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Killer germs!

Killer germs!

March 14, 2006 |

Now we have to worry about killer germs, too.

First there's bird flu, about which the government has comforting advice:

In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.Ready or not, here it comes.

At least they're not overselling the government's ability to handle these things. But natural epidemics aren't the only threat. A new looks at the threat from biological war and biological terrorism. The danger of artificial pathogens looks even more serious than the danger of naturally occurring epidemics. There's more on this subject .

Eventually, we'll be good enough at responding to these threats that they won't be terribly dangerous. But that will require the development of new antibiotics, powerful antiviral drugs, and rapid-response vaccine production techniques.  Right now, we're not doing enough to develop these capabilities. But even if avian flu comes to nothing, and the threat of bioterror doesn't materiaize any time soon, the odds are that some nasty bug wil appear in the not too distant future. And when it does, we'll wish we were ready -- in a way that goes beyond canned tuna.


Global test on Islam?

As we look at the war on terror, which the Bush Administration has finally admitted is actually a global war on

Jim Geraghty, who blogs from Turkey, worries that we're past a "tipping point" in the West, with many people giving up on the notion of winning over "moderate" Muslims and coming to the conclusion that it's not a problem with Islam, but that Islam is the problem. He writes:

A big part of the war on terror/post-9/11 war on militant Islamism is a religious war; it's militant Islam vs. everybody else. It's more accurately, a war within a religion. Put simply, the world's one billion or so Muslims have to decide which side accurately represents their faith.On the one side is the vision of Osama bin Laden (and, for that matter, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinijad) in a relentless conflict with the West, using terrorism and violence, enforcing Islamic standards on all other cultures, including blasphemy laws on Danish cartoons. This is a vision in which secular democracies are intolerable apostasy, where Western influences must be driven out, and the only acceptable infidel is a dhimmi.On the other side is Jordan's King Abdullah, who has a hopeful, coherent vision of Islam embracing the West. He's trying to build a country that puts serious effort into secular education, a diverse economy, women's rights, and strong ties to the West. Or you could prefer the Turks' enactment of Ataturk's vision -- a stable, strictly secular parliamentary democracy full of Muslims, where the occasional military coup acts as the "Control-Alt-Delete" in any Islamist effort to overturn the secularism through democratic means.There are about five billion of us on the outside of this fight, looking in. We have a very vested interest in the outcome of this debate; it determines whether we have a billion enemies or several hundred million allies.

Geraghty thinks that the problem is that Bush has been too mushy -- not enough "for us or against us" rhetoric, rather than, as critics suggest, too much.

Columnist David Warren has related thoughts:

Mr Bush was staking his bet on the assumption that the Islamists were not speaking for Islam; that the world's Muslims long for modernity; that they are themselves repelled by the violence of the terrorists; that, most significantly, Islam is in its nature a religion that can be "internalized", like the world's other great religions, and that the traditional Islamic aspiration to conjoin worldly political with otherworldly spiritual authority had somehow gone away. It didn't help that Mr Bush took for his advisers on the nature of Islam, the paid operatives of Washington's Council on American-Islamic Relations, the happyface pseudo-scholar Karen Armstrong, or the profoundly learned but terminally vain Bernard Lewis. Each, in a different way, assured him that Islam and modernity were potentially compatible.The question, "But what if they are not?" was never seriously raised, because it could not be raised behind the mud curtain of political correctness that has descended over the Western academy and intelligentsia. The idea that others see the world in a way that is not only incompatible with, but utterly opposed to, the way we see it, is the thorn ever-present in the rose bushes of multiculturalism. "Ideas have consequences", and the idea that Islam imagines itself in a fundamental, physical conflict with everything outside of itself, is an idea with which people in the contemporary West are morally and intellectually incapable of coming to terms. Hence our continuing surprise at everything from bar-bombings in Bali, to riots in France, to the Danish cartoon apoplexy.My own views on the issue have been aloof. More precisely, they have been infected with cowardice.

If Geraghty is right, that cowardice may be coming to an end. The question is what will come next. Over at Winds of Change, a political military blog, there's this worry:

This isn't about dissing their views; because I don't (another post on that soon), I understand them. But it is a model to consider as we talk about the notion that a sea-change in "the Western Street" could take place which involves a fundamental belief that we can't deal with the Arab world, and that what we need to do is to disengage fast and hard.In essence, it'd be a position that said "we're washing our hands of you", bulked up border and internal security, and made it a point never to drive through 'those neighborhoods' without locking the doors, and never, under any circumstances, to stop there. It solves that whole messy "war" thing, and makes sure that no one says bad things about us in our hearing. We'd be clean-handed liberals, and feel secure.And it would be a disaster.It would first and foremost be a moral disaster, because we'd be condemning billions of people to a battle with a homicidal tyranny that we had a hand in creating (indirectly, through our policies in the Middle east from the 1900's onward). We'd be condemning Israel to become even more of a besieged outpost than it is today. We'd be condemning Europeans to a bitter struggle with an increasingly empowered minority....And it'd be a practical disaster.It'd be a practical disaster, because the war within the Muslim world would wind up being won by either brutal oligarchs or by homicidal fascists. If the oligarchs win, we'll have trading partners, for a while, until they need an outside enemy to whip up their population against. If the fascists win, we'll have a war right away.

On the other hand, it's not as if everyone in the Arab or Muslim worlds is antimodernity. Take the example of Wafa Sultan, who made her displeasure with Mullahocracy known to the mullahs, on Al Jazeera, no less:

Three weeks ago, Dr. Wafa Sultan was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow Muslims.Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die.In the interview, which has been viewed on the Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around the world, Dr. Sultan bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14 centuries.She said the world's Muslims, whom she compares unfavorably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence.Dr. Sultan said the world was not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that the forces of violent, reactionary Islam are destined to lose.In response, clerics throughout the Muslim world have condemned her, and her telephone answering machine has filled with dark threats. But Islamic reformers have praised her for saying out loud, in Arabic and on the most widely seen television network in the Arab world, what few Muslims dare to say even in private.

See her on video here.

She's right. It's a clash between civilization and barbarians. We need to create a world in which the civilized Wafa Sultans are more willing to speak -- and the barbarous mullahs are more afraid. What is going on is often portrayed as a test for the West. But it's a test for the Islamic world, too. And so far it's failing -- unless Wafa Sultan and her like can save it.


I've spent the last few days on a book tour, promoting my book, , which officially published on Tuesday. (You can see accounts of some of my touring and   and read reviews of the book , , and here, plus this from :

"You know Reynolds has hit on something when John Podhoretz and I agree that 'Army of Davids' is a must-read.") It's been sort of fun, in a tiring sort of way.
One question a lot of people have asked is "Why write a book when you have a blog?"

There are lots of reasons why—as is obvious from the fact that so many bloggers are writing books. Kos of DailyKos, along with Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, have a new book, too: It's about "Netroots" politics and it's called

You can read reviews of their book and .  I haven't read it all yet, but their suspicions regarding the influence of political consultants seem well-founded to me.

So why write a book when you can blog? For the same reason you might make a movie instead of shooting still pictures. A blog is a collection of isolated points. Readers can connect the dots, but the medium doesn't lend itself to comprehensiveness or to narrative threads. People read a book all the way through in a day or a few days. People read blogs in dribs and drabs as they have time. They miss things, they're distracted, they go on vacation. If you want to paint a big and coherent picture, a book is still better.

Books last, too. Blogs are evanescent: Potentially immortal, in various archives and caches, but not in a way you can count on. (Rule of thumb: Embarrassing stuff will live forever on the Net; stuff you want to last will get accidentally deleted....)

And a book gives you a chance to do a book tour, and go on radio and TV and in print, talking about stuff that's important to you, going well beyond the book itself. A blog lets you do that too, of course, but to a different audience. A book, at least potentially, lets you preach to somone besides the choir of your regular blog readers.

And, as I get ready to board the flight home (thank goodness for airport wireless) I note another advantage: You can read a book on the plane. You can't do that with blogs, yet.


Women are at risk for heart disease -- and potentially fatal heart rhythm problems -- to a much greater degree than is often appreciated.  My wife, an athletic 37-year-old woman, had a heart attack and took months to be diagnosed.  She tells the story .  Excerpt:

Two doctors and an emergency room visit later, I still had no answer to why I was shaking, short of breath and could barely walk at times from weakness.  I thought at times I was having mini strokes.  One emergency room doctor refused to look at my abnormal EKG when I came to the hospital; he was too busy dealing with a female coke addict and decided that I was another example of an anxious woman having a panic attack.I finally persuaded my regular doctor to quit prescibing me Effexor (an antidepressant) and to look at my heart.  He finally sent me for tests.  He called back and told me to get to the hospital.  My father was with me at the time and took me to the hospital where the orderlies thought he was the one with heart problems and told him to get in the wheelchair.  I would have laughed myself silly if I had not been so ill.  I had tests including a heart cath that helps doctors to see inside the heart.  Later, when I was back in my room, the cardiologist came in and told me that I had suffered from a heart attack and also had a ventricular aneurysm (a ballooned out area of the heart) as a result of not resting my heart after the heart attack.  I had been told that I had panic disorder so I thought that exercise would be good.

My wife's heart attack was the result of an arterial spasm -- a rarity that causes heart attacks in the absence of any coronary artery disease.  On the other hand, many women suffer from a type of coronary artery disease that from that affecting men, and that is much harder to spot.  Women also tend to get to the emergency room and, as my wife's experience indicates, they're often not diagnosed quickly.

Much of this is a question of awareness.  We tend to think of a fat guy in his fifties as a heart attack candidate -- and he is -- but heart attacks aren't limited to the stereotypical victims.

The good news is that more people are becoming aware of these factors.  We did a podcast on this topic with cardiologist Dr. Wes Fisher, and nurse-practitioner Laurie Anderson of WebMD, on the state of cardiac health for women, and men.  You can listen to it (no iPod required) or get it via iTunes .   You can find a dialup version .

One of the things you'll learn is that for women, the symptoms of a heart attack often differ from men: less chest pain, more nausea, and shortness of breath.  Paying attention to this sort of thing could, as we know all too well, alas, save you a lot of heartache in the future. Literally, and figuratively.

March 3, 2006 |

The war heats up

The ramifications of the Cartoon Wars continue to reverberate.  My from last week on "the tipping point" has led to this response from Jim Geraghty, who -- like me -- thinks the weakness of the Bush Administration's response to the cartoon riots is part of the reason why the public is so unhappy about the ports deal.  Geraghty (from Turkey):

In the USA Today poll, when asked, "Which comes closer to your view about Arab and Muslim countries that are allies of the United States?" 45 percent of respondents said, "trust the same as any other ally"; 51 percent said they trust these countries "less than other allies."That's a remarkably honest poll result.  Let's face it, Americans have been told since kindergarten not to judge ethnic and religious groups differently from one another; now slightly more than half are willing to come out and say, "you know, I just don't trust those guys as much as I trust others."Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, "I don't care what the Muslim world thinks, I'm not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don't care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don't trust them, and I'm not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!"And more and more, I think Glenn Reynolds had it right; the entire Tipping Point phenomenon can be summed up as action and reaction. The Bush Administration's reaction to the cartoon riots was comparably milquetoast. The violence and threats committed over the cartoons shocked, frightened and really, really angered Americans. They want somebody to smack the Muslim world back onto its heels and set them straight: "It doesn't matter how offensive a cartoon is, you're not allowed to riot, burn down embassies and kill people over it."They're ashamed that Denmark is leading the fight over this.

Geraghty notes that Bush seems not to feel, or understand, this hostility, but predicts that other American politicians in both parties are likely to capitalize on this sentiment, whether it's good for the country (and the world) or not.

Meanwhile, some and some are asking if Islam is compatible with a free and democratic society.  My guess is "yes" -- but moderate Muslims aren't likely to stand up if the violent thugs are the ones getting all the respect, and even groveling, from Western nations.

That's something that noted, too.  It takes a backbone to preserve civilization against the threat of barbarism.  On this front, alas, Bush's backbone has been insufficient, and we're paying a price.


Europe, time to stand upThe best lack all conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity.

That's pretty much the story in Europe. Writing in the London Times, Douglas Murray :

"Would you write the name you'd like to use here, and your real name there?" asked the girl at reception. I had just been driven to a hotel in the Hague. An hour earlier I'd been greeted at Amsterdam airport by a man holding a sign with a pre-agreed cipher. I hadn't known where I would be staying, or where I would be speaking. The secrecy was necessary: I had come to Holland to talk about Islam....The event was scholarly, incisive and wide-ranging. There were no ranters or rabble-rousers, just an invited audience of academics, writers, politicians and sombre party members. As yet another example of Islam's violent confrontation with the West (this time caused by cartoons) swept across the globe, we tried to discuss Islam as openly as we could. The Dutch security service in the Hague was among those who considered the threat to us for doing this as particularly high. The security status of the event was put at just one level below "national emergency".This may seem fantastic to people in Britain. But the story of Holland — which I have been charting for some years — should be noted by her allies. Where Holland has gone, Britain and the rest of Europe are following. The silencing happens bit by bit. A student paper in Britain that ran the Danish cartoons got pulped. A London magazine withdrew the cartoons from its website after the British police informed the editor they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack. This happened only days before the police provided 500 officers to protect a "peaceful" Muslim protest in Trafalgar Square.It seems the British police — who regularly provide protection for mosques (as they did after the 7/7 bombs) — were unable to send even one policeman to protect an organ of free speech. At the notorious London protests, Islamists were allowed to incite murder and bloodshed on the streets, but a passer-by objecting to these displays was threatened with detention for making trouble.

It seems to me that the European authorities are afraid to stand up for the principles of tolerance on which their societies are, allegedly, based.

It also seems that way to Claire Berlinski, whose new book examines Europe's intellectual and moral anomie, its inability to either assimilate or deal with a swelling immigrant population, and its resentment of America.

We interviewed Berlinski for a podcast and her take was, if anything, even less positive than that presented in her book.  (You can listen or, via iTunes, .)

I hope that Europe will get its act together before it's too late, and there are a few signs of awakening.  But the last time we saw a European nation whose elites lacked the strength or conviction to stand up to rampaging mobs of ignorant thugs, it was Weimar Germany.  That turned out very badly, and I'm afraid that today's Europe -- in which many nations seem to suffer from that problem -- may well turn out badly, too.