The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Bird flu in China two years before reports

New Scientist is reporting this hour that a man died in Beijing of H5N1 bird flu fully two years before China admitted any human cases:

The case suggests that, as has long been suspected, many more people have caught H5N1 flu in China than have been reported, and for a longer time. The more human cases there are, the more chances the virus has to evolve into a human pandemic strain of flu.
"It's a very important issue that needs to be clarified urgently," Roy Wadia, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said on Thursday in Beijing. "It raises questions as to how many other cases may not have been found at the time or may have been found retrospectively in testing."

Remember what I wrote about an hour ago that governments suppressing the press is bad for democracy? Well, I forgot to mention that it's bad for our health as well.

Stifling the media is the first step

More on this later, but just keep in mind that oppressive regimes always attack the press before attacking the people. Keeping a free and open press is an absolute requirement of democracy.

On that theme, three stories:

As I describe these things, I can't help but to compare what the Republican officials are doing in this country to what another party's officials have done throughout the last century in places like China and the U.S.S.R. I can't understand why this doesn't bother them more. After all, our party has the reputation for collectivism; they've always argued for "small government." Paraphrasing Ralph Kiner: "If Eisenhower were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."

President's approval at 72%

I refer here to President Roosevelt's approval rating after the Battle of the Bulge. Josh Marshall's people found a beautiful document prepared in the 1940s; Marshall himself explains why this is not simply a poke-in-the-eye for Fox News—er, Press Secretary Tony Snow:

There's a serious underlying point here about the administration's basic frivolousness in its conduct of the war.
No one thinks you can fight a war or conduct any project of great consequence by following minor oscillations in polls. But long term and imbedded trends in public opinion mean something. In this case, the public can see President Bush doesn't know what he's doing.
Having his flacks go out and compare him to great wartime leaders of the past and insult the American people in the process doesn't change that.

Safavian guilty

Jack Abramoff's right-hand man, David Safavian, was convicted today of lying and obstructing justice:

Safavian was charged with lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring properties from [General Services Administration], the property managing agency for the federal government. He was also charged with obstructing investigators looking into a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002.

TPM Muckraker has a thorough dossier on this clown.

Class war politics

Krugman (sub.req.) hits it on the nose today:

[I]f the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless.
Thus in 2004, President Bush basically ran as America's defender against gay married terrorists. He waited until after the election to reveal that what he really wanted to do was privatize Social Security.

One size doesn't fit all in airline security

Salon's "Ask the Pilot" last week argued that the U.S. should not look at El Al as the best example (for us) of how to run airline security:

Why can't we, or why don't we, have a system like theirs?
Unfortunately, that's a bit like asking why America's streets can't be as clean as Singapore's. Mostly it's a case of scale. The United States has dozens of mega-terminals, and hundreds more of varying sizes; the nation's top 25 airports each process more than 20 million people a year. Tel Aviv is Israel's sole major airport, handling 9 million passengers annually—about the same as Raleigh-Durham, N.C. The ability to focus on this single, consolidated portal makes the job comparatively simple. There are aspects worth borrowing, for sure, but it's naive to think Israeli protocols can, in whole, be fitted to a nation that is 50 times more populous, and immeasurably more diverse and decentralized.

The most painful cut of all

I'm not sure what to make of an MSNBC report about a circumcision trial, except tasteless jokes:

Groups opposed to circumcision are watching the case of an 8-year-old suburban Chicago boy whose divorced parents are fighting in court over whether he should have the procedure.
The child’s mother wants him circumcised to prevent recurring, painful inflammation she says he’s experienced during the past year. But the father says the boy is healthy and circumcision, which removes the foreskin of the penis, is an unnecessary medical procedure that could cause him long-term physical and psychological harm.
The couple’s 2003 divorce decree gave the father the right to offer input on medical decisions.

So, for the moment, this is a parental-rights issue, whose specific subject is what Alfred Hitchcock would characterize as the MacGuffin. But then one gets to this line:

David Llewellyn, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in circumcision cases, is helping the father’s attorneys without a fee.

He—excuse me—specializes in circumcision cases? This is a legal specialty? I must have missed that class at Loyola, no doubt because it's a Jesuit school. Perhaps if I'd gone to Yeshiva, I'd have taken that course. Actually, if I'd gone to yeshiva, I would definitely have taken that course, come to think of it.

Anyway, I suppose to most people circumcision is no laughing matter, but I'm (technically) Jewish, which I think gives me license. You can stop reading now if you get squeamish, because here come my two favorite jokes on the topic:

  1. I decided not to practice Judaism when I was very young. The first mitzvah was fine, but the second one...
  2. Why are we Jews so frugal? Because we're 10% off at birth.

I think now I'll quit while I'm behind.

Net neutrality in the Senate

Yesterday I sent Illinois Senator Dick Durbin an email asking him to support S.2917, the "net neutrality" act currently working its way through the Senate. His office responded quickly, but I have no idea from reading it what his position is. Can anyone help?

Thank you for contacting me about network neutrality. I appreciate having your thoughts on this issue.
Net neutrality is a principle holding that Internet access providers should not be permitted to engage in favoritism when configuring their networks and delivering Internet content. Such favoritism could occur if a provider transmitted its own offerings at faster speeds than those of its competitors or if a provider charged digital content and application companies a fee for equally fast delivery.
This issue has gained attention recently as several telecommunications company executives have made statements raising concerns that delivery may be impaired for content providers unwilling to pay additional fees for fast transmission. Many of these executives later clarified that they have no intention of degrading or blocking other traffic, particularly if it might prompt customers to switch to other providers, but merely wish to offer video delivery to their own customer base at a premium service level unavailable to non-paying competitors. Some in the industry have favorably compared additional network performance tiers to airlines selling coach and business class tickets or package delivery companies offering ground and air service. Other observers have expressed concern about the impact of such steps on consumers.
Legislation on network neutrality has been offered, building on an earlier, non-binding set of network neutrality principles adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late 2005. Most prominent among these bills is the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2005, S. 2360, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. This bill would prohibit network operators from generally impairing, or discriminating between, any network traffic, in terms of bandwidth allocation, accessibility, or pricing. It also would require access providers to permit consumers to connect devices to the provider's network, as long as such actions do not harm the provider's network, while still permitting providers to take defensive measures against network threats. Consumers would be able to bring complaints to the FCC for action and request that a federal court review FCC decisions.
Opponents of network neutrality argue that a regime prohibiting "bit discrimination" would deny network operators the opportunity to differentiate their services from other providers, thereby stifling the incentive to create innovative content for their customers. They also argue that network operators may face greater difficulties in raising the funding necessary for planned infrastructure upgrades if the improved network speeds would benefit their competitors as much as themselves.
Proponents of network neutrality -- including major Internet content providers, hardware and software companies, and consumer groups -- point to the money that operators already receive from end user and content provider access fees, the technological innovation that network neutrality may encourage, and the lack of high-speed Internet access marketplace competition that leaves much of the country with little opportunity to switch providers if their current provider were to engage in bit discrimination against the services or applications preferred by consumers.
S. 2360 has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. I will keep your thoughts in mind in case this legislation reaches the Senate floor.
Thank you again for your message. Please keep in touch.
Sincerely,
Richard J. Durbin

I think he may be for it...I certainly hope so. Note that our junior senator, Barack Obama, is a co-sponsor of the bill, and he and Durbin are in the same party.

Why is Durbin being so cagey?