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Rabid bear attack in North Carolina

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I am on various email alert lists (like this one) which provide news on that state of a number of different pathogens. This one was one of the strangest I’ve seen in a while.

Rabid bear attacks in Albemarle; shot dead by victim
An attack by a rabid bear was ended by an Albemarle County farm worker’s point-blank shotgun blast, fired from the roof of a Gator utility vehicle, police said.

The bear killed Tuesday [17 Apr 2012] is the first-ever recorded case of a rabid bear in Virginia and only the second case on the East Coast that state officials are aware of, said Jaime Sajecki, bear project leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“€œIt’s almost unheard of,” she said.

Police believe the bear was drawn by the movement of two men, who were using the vehicle to move stones on a large farm northeast of Rockfish Gap, said county police Sgt. Darrell Byers.

The roughly 120-pound female bear first attacked the vehicle itself, biting one of the tires, before pursuing the men, Byers said.

One of the men climbed into the bed of the Gator, then onto its roof, taking a shotgun loaded with birdshot with him, Byers said.

The other man left the cab, but when the vehicle started to roll downhill, he leaned back into the cab to set the parking brake, according to Byers.

The bear had come into the cab and was climbing into the bed when the man atop the Gator put his shotgun to her head and pulled the trigger, Byers said.

No one was injured in the attack or directly exposed to the rabies virus, Byers said.

The bear was decapitated, and its head sent to a state lab, where it tested positive for rabies, according to police.

Officials will send the bear€’s body to Harrisonburg, where it will be incinerated at the state veterinarian’€™s office.

Sajecki added that, when possible, it’s best to shoot a suspected rabid animal somewhere other than the head, to avoid spreading contaminated tissue.

People encountering a bear should keep a respectful distance and enjoy watching it from afar, according to the department.

[Byline: Ted Strong]

Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis. It is transmitted to humans mostly through animal bites, but has been known to have been transmitted through handling infected animal carcasses and contact with bat saliva. If not given prophylaxis immediately, it is almost always fatal. Rabid bear attacks are extremely rare.

Pictures of US Soldiers with Corpses

Recently, a scandal has erupted over pictures of US Soldiers posing proudly with the corpses of dead Afghan fighters. I am reminded of a flight I took last year from DC to Detroit. I sat next to a man from a town close to mine who was returning from Iraq. He indicated that he had been working in a training position for the military in Savannah for the past few months, but was now 100% DAV. He was returning to his wife and an unsure future, though he gets reasonable benefits and full health care.

I have met a lot of these guys and some have even been my students. They are usually pretty sharp, follow instructions to the letter, work incredibly hard and will help out other students when needed. I can usually tell that something is wrong though, particularly if they don’t show up for a couple of weeks.

I was interested in getting his opinions on a small spatial project I had done on conflict events in Iraq and showed him of the maps I had made. He was only moderately interested but answered my questions as to what was where in Baghdad and why some areas are harder hit than others.

In return, he showed me some of his pictures.

The man was personable, but guarded, though he happily showed me pictures of him and his buddies posing with the bodies of Iraqi insurgents. He even laughed at a few of them and remarked that there were good times to be had in Iraq. After a few minutes, he must have realized the public nature of an airplane and quickly closed them up. It was interesting to me that he would carry them around with him in a marked folder.

I can’t claim to understand what happens in war. I have seen what war does to its participants, both soldiers and civilians. I do fault the better judgement of people that pose with bodies, though am interested in a culture of violence that would allow humans to revel in it.

I am drawn (again) to Amartya Sen’s work on the nature of violence and its relationship to identity, a concept I often think about. He posits that violence is only possible when the objects of attack are reduced to compartmentalized categories that remove all others. These photos, which are strikingly similar to that of the widely popular lynching photos in the United States, are no exception. American soldiers gleefully posing with corpses view them not as someone’s son, friend, father or neighbor, reducing them only to one single facet of their true identities. Sen would argue that the true crime is not the violent act itself, but the violence of stripping away the individual identity of the recipient of violence.

Photos of soldiers posing with bodies, though, is at least as old as the camera itself:

“This is What Democracy Looks Like”

WTO Protest, Seattle, 1999

Right now, I’m thinking of the heavy handed response of municipal bodies to the present OWS protests and having a bit of nostalgia. Not of the good kind, however, but of the vast United States’ history of violently stifling public dissent when it gets too big to handle.

Granted, places like Oakland and NYC have very specific challenges to meet such as the protection of public safety and the insurance of public hygiene. I am positive that there are some very well-intentioned people in the Oakland and NY City Governments.

State violence to silence dissent, however, is a patent violation of what America is said to be. These basic principles of the protection of political speech, freedom of assembly, the protection of basic human rights and bans against state monopolies on violence are what made the United States a progressive nation in 1776.

Unfortunately, this has never stopped federal, state and local governments from violently quashing public movements to attain such frivolities and equal education for minorities, fair wages and the right to unionize, freedom from environmental degradation and threats to human health, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of immigrants to be free of exploitation, world freedom from the economic hegemony of the US through the WTO, and, most recently, domestic freedom from a self-interested economic system that rewards Wall Street elites at the expense of everyone else.

Last night, I watched “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” a collection of footage from the 1999 WTO Protests in Seatlle, which turned into something about more than just the WTO. I would recommend that city officials (and everyone else) watch this film, particularly those who malign the Occupy movements. Though the fallout from this massive event was short lived and largely forgotten, it’s clear that the entire scenario is being repeated all over the United States in 2011.

Remembering 9/11

I was in New York City on September 10th, 2011. We had played a show in Williamsburg that evening, had ended late and considered staying in Brooklyn that evening. I had to work the next day, so I decided to make the two hour drive, sleep for 20 minutes and then go to work in the morning. When I got there (late, I slept more than 20 minutes), the office was in a panic and in my hazy, sleep deprived state, I could only make out the words “attack.” I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to read the morning news. I then figured out finally what had happened.

9/11 was an awful event, many people died, families were broken, New York City was in chaos, and the overall health of the American economy, which had been so strong previously, took a turn for the worse, in part leading to the terrible financial crash of 2007. Worse yet, 9/11 would usher in one of the worst political eras of American history, strengthening a cabal of right wing lunatics who lead us into two wars, curtailed civil liberties and turned America and sent American politics so far to the right, that we may never return even to the center. It was said that Osama bin Laden stated that one of his goals was to send the United States into a cultural and economic freefall and to militarily engage the US in the middle east. In that, the 9/11 attacks were incredibly successful.

The events of 9/11 were not surprising. The bombing of the USS Cole while docked at a port in Yemen occurred not even a year previous. 1998 saw the attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. More salient, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of 9/11, had personally funded an unsuccessful attempt at toppling the World Trade Center in 1993. These events, however, were quickly forgotten shortly after they occurred, the American attention span short, particularly when the body count is small.

Today the news is covered with impassioned and heartfelt stories of victims and their families, no doubt the echoes of 9/11 nearly 10 years after ring as loud as ever for them. The stories, however, of Americans who believe that 9/11 was an incredible “tragedy” (a gross misuse of the word, though I shan’t expect that CNN read Shakespeare) make me feel saddened for the living, certainly, though a little perspective is in order.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on September 11. More than 120,000 people have died in Iraq since 2003, due to conflict related events. Due to its non-existent data recording infrastructure, the number of civilian dead in Afghanistan will never be known but it must be well over 100,000. Memorials of 9.11 today, conspicuously leave out the incredible human losses that the world has experienced since the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. At this moment, the names of the domstic victims of 9/11 are being read publicly, one by one. To read the names of the other victims of 9/11 all around the world would take nearly a week.

To leave these people out of discussions of 9/11 is to assume that domestic lives are more important and valuable than the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and elderly around the world whose only crime was to be born in a country which housed the enemies of the United States, or, in the case of Iraq, housed one enemy of the United States. 9/11 was not an attack on the United States. It was an attack on humanity. It was a continuation of a history of political bloodshed that takes it’s victims from those who are merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The difference, unfortunately, was that it occurred here.

The American Empire

Number of US Military Deployed Around the World, by Country

On this Fourth of July, while everyone celebrates the past struggle for independence from Britain, let us not forget the extent of US influence in the world. The United States posts military in just about every country of geographic consequence in the world, effectively creating an military and economic Empire of proportions never seen in human history.

It would be unconscionable to the US government to allow China to build a military base in British Columbia or Mexico, let alone in Southern California, yet our largest deployments of military might sandwich China between Japan/Korea and Afghanistan. In fact, besides the smallest of states, there are very few countries where we haven’t yet set up shop, which of course include North Korea and Iran**.

Americans love to talk of freedom, but largely (in my opinion) have little clue as to what the word means. Yet, while we proclaim to cherish the often ambiguous concept of “freedom” for ourselves, we deny it to much of the rest of the world by posting weaponry wherever we see fit. Politically, guns in the backyard of a sovereign state castrates that state on the world stage, not to mention creating an environment of dependence on the US to assist in time of military need. The US attitude toward the rest of the world is akin to a mafia led extortion racket, of which Tony Soprano would be proud.

Clearly, though, my opinions on military deployments are not so simplistic, but I felt this an appropriate post for a day which, ironically, celebrates independence from a colonial master. It is a deep and complex issue and I am certainly not going to suggest otherwise. One can argue that some deployments are necessary and do, in fact, contribute to the greater good. However, we, as Americans, must remain aware of the great potential for harm in spreading our influence around the world and continue to question the motivations and aims of the powers that be.

** The data I used to create the map on the left was from 2010, before our incursion into Libya.

Hideo Asano

I’m completely behind on writing and tending to this blog, but I’ll take five minutes today to talk about Hideo Asano, a Korean-Japanese English language writer living in Shin-Imamiya, Osaka, Japan. I was sitting in Nara beside a pond, when a homeless looking man drinking a beer approached me speaking flawless English, though in an accent atypical of Japanese speakers. People like this are not uncommon in Japan. I have been approached more than a few times by English speaking Japanese men who either travelled the world in their youth, or Okinawans who took advantage of migrant farm work when Okinawa was a protectorate of the United States. Asano is the former.

He immediately started asking me about literature, a subject on which I am woefully deficient, asking me what my favorite Hemingway book was. I told him that I had only read one, “The Old Man and the Sea” but it had been more than 30 years since I’d read it. Unfortunately, I was unable to provide him with the conversation he sought, though searching through my mental files, I realized that I have read four Hemingway books in my lifetime, but none in the past decade. From what I remember, I am not a fan of Hemingway, a fact irrelevant to this post.

I had to leave when Mr. Asano started a racist rant on international marriages, though I bought one of his small photocopied books of poems. Our meeting however, prompted me to do some searching. It turns out that Mr. Asano is Korean, possibly explaining his views on Japanese-Gaijin pairings. He writes exclusively in English, having studied at the College of the Desert in Southern California. He has written several novels and multitudes of short stories and poems, in English, French and Japanese. Most notable is a book on the Mujahideen of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion that I have yet to read.

Asano is living the true writer’s life, travelling from place to place in Japan with no real home and apparently hitting foreigners up for conversation and book sales. I did some searching through Japanese sites, and could find no mention of the man. He is completely unknown in his own country.

To be honest, he pissed me off. I have little tolerance for racist speech in any country. Other foreigners inexplicably apologize for racist attitudes within Japan, but I cannot. I hesitate to call Mr. Asano a flat out racist, but I do regret not giving him a little more of my time. He has much more to offer than initially meets the eye and I regret falling victim to my own prejudices and not finding out more about this facinating individual and his work. To that end, I recommend that you visit his website, and check out his work in Afghanistan.

Nishinari Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Last week the first annual meeting of the Nishinari Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene convened in Nishinari Ward, Osaka, Japan. In addition to attempting to unveil the mysteries of malaria transmission and working to solve matters of world peace and security, the members of the Nishinari Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene engaged in a proactive campaign to enact important public health policies regarding the consumption of delicious fried foods and karaoke.






My Graduate Work: In Wordle

Sitting here in a conference that I only marginally understand, I created this Wordle of my graduate research. It pretty much sums it all up.

Movie of the Week: “Afghan Star” (2009)

Afghanistan is well known to be one of the worst places to live on the planets. Decades of war, disastrous and corrupt governments, religious fundamentalism and a non-existent economy have turned what is probably one of the most amazing areas in the world into a quagmire of poverty, ill health, conflict and violence. One can say much about the American occupation of Afghanistan, but it is hard to believe that anything like the popular television program “Afghan Star” would have been possible under the miserable Taliban regime.

Under the Taliban, television, music and dancing were absolutely forbidden. Afghanis, of course, found ways around these restrictions, clandestinely keeping televisions and radios in their homes and patronizing secret repair shops to keep secular information from the outside flowing in. “Afghan Star” is the Taliban’s worst nightmare come true. Much like the model presented by the popular American talent show “American Idol”, regular Afghanis of all ethnic extractions line up at massive auditions. Panels of popular judges choose the best among them to allow them to display their talents for the entire country to see. Week after week, Afghan citizens vote using their cell phones, and the list of performers is pared down until the final “Afghan Star” is selected.

The movie “Afghan Star” follows a season of the television show and the five final performers as they prepare and compete for the title. Through wins and losses, each of the competitors is interviewed and clearly understands that this is more than a cheap television program. “Afghan Star” is Afghanistan’s bid at true democracy, each voter campaigning for their favorite performer. One particularly excited viewer hocks his car to purchase SIM cards to allow people to vote. Fans print posters using their own money to drum up support. Despite vast ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, competition is peaceful and all in the interest of pride and having a good time in a country devastated by years of war and tribal fighting.

“Afghan Star” is not without it’s negatives, however. One competitor dances a laughably unsexy trot during her performance and allows her hair to be exposed. It’s so incredibly innocuous to an American, that it’s mindboggling when the other contestants imply that she has committed some grave crime deserving of beating or death. Subsequently, she is evicted from her apartment in Kabul, receives death threats from all around the country and is rumored to be dead in her home town. In a world of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, it’s hard to remember that there are places where the mere act of dancing could get one killed.

It is obvious that despite Taliban efforts to quash human expression, dancing and music are incredibly important to typical Afghanis. It’s only the hardened elderly and unemployed male youth that seem to worry about the self-expression of women and backward religious ideals. If “Afghan Star” and any number of other documentaries about life in Afghanistan is any indication, most Afghanis are like any other people on Earth.

There are very few negatives that I can say about a fantastic work like “Afghan Star.” It is an inspiring document of a country desperate to regain its identity and its place in a world and a testament to the power of technology to foster freedom of expression and cooperation. Like a multitude of other documentaries on Afghanistan, “Afghan Star” uncovers the deep complexities of one of the most troubled, but fascinating regions of the planet.

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