Thursday, July 14, 2005

Warning Signs

A new strain of Bird Flu appears to affect the brain. Of certain people.

IMPENDING EPIDEMIC. Grave warning signs of a potentially virulent U.S. epidemic appeared yesterday in the online news service Alternet. Columnist Molly Ivins published the following, apparently in response to a lambasting she had received at the hands of Michelle Malkin and other conservatives:

CROW EATEN HERE: This is a horror. In a column written June 28, I asserted that more Iraqis (civilians) had now been killed in this war than had been killed by Saddam Hussein over his 24-year rule. WRONG. Really, really wrong.

The only problem is figuring out by how large a factor I was wrong. I had been keeping an eye on civilian deaths in Iraq for a couple of months, waiting for the most conservative estimates to creep over 20,000, which I had fixed in my mind as the number of Iraqi civilians Saddam had killed.

The high-end estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in this war is 100,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University study published in the British medical journal The Lancet last October, but I was sticking to the low-end, most conservative estimates because I didn't want to be accused of exaggeration.

Ha! I could hardly have been more wrong, no matter how you count Saddam's killing of civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, Hussein killed several hundred thousand of his fellow citizens. The massacre of the Kurdish Barzani tribe in 1983 killed at least 8,000; the infamous gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja killed 5,000 in 1988; and seized documents from Iraqi security organizations show 182,000 were murdered during the Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, also in 1988.

In 1991, following the first Gulf War, both the Kurds and the Shiites rebelled. The allied forces did not intervene, and Saddam brutally suppressed both uprisings and drained the southern marshes that had been home to a local population for more than 5,000 years.

Saddam's regime left 271 mass graves, with more still being discovered. That figure alone was the source for my original mistaken estimate of 20,000. Saddam's widespread use of systematic torture, including rape, has been verified by the U.N. Committee on Human Rights and other human rights groups over the years.

There are wildly varying estimates of the number of civilians, especially babies and young children, who died as a result of the sanctions that followed the Gulf War. While it is true that the ill-advised sanctions were put in place by the United Nations, I do not see that that lessens Hussein's moral culpability, whatever blame attaches to the sanctions themselves -- particularly since Saddam promptly corrupted the Oil for Food Program put in place to mitigate the effects of the sanctions, and used the proceeds to build more palaces, etc.

There have been estimates as high as 1 million civilians killed by Saddam, though most agree on the 300,000 to 400,000 range, making my comparison to 20,000 civilian dead in this war pathetically wrong.

I was certainly under no illusions regarding Saddam Hussein, whom I have opposed through human rights work for decades. My sincere apologies. It is unforgivable of me not have checked. I am so sorry.

There's reason to believe Ms. Ivins erred again in using the word 'crow'; 'jay' might have been the better choice. Why? In the wake of her apology, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta issued a statement requesting the columnist to contact her physician and the CDC immediately. While no elaboration was offered at the time, subsequent contacts with the CDC have uncovered an alarming possibility -- that the long feared mechanism by which avian flu might "jump" to human victims has been established.

Dr. Aldous Pennywhistle of the CDC, who asked to remain anonymous, explained the details to XOFF News science correspondent Ernest Einstein:

In order for such a jump to occur, there must be chemical compatibilities at the cellular level. This particular strain of Avian Flu infects the brain, and most human brains have no commonalities with the avian brain. Or so we thought. Unfortunately, it now appears that a considerable population of human beings -- especially those of extremely advanced moral intelligence and conviction -- share certain biochemical properties with the common blue jay. We are very concerned that such humans can indeed be infected by airborne particles from infected blue jays. The disease begins in the base of the brain and spreads, causing the normally screechy and bullying jay to become docile, submissive and, in avian terms, almost polite. These are the signs we must be on the alert for in the vulnerable demographic of the human population.

At our behest, Dr. Pennywhistle compiled a list of "20 Warning Signs" which, if observed in the subject demographic, would constitute proof that Avian 'B' had "jumped" to the human population. This is important because however few or expendable the initial victims are, they can easily transmit the disease to other humans, even those who do not possess avian brain chemistry. And since Avian Flu has been fatal in 50 percent of recorded human cases, we should all be watchful. Here, therefore, is Dr. Pennywhistle's list of symptomatic behaviors.

1. Columnist and social butterfly Tina Brown calls a press conference to confess that she is a parasitic self-important snob who should never have been allowed within a hundred miles of the once august and now despicable New Yorker. She announces that she is moving to a suburb of Iowa City, Iowa, to learn about the "other America" she has scorned for so long. While there, she will not join the country club or found a chapter of the Junior League.

2. Washington Post columnist Maureen Dowd launches a series of columns in which she enumerates all the half-truths, cheap shots, dishonestly edited quotations, and specious reasoning she has inserted into her political commentary since joining the Post. She discloses that she is banning herself permanently from the field of journalism and will pursue a career as a New York City meter maid instead.

3. New York Times economist Paul Krugman appears on the O'Reilly Factor to announce his resignation from the Times and from his chair at Princeton University. "I am a disgrace to my profession," Krugman tells O'Reilly. "I have distorted statistics, twisted the most fundamental economic principles into their opposites, and engaged in a species of invective that has no place in the intellectual sphere of which I am supposed to be a leading light. I have done all this in order to further an extremist political agenda that is emotional to its core and has no connection whatever with the field of expertise I pretend to represent."

4. Bill O'Reilly responds to Krugman by acknowedging, "I, too, have been a pompous, overbearing ass, exploiting every possible political and cultural issue for my own aggrandizement. It's time I stopped writing bad books and peddling them between every interview segment of my obnoxious show." After this, O'Reilly and Krugman announce they are going to be married at Andrew Sullivan's house Saturday and will start an antique shop together in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

5. MSNBC wag Chris Matthews announces at the beginning of his TV show Hardball, "I have been thinking about what I said. All of it. And I find that in all the millions of boorish, blatantly partisan and intellectually dishonest monologues I have spewed from this chair, not a single word was worth uttering. From this moment on, I am taking a vow of silence." Afterwards, MSNBC's Microsoft email system receives so many congratulatory messages that the nationwide Microsoft mail network crashes forever.

6. Matthews's MSNBC colleague Ron Reagan steals silently away into the night, never to be heard from again.

7. Liberal bloggers Kos, Atrios, and their minions at Democratic Underground issue one-paragraph apologies for everything they have ever posted on their sites and then shut them down permanently. Fellow blogger Joshua Micah Marshall begins a detailed apology for his own blog and posts photographs of himself looking contrite, sorrowful, ashamed, sad, humble... the apology and the photo album are expected to be complete sometime in the year 2037.

8. Former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe holds a press conference to apologize for wasting everybody's time with silly, overblown, and needlessly vituperative charges all these years. He announces that due to a sudden attack of conscience about his unearned $14 million WorldCom windfall, he has decided to join convicted WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers in prison and will serve out the entire 25-year sentence with him. "It's about time I walked all my fancy talk about corporate criminals," McAuliffe says before donning an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs for his ride to the penitentiary.

9. Current DNC Chair Howard Dean issues a comprehensive new strategy for the Democratic Party. In part, the document says, "It is time for all Democrats to start finding the same kinds of excuses for our own country's actions that we have always found so conveniently for the despots, killers, fanatics, and enemies of freedom in the rest of the world. Maybe we can't love our own country today or tomorrow, but if we take it one day at a time, we may yet recover our sanity and learn again to see the enormous benefits the United States has continuously given to its own citizens and hundreds of nations around the world. It may seem an impossible task for arrogant, narrow-minded twits like ourselves, but we must have faith. Faith is the key." Dean is then summarily fired by the Democratic National Committee.

10. Senator Robert Byrd resigns from the U.S. Senate in a tersely worded letter to Vice President Dick Cheney. The text reads, "I am resigning my senate seat, effective immediately, without any of my usual ludicrous rhetoric. I was once a member of the K.K.K. I am a blot on the history of my illustrious family name. There is no place in the senate for me or anyone like me. I apologize to you, to the President, and to all the Presidents and politicians I have pretended to be superior to. Farewell."

11. Dan Rather ignores the teleprompter script on a 60 Minutes segment to tell the folks, "I want to clear something up. I lied about the Bush National Guard story. I was too blinded by hatred of the President to recognize at the time that the documents were forged. But I do know now that they were forged. I'm going home now. Cour--, uh, forget that. I'm going home now."

12. Pinch Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, inexplicably terminates publication of the paper. Hounded by reporters for an explanation, he responds, "Oh shut up. You make me as sick as this pitiful excuse for a newspaper. My daddy would understand."

13. In the midst of his regularly scheduled screed on Air America, Al Franken suddenly lapses into his SNL Stuart Smalley character and insists that the most important thing about American political life is forgiveness. Soon he is on his knees blubbering and begging for forgiveness from everyone he has ever defamed. The behavior is infectious and he is soon joined by Janeane Garofalo and Randi Rhodes in an orgy of lachrymose plaints for absolution. From around the world, other leftwing celebrities jet in to participate in a global event that will come to be known as LiveAche. Subsequently a 4-CD set is published featuring tearful apologies from the likes of Madonna, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Barbra Streisand and her dim bulb husband, Linda Ronstadt, and Rosie O'Donnell. The CDs outsell the entire opus of the Beatles, and the proceeds are donated to the Michael Moore Emergency Healthcare Fund.

14. Michael Moore is hospitalized after consuming 300 pounds of birdseed in a single sitting. Doctors manage to save his life, but he refuses to leave his bed and subsists thereafter on a diet of sunflower seeds and suet.

15. Columnist Julianne Malvaux apologizes for calling America a "terrorist nation." She tells her readers, "I can't explain why I said it. I've thought and thought about it, and the only conclusion I can reach is that I said it because I'm stupid, selfish, bigoted, ungrateful, and obnoxious. I hope I'm wrong about that, what with being so stupid and all, but I'm afraid I must be right. Which, to look on the bright side, would be a personal first."

16. Former Vice President Al Gore publishes an autobiographical book titled, "Thank God I Lost the Election," describing in meticulous detail the disastrous policies of appeasement and economic strangulation he would have pursued had his attempt to steal the 2000 presidential election succeeded. In the final chapter he congratulates the voters for having had the wit to see through his charmless personality to its empty core and issues apologies for his recent oratorical excesses, including calling President Bush a "betrayer." He declines the opportunity to go on a tour promoting the book and instead moves back to Tennessee, where he opens a dollar store.

17. Defeated presidential hopeful John Kerry suddenly gives the Boston Globe permission to publish all the details of his military career. In a phone interview with Rush Limbaugh, he apologizes to the Vietnam veterans who were offended by his antiwar activities and to George W. Bush for a host of insults. Specifically, he acknowledges that it was inexcusable for a licensed pilot like himself to pretend that there's anything cowardly about flying fighter jets, that it was duplicitous in the extreme to pretend that he was somehow smarter than Bush when they got about the same grades at Yale, and that it was wrong to run for president in the first place if you had absolutely no ideas what to do if you won.

18. Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Diane Feinstein leave the Congress without explanation to set up a homeless shelter in San Francisco.

19. Hillary Clinton resigns from the senate, divorces her husband, and sets up a home for unwed mothers in Arkansas.

20. Senator Edward Kennedy is found wandering on the riverbank at Chappaquiddick, incoherently imploring some unidentified young woman to forgive him. He is eventually led away and put into a very nice facility that deals with that sort of thing.

Now: if any of you observe or read about any of these behaviors, please contact the CDC at once. All our lives might hang in the balance. And: if any of you know of other warning signs not listed by Dr. Pennywhistle, please forward them at once to our Comments section.

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