Thursday, July 07, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/07/05)


All about oil. The Vietnam War was all about the domino theory and the need to stop communism. The reason advanced for the preemptive attack on Iraq was the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. When these proved to be nonexistent, the mission suddenly became the democratization of Iraq.

In Sidney Pollack's exciting 1975 spy film Three Days of the Condor, a group of CIA employees are murdered by a CIA hit squad for knowing too much. At the end of the movie, an angry Robert Redford (code-named "Condor") confronts an agency official and exclaims, "This whole damn thing was about oil. Wasn't it?"

Let's talk about oil. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq has diverted attention from the importance of Iraq's vast oil reserves to the economy of America, especially since the flow of oil from Venezuela and Nigeria may be threatened by local unrest. In the face of a growing, almost insatiable worldwide demand for petroleum, Iraq's reserves--the second largest in the world--are the reason the U.S. must dominate the Persian Gulf and control this valuable resource. Iraq's oil fields, located in the north and south of the country, will require the continuation of the so-called "war against terror" and the retention of American forces in Iraq for a longer period than the administration is willing to admit.

Some experts believe that what has been called "Plan B" will soon be put into effect. This calls for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq's urban areas and their concentration in heavily fortified bases located away from unruly centers of population, yet giving convenient proximity to Iraq's northern and southern oil fields and pipelines

At this moment, Halliburton's KBR subsidiary is quietly building 14 permanent U.S. installations in Iraq. "Enduring bases" is the revealing term the Army uses for them. But what is their purpose if not for a protracted stay? Under Plan B, urban security would be the responsibility of Iraqi forces. If they should not be up to the task, the U.S. would still be in control of what the war has been about all along--Iraq's oil. Readers who doubt the reality of this scenario can do me a big favor by giving my regards to the tooth fairy the next time they see her.

Build it and they will come. The suggestion that Croton economically exploit its unique water resources seems to have fallen on deaf municipal ears. Here's another idea whose time may have come: Since Croton's station parking lot has turned out to be a wise investment and a veritable cash cow, why doesn't the village explore the idea of increasing its capacity by erecting a second level and parking many more cars.

This idea will undoubtedly set off howls of protest about additional traffic. But station traffic moves easily in and out of the village now. Others will complain that such a structure will destroy "the view," a sacred yet indefinable something always invoked in such situations. Similar objections were raised in the foolish shamozzle over the Exxon canopy that ended in a futile and expensive court defeat. Anyway, there's little view to preserve now other than the view of an acre of cars. A properly designed utilitarian structure could actually improve the view.

For the birds. In the past 25 years the number of retail stores selling live poultry in New York City has grown explosively from six to 80. Westchester County now has seven such stores. One explanation for the surge is that mushrooming immigrant groups have retained their traditions of buying and killing fresh poultry. Nevertheless, urban and suburban America isn't rural Vietnam, and unregulated bird populations in cramped and unsanitary conditions could pose a public health problem by serving as a potential reservoir of the bird flu virus.

Bitter memories of last autumn's influenza vaccine crisis linger, reminding us that millions of citizens were denied protection because of the government's foolish reliance on a small number of vaccine producers. The World Health Organization (WHO) is especially concerned about the avian flu virus, H5N1, which, it warns, could become capable of killing two-thirds of the world's population in a matter of months. Right now, a WHO team is in Vietnam studying whether the H5N1 bird flu virus may be evolving into a form that could trigger a global pandemic.

Since it sprang up in southeast Asia late in 2003, the virus has killed 38 people in Vietnam, a dozen in Thailand and four in Cambodia. Humans have no natural immunity against it. In the recent past, flu outbreaks have killed as many as 40,000 in one year in the United States. They also hospitalize as many as 200,000 Americans annually at a cost to the national economy of $10 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses.

More than a half-million Americans could die and another 2.3 million could be hospitalized if a more contagious strain of avian flu mutates and reaches our shores, according to Trust for America's Health. This nonprofit health advocacy group has called on lawmakers to increase the $58 million already budgeted for stockpiling influenza vaccines and prescription medicines, such as Roche Laboratories' oral flu drug Tamiflu. The government has ordered only 5.3 million Tamiflu courses of treatment (one 75mg capsule taken twice daily for five days). According to the recommendations of the WHO, more than 70 million doses of Tamiflu would be needed to protect one-quarter of our population.

Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the heart surgeon who thoughtlessly weighed in with a neurological opinion about brain-dead Terri Schiavo based on a heavily edited video tape, recently offered an epidemiological opinion: "Unfortunately, the United States is woefully underprepared to respond in the event of a pandemic outbreak. We have a responsibility to focus much greater energy in preparing for avian influenza and similar public health threats, whether accidental or international in origin."

Congress went into its Independence Day recess July 1, and won't be back until July 11. It remains in session for 15 days and starts its summer recess on July 29, returning September 6. What's your guess that nothing will be done about avian flu?

Let's hear it for English. A wonderful quality of the English language, the finest tool for communication ever invented, is that it is ever changing, ever growing. Yet its integrity is often threatened by misuse, carelessness and loose standards. We have just reached the end of another school year, a time when the word graduate invariably gets misused as a transitive verb. Newspapers become replete with stories telling that "Ms. So-and-so graduated Vassar." This is an abomination; the only thing anyone can graduate is a thermometer. Even the addition of the word from doesn't rescue it ("She graduated from Vassar"). Need I point out that she didn't do the graduating? It was the faculty and the trustees that did it. Purists insist, and I am with them, the only proper use of the verb graduate is, "She was graduated from Vassar."


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