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Back to Kenya

I arrived in Kenya last night after a grueling flight. It turns out that I flew so much last year, that I’ve seen just about all the movies I would have ever wanted to see on the Delta on demand system. It was pretty slim pickings.

The flight, of course, was filled with kids on their way to spreading the gospel of white people to helpless Africans. I’m never sure what these people really do.

Today, we have to drive out to Lake Victoria. I was really apprehensive about coming to Kenya right now, but now that I’m here, I’m happy that I came.

Is a balmy 90 degrees, so I can’t complain about really much of anything.


Defense Spending and the Economy: Is there a link?

DefenseGDPEventsToday I encountered a discussion, where the participants emphatically maintained that the current US economic woes are to be blamed in part on increased US defense spending during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I countered and claimed that they have no relation at all. Of course, these people hate me now (thinking I was merely being difficult for the same of being difficult), but that’s ok. I’m used to it.

To test this hypothesis, I took data on US GDP (adjusted to constant 2005 dollars) and combined them with data on US defense spending (adjusted to constant 2010 dollars). The results can be seen to the left. The red line is defense spending. The blue line is GDP.

As I maintained, there is no obvious relationship between defense spending and economic growth. There are a couple of major blips in GDP growth, namely the collapsing of tech equities in the early 2000’s and the economic meltdown on 2007/8. There are no events in US GDP for drops during Clinton nor sudden increases in defense spending following 9/11.

In fact, as defense spending dropped pre-9/11, you can see the US economy was plugging along just fine. As defense spending went up post 9/11, the US economy maintained the same trajectory, minus the economic bumps.

DefenseUnemploymentEventsCertainly, GDP is not the only economic marker we could use. I did the same thing with the unemployment rate.

Now, at first glance, this is a little more convincing. But when you take the events into consideration, it is less so. The two major economic events of the 2000’s, namely the equity bust, and the financial meltdown both resulted in sudden jumps in the unemployment rate. 9/11 and the troop surge did not. In fact, as spending was doing up, unemployment was going down. If we look back into the nineties, we can notice that even though defense spending was declining, unemployment was up, then down again. In short, given the context, there is no real reason to assume that two related.

I am NOT an advocate for war. I am though, an advocate for evidence backed claims. There is little evidence to suggest that increased defense expenditures during the Bush years affected our economy.

We can claim, if we like, that federal revenues might have been greater had the wars not happened. These revenues, it is argued, could have been allocated to education or infrastructure improvements, for example. However, it has to be noted that the wars weren’t funded out of federal revenues. They were funded out of low interest bonds. Thus, as those bonds had not been serviced at the time that this data was collected, there is, again, even less reason to assume that the wars negatively impacted the economy.

Now, we can certainly make arguments over how much defense spending is too much and what the potential long term effects of servicing the war debt will be. I argue, though, that our elected representatives are much more interested in financing the military than, say, welfare programs for the needy. It would take a great leap of faith to assume that, if the military were closed tomorrow, monies targeted for defense would automatically be transferred to providing health care to poor people. I also argue that, long term, the expenditures that came out of the financial crisis will be, in comparison, more difficult to service.

The war cost us politically, but was a bargain economically. To me, that’s a much more frightening state of affairs.

ASTMH Meetings

I’ve been out of town at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) and unable to post. Here’s a poster I just presented. At the very least I’ll be able to move Justin Zatkoff off the front page.

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.

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