Archive | May 8, 2014

I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Dave Brooks

Dave Brooks’ articles for the NYT are really bad. I mean, head scratchingly bad. I’m convinced that the NYT hired Brooks as a token conservative, or, at least, as a pseudo-conservative who appeals to a a select group of wishy washy liberal-ish readers of the NYT.

Today, Brooks writes on the “The Real Africa.”

There’s been something similarly distorted to some of the social media reactions to the Boko Haram atrocities over the past week. It’s great that the kidnappings and the massacres are finally arousing the world’s indignation. But sometimes the implication of the conversation has been this: Africa is this dark and lawless place where monstrous things are bound to happen. Those poor people need our help.

But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria. It is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story. The main story in Africa is an impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization, which has sparked panic in a few people who don’t like these things.

While I think that Brooks, like many writers, overestimates “Africa rising,” he’s not incorrect here. In general, Africa only makes the news when something really bad or horrific happens. The stories of regular people just trying to get by against unimaginable economic and political odds are never interesting enough for American readers to start generating sexy hashtags.

I’m convinced that people, even academics, believe that people in Africa are like the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon rainforest. I believe it’s enraging for people to hear that Africans are just like everyone else. They’d rather see dying children or sexy pastoralists in their native habitat than people buying and thoroughly enjoying Game of Thrones or Desperate Housewives on bootleg DVDs.

I’m remembering the time when a friend once chastised me when I wrote of Botswana’s fiscal and political successes which brought quickly to middle income status and insured solvency for decades to come. He criticized me for not addressing the plight of the San people, a group of pastoralists in Botswana whose numbers are fewer than the population of tiny Adrian, Michigan. While insuring the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide is of the utmost importance, it was interesting to me, that the rights and welfare of the other nearly two million Botswanans didn’t enter into the conversation at all.

It would seem that liberals are more concerned with maintaining an nostalgic past, imagined by Europeans and educated Americans, than addressing the current concerns of the vast majority of Africans.

The uproar over polio: Is it deserved?

Technically, we can eradicate polio, but a number of reported outbreaks around the world have called the possibility into question.

From a CNN article, which pretty much says anything I could say about the current situation:

The spread of polio constitutes an international public health emergency, the World Health Organization declared Monday.

“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” the WHO said in a statement.

At the end of 2013, 60% of polio cases resulted from the international spread of the virus, and “there was increasing evidence that adult travelers contributed to the spread,” according to the statement.

Warfare in Syria is compromising vaccination efforts and human movement, presumably by refugees, are spreading the disease to countries like Iraq and Cameroon. It’s obvious that the failure to eradicate polio is a political problem.

I’ve been asked about polio several times over the past four weeks. People appear to be somewhat panicked about the situation.

Every time, I have responded in the same manner. While the eradication of polio would provide a great publicity boost for public health groups, polio does not present a major threat to global human health. While a small percentage of children infected with polio will go on to develop debilitating paralysis, the disease rarely kills its host. Polio is hardly one of “the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.” I can think of many others which are far more serious.

To complicate matters, the social and medical infrastructure to support people afflicted by the disease is quite well developed in Sub-Saharan African countries. It is common to see polio paralytics in African cities living relatively comfortable lives, despite the severity of their conditions.

I do not share the same level of panic surrounding the failure to eradicate polio. Malaria and diarrheal diseases kill far more children, cause far more human suffering and wreak far more damage to social and economic development in developing countries than polio ever did or ever will. To me, those two are “international health emergencies.”

Vaccines against polio exist and are quite effective at controlling disease worldwide at a relatively low price. While the argument can be made that the eradication of polio would allow that money to be used for other purposes within cash strapped health budgets, the futile push to eradicate polio is likely sapping health money from more immediate health concerns.

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