region, such an invasion would cause grievous damage to the international system.

As a historically engaged member of the international community and one of the United States' closest allies, Canada is especially well-positioned to influence what will happen next. We should use this influence to act in a manner that befits a truly responsible friend: Canada should remind the United States of its conscience and help it to refrain from taking actions that would harm itself and its partners in the world community.


Eric Tam
(A constituent currently studying in the United States)
Sunday, October 06, 2002
IF I WERE A BIT LESS RUN DOWN LAST WEEK, I would have mentioned that Kofi Annan spoke at Yale on Wednesday. I got to the venue where he was speaking too late to be admitted, so I had to watch his speech projected onto a screen in an overflow auditorium at the Law School. It was still a pretty neat feeling, being squished in there with all kinds of members of the university community. Unlike a number of eminent tenured faculty who got there later than I did and had to kneel on the floor, I was fortunate enough to get a seat for the speech. Some interesting quotes (based on 3-day old memory, so some of this is paraphrase):

1) On globalization: We need to rethink what belonging means, and what community means, and what belonging means, in order to be able to embrace the fate of distant peoples, and realize that globalization's glass house must be open to all if we are to be secure...Of course, including all of those people in our circle of concern will not be easy. We all feel a deeply rooted loyalty to those closest to us--family, friends, fellow citizens of city and country. To say that we--and and here I think in particular of those of us priveleged to live in the developed world--should include the citizens of distant and poor countries in our circle of concern--to suggest that we have an obligation to help them achieve their rights and opportunities in a spirit of tolerance and diversity--is to ask a lot.

2) On Iraq and WMD: In the eyes of the Security Council, Iraq is not clean. It will not view Iraq as clean until it admits inspectors and receives the Council's certification.

3) On the ICC: I think that the United States will some day come around. Not today, not tomorrow, but some day.