Category Archives: disaster

Americans are vampires: Ebola edition

I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment.  CNN describes the situation:

Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

1.   Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa.  More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying.  None of these people got a last-minute salvation.

2.  Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola.  It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about.  The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.

3.  I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

4.  The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation.  Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment.   So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment?  CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:

As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

5.  You might call these Americans vampires.  Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about.  But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.

I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.

Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.

Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

6.  Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?

I would respond that the harm is done.  Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.

Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works.  I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.

I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.

It is always worth thinking about how we do things.   Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions.   And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:

There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

7.  I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives.  Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.

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Visibility of nazi medical experiments

Visibility and awareness above all.  What are the stakes?  Many German medical professionals gained subjects for experiments from the Nazi murder machine. Take this one example:

The most startling breakthrough comes from German journalist and Tübingen culture professor Hans-Joachim Lang. He has identified all of the Jews selected for gassing by August Hirt, director of the anatomical institute in Strasbourg who had a singularly ghoulish plan for their remains.

Hirt was interested in adding to a collection of skulls at the University of Strasbourg. “Although extensive skulls collections existed from nearly all races and peoples,” the Jews were missing, he wrote to the director of an SS research group established to prove Aryan superiority. “From the Jewish-Bolshevik commissars, who embody a disgusting, but characteristic type of subhuman, we have the opportunity to acquire a tangible scientific document by securing their skulls.”

Hirt was essentially competing with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which procured Jewish skulls from another anatomist, Hermann Voss. In consultation with the staff of Heinrich Himmler, Hirt received permission to go ahead. Two staff members were sent to Auschwitz to separate out a group of Jews, 30 women and 79 men. They were examined according to the standards for racial typing of the time: Their skin, hair, and eye color were noted and coded using special tables, and the shapes of their heads, foreheads, noses, mouths, and ears measured. Fifty-seven of the men and 29 of the women were chosen. They were gassed in a special chamber and their bodies delivered to Hirt at his anatomical institute.

Hirt stored the bodies in the basement. In the end, he didn’t work on them—he lacked the equipment during the course of the war. At the war’s end, Himmler ordered the bodies destroyed. But in January 1945, after the liberation of Strasbourg, the London Daily Mail reported their discovery in the anatomical institute.

via Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy..

Oh yeah, the bogus idea that rape doesn’t lead to conception traces back to some grotesque nazi scientists.

Whether they know it or not, Stieve’s work is the source for their discredited claim. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned that saying rape victims rarely get pregnant was “medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous.” But the anti-abortion doctor Jack Willke, former head of the National Right to Life Committee, insisted otherwise. \”This goes back 30 and 40 years,” he told the Los Angeles Times in the midst of the Akin furor. “When a woman is assaulted and raped, there\’s a tremendous amount of emotional upset within her body.\” Willke has written that \”one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant” is “physical trauma.\”

Where did he get this idea? In 1972, another anti-abortion doctor, Fred Mecklenburg, wrote an essay in a book financed by the group Americans United for Life in which he asserted that women rarely get pregnant from rape. Mecklenburg said that:

The Nazis tested the hypothesis that stress inhibits ovulation by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock killing, to see what effects this had on their ovulatory pattern. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate.

via Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy..

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Systematic racism: RIP Trayvon Martin

Like most other thoughtful people I had little to contribute to the public discussion about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  I deleted an initial angry post that included a forceful discussion of systematic racism and some very inflammatory graphics.

I think I should have kept that angry post.

Systematic racism: hierarchy between races is built into our educational system, governmental policy, policing, and amplified in mass media.  Systematic racism means that you might learn prejudice and not think  that you were prejudiced.

Most people could identify a time in the past where their nation embodied systematic racism.  Maybe . . . it’s still bad?  Can we acknowledge that we teach exclusion and sustain privilege in a little cushion of bogus justifications?

The Trayvon Martin case suggests that the forces which amplify ignorance and hatred have been more effective than those of us proposing compassion and critical thinking.

Juror B37 who has given an interview about her reasoning about the case and her justifications are simply terrifying.   Here are a handful of quotes organized and archived by Igor Volsky at Thinkprogress.

1. Martin was responsible for his own death.

JUROR: It was just hard, thinking that somebody lost their life, and there’s nothing else that could be done about it. I mean, it’s what happened. It’s sad. It’s a tragedy this happened, but it happened. And I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think both of them could have walked away. It just didn’t happen.

2. Juror felt just as sorry for Zimmerman.

COOPER: Do you feel sorry for Trayvon Martin?

JUROR: I feel sorry for both of them. I feel sorry for Trayvon, in the situation he was in. And I feel sorry for George because of the situation he got himself in.

3. Zimmerman should continue to serve as a neighborhood watchman because he has learned his lesson about going too far.

COOPER: Is George Zimmerman somebody you would like to have on a neighborhood watch in your community?

JUROR: If he didn’t go too far. I mean, you can always go too far. He just didn’t stop at the limitations that he should have stopped at.

COOPER: So is that a yes or — if he didn’t go too far. Is he somebody prone, you think, to going too far? Is he somebody you would feel comfortable —

JUROR: I think he was frustrated. I think he was frustrated with the whole situation in the neighborhood, with the break-ins and the robberies. And they actually arrested somebody not that long ago. I — I mean, I would feel comfortable having George, but I think he’s learned a good lesson.

COOPER: So you would feel comfortable having him now, because you think he’s learned a lesson from all of this?

JUROR: Exactly. I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.

4. Verdict hinged on “Stand Your Ground” law, even though Zimmerman did not use it in his defense.

COOPER: Because of the two options you had, second degree murder or manslaughter, you felt neither applied?

JUROR: Right. Because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.

5. Zimmerman was only guilty of using poor judgment and was “egged” on to follow Martin by the 9/11 operator.

COOPER: Do you think he’s guilty of something?

JUROR: I think he’s guilty of not using good judgment. When he was in the car and he called 911, he shouldn’t have gotten out of that car. But the 911 operator also, when he was talking to him, kind of egged him on.

6. Race played absolutely no factor in Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin.

JUROR: I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

COOPER: Why do you think George Zimmerman found Trayvon Martin suspicious then?

JUROR: Because he was cutting through the back, it was raining. He said he was looking in houses as he was walking down the road. Kind of just not having a purpose to where he was going. He was stopping and starting. But I mean, that’s George’s rendition of it, but I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night, dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road stopping and turning and looking, if that’s exactly what happened, is suspicious. And George said that he didn’t recognize who he was.

COOPER: Well, was that a common belief on the jury that race was not — that race did not play a role in this?

JUROR: I think all of us thought that race did not play a role. […]

COOPER: It didn’t come up, the question of, did George Zimmerman profile Trayvon Martin because he was African-American?

JUROR: No, I think he just profiled him because he was the neighborhood watch, and he profiled anyone who came in acting strange. I think it was just circumstances happened that he saw Trayvon at the exact time that he thought he was suspicious.

7. Zimmerman’s history of reporting black men to the police and his decision to follow Martin played no role in the verdict.

COOPER: So whether it was George Zimmerman getting out of the vehicle, whether he was right to get out of the vehicle, whether he was a wannabe cop, whether he was overeager, none of that in the final analysis, mattered. What mattered was those seconds before the shot went off, did George Zimmerman fear for his life?

JUROR: Exactly. That’s exactly what happened.

via 7 Mind Blowing Moments From Zimmerman Juror B37’s First Interview | ThinkProgress.

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Military and toxic waste: ghost fleet

Don’t forget that the most significant polluter in United States history is the nation’s armed services.  Scott Haefner and some colleagues snuck aboard decommissioned boats in the Navy fleet near San Francisco.  Haefner notes:

The ships have shed more than 20 tons of toxic paint debris that have settled into bay sediments, where they will cause problems long after the ships are gone. Even though Congress and the State of California ordered MARAD to address the situation, nothing was done for most of the past decade. Lawsuits filed by environmental groups were also unsuccessful in forcing MARAD to remove the ships. However, after Barack Obama took the Oval Office in 2008, the tide shifted and MARAD began working diligently to clean up and remove the ships.

via Inside the Ghost Ships of the Mothball Fleet | Beyond the Photos.

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Reading disasters through museums:They’re burning the stuff we haven’t stolen yet!

The new crisis in Mali reminds me of the Taliban destroying priceless Buddhist statues.  In case you didn’t see it, extremists in Mali burned an archive of historical records and old manuscripts.

Seydou Traoré, who has worked at the Ahmed Baba Institute since 2003, and fled shortly before the rebels arrived, said only a fraction of the manuscripts had been digitised. “They cover geography, history and religion. We had one in Turkish. We don’t know what it said.”

He said the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that “black Africa” had only an oral history. “You just need to look at the manuscripts to realise how wrong this is.”

Some of the most fascinating scrolls included an ancient history of west Africa, the Tarikh al-Soudan, letters of recommendation for the intrepid 19th-century German explorer Heinrich Barth, and a text dealing with erectile dysfunction.

via Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Of course the loss of history is tragic.  And we shouldn’t burn books.  But beyond this is the preference to simplify another culture and place through colonial loss — in essence we should be enraged that human history is being destroyed.  In my opinion this hinges on a universal humanist version of history — one where all the stories of the world are foundations for the great story of the west.

Although destructive and thoughtless, it seems as though the west is more concerned about the ideas of people of the region that were recorded four hundred years ago than those expressions of anger in 2013.  This temporary colonial perspective would probably elicit awkward old school colonialist answers to global problems.

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Polishing the deck chairs on the titanic: climate change and boobs

We are doomed, for real.

I just watched a video with supermodels stripping while they narrate a bizarre rant about global warming.  Something about fifty parts per million.  This is the best that an active ecological movement can come up with?

1.  Layer this against people dying from global warming enhanced storms and diseases, flooding and wretched humans trying to survive in disaster zones.   The way to deal with this massive global change is not to get naked as the earth gets warmer.  Nor is it to gaze at supermodels hoping that people will be inspired. These ideas are dumb.

2.  The incentive for humans to want to address global warming should be self interest.  Do you want to cradle your dying loved ones in an atmosphere less hospitable to humans?  The advertisement suggests that the true incentive is to see some tits.  It is implied that if humans in the USA can reduce emissions sufficiently, then these models will strip fully naked instead of to their skivvies.  What a bargain.   I wonder if they got this in writing from the supermodels — some kind of hooker deal where they have to have sex with the director if humans can learn to live in a steady-state economy.

3.  Oppression of women and consumer fashion culture are part of global warming.  To layer more sexist and consumerist stuff (disney t-shirt in the strip show) as a placebo remedy is toxic.

No link or reference to the group or ad itself is intentional.  Why give them another platform.

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In what ways are humans like vultures . . .

Critically endangered vultures in India are still at risk of exposure to the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, through widespread illegal sales of the drug.

The Indian government banned use of the drug for veterinary purposes in 2006 after it brought vultures to the brink of extinction. Vultures were being poisoned after eating the carcasses of cattle that had been treated with the drug. The manufacture of diclofenac for human purposes is still allowed.

via Nature News Blog: Illegal drug sales threaten vultures in India.

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The best of intentions: Cholera in Haiti

The earthquake which struck Haiti in 2010 resonated world wide.  Concerned humans gave money, donated time and exuded compassion.  Despite these best of intentions, the way that people helped was often symbolic.  A few charities got rich on the quick cell-phone donations.  More than a few donations went astray, and of course, some of the people helping brought carnage.

Like the Nepalese workers contracted by the United Nations who brought cholera with them.   In December, an Al Jazeera camera crew filmed UN workers dismantling latrines which dumped right into the Artibonite river.   Shortly thereafter, a respected epidemiologist announced that Cholera was most likely brought by the UN.  The Nepalese denied this.

Epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux conducted research in Haiti on behalf of the French and Haitian governments.

Sources who saw the report said it had evidence the outbreak was caused by river contamination by Nepalese troops.

The UN said it had neither accepted nor dismissed the findings. The Nepalese army condemned the study as unfounded.

The cholera epidemic has killed 2120 people, and nearly 100,000 cases have been treated, according to the Haitian government.

via BBC News – Haiti cholera: UN peacekeepers to blame, report says.

While people debated the cause, Haitians died.  How bad was it?  In the spring, citizens enraged by rising deaths began piling up coffins of dead relatives in the street to protest lack of action.  You’ve got to be pretty angry (and out of options) to put your dead family members out  as protest blockades.

photo from the SF Bay Guardian, taken by Ansel Herz

What was the response to the Haitian indignation?  Mostly the United Nations denied their responsibility, leaving Haitians dying of Cholera.  This morning, Spoonful of medicine brought the fascinating news that the UN had looked into the subject and yes, in fact, it looks like the UN brought the deadly disease, although they share the responsibility for the spread of the disease with the earthquake itself.

Here is a quote from the actual UN report, written in classic bureaucratic language, but clear enough for my purposes:

“Based on the epidemiological information available, the cholera epidemic began in the upstream region of the Artibonite River served by the Mirabalais Hospital on October 17th, 2010. This region has little to no consumption of fish or shellfish products, which are known to be associated with outbreaks of cholera worldwide. Therefore, the most likely cause of the outbreak was the consumption of contaminated water from the river. An explosive cholera outbreak began on October 20th, 2010 in the Artibonite River Delta, indicating that cholera had spread throughout the Artibonite River Delta within two to three days of the first cases being seen in the upstream region.” UN-cholera-report-final.pdf (application/pdf Object).

The United Nations volunteers contracted for a trucking company to remove their waste.  Here is the waste removal strategy, sometimes called out of sight/out of mind:

The contracting company dispatches a truck from Port-au-Prince to collect the waste using a pump. The waste is then transported across the street and up a residential dirt road to a location at the top of the hill, where it is deposited in an open septic pit (Figure 11). Black water waste for the two other MINUSTAH facilities – Hinche and Terre Rouge – is also trucked to and deposited in this pit. There is no fence around the site, and children were observed playing and animals roaming in the area around the pit. UN-cholera-report-final.pdf (application/pdf Object)

How do you know that this is caused by the UN workers?  Well the strain of Cholera is identical to the strain in Southeast Asia.

A careful analysis of the MLVA results and the ctxB gene indicated that the strains isolated in Haiti and Nepal during 2009 were a perfect match. The strains isolated in Haiti are also perfect matches by MLVA and ctxB gene mutations with South Asian strains isolated between or since the late 1990’s.  UN-cholera-report-final.pdf (application/pdf Object).

And of course lets discuss the cover-your-ass conclusion paragraph.  After thirty pages of exposition explaining the 99% likelihood that the UN disaster assistance brought more terrifying disaster to Haiti, the report authors punk out.

The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with feces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health care system deficiencies. These deficiencies, coupled with conducive environmental and epidemiological conditions, allowed the spread of the Vibrio cholerae organism in the environment, from which a large number of people became infected. The Independent Panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.

The source of cholera in Haiti is no longer relevant to controlling the outbreak. What are needed at this time are measures to prevent the disease from becoming endemic.

The claim that the “deficiencies” of the Haitian health care system are equally responsible for the introduction of the disease into Haiti is ridiculous.  These factors account for the spread of the disease, but certainly not the introduction.   No longer relevant?  How about for the next United Nations disaster relief?  How about for the kids dying of cholera in Haiti this morning?  Seems like victim blaming to me.

Responding to a natural disaster provides the kind of cover for half-assed assistance.  Because of the “disaster” the lack of reflection can be blamed on the need for speedy action.  The risk of this is that we excuse terrible decisions, because the people were ‘trying to help.”

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Colonialism coded: Jadakiss in Africa

Lets get the obvious out of the way: Jadakiss is a great emcee.  Lets also give him kudos for heading to Swaziland to do a show promoting awareness about HIV (see first comment).

But dang, this film is so colonial it could have been scripted by Teddy Roosevelt.

1.  The first half of the film is boring footage of Jadakiss hopping airplanes, walking through terminals, and lamenting about how far Africa is.  We get it, Africa is a long distance away and you are putting yourself out by traveling so far.  Of course, in the traditional versions of this travelogue narrative (see the Vice travel shows, or When we were kings) the travellers face difficulty in their transit, Jadakiss and his crew slide through sanitized airports.

2.  The perspective on HIV in Africa is pretty simplistic.  The overloaded fear statistics are so heavy-handed that no one could ever imagine doing anything about them.  At one point the film claims that if HIV transmission rates continue to climb in Swaziland, all adults will be dead by 2020.  That’s right, nine years from now, every single grown-up in an African country will be dead from HIV transmission.

3.  The only hope, is of course, Jadakiss.  Obviously, the solution to AIDS in an African country is a solitary rapper without any significant recent pop hits.

4.  The exotic other-ness of Africa is central to this video.  From the vagueness of going to somewhere-in-Africa (the film clip says Jadakiss is going to South Africa, he himself admits at the front end that he isn’t sure where he is going before showing us the ticket to his flight to Johannesburg.)  In fact Jadakiss is performing in the Kingdom of Swaziland — a landlocked dictatorship with strong state control whose primary export appears to be children for slave labor and sex slaves (according to the C.I.A., who y’know, might not always be on the up and up). The royal family of Swaziland get’s a representative in African garb.   What is interesting is that Jadakiss still wants to play this like he is Jay-Z going to the garden.  Flashing in a convoy line of luxury automobiles, Jada’s grin is visible from a satellite.   There are a few seconds of presumed  African poverty filmed out of the racing automobiles as Jadakiss heads for the resort for his show.

5.  Despite this charity event being about HIV positive Africans, the film sticks with the representations of wealth.  The camera lingers around Jadakiss’s luxury suite while he explains, “the king laid out something . . . for the other king.”  There is no discussion of AIDS, African AIDS, or the conditions in Swaziland that make it hard to fight the virus (maybe like dictatorships).   No Africans speak or narrate into the camera.

6.  Sadly, there isn’t even a show clip of Jada rapping!  I guess this is just  the first episode.  I look forward to the next colonial day dream from a Western emcee.  At least one where we get to hear some rapping!

One of the best takes on African hip hop comes from Patrick Neate, who authored Where you’re at.  In his chapter on Johannasburg, the white-identified Neate is talking to Mizhif, a Zimbabwean/US/South African hip hop TV host.  Mizchif reflects on the recent visit from Dead Prez:

“Dead Prez left so much conflict amongst heads, it was hectic.  They had said that the cover of their album (a sepia-touched photograph  of black women waving guns above their heads) was from the Soweto Uprising.  But it wasn’t.  Actually, as a Zimbabwean, I know it was from the chimurenga. (Neate FN95: Chimurenga is a Zimbabwean (Shona) word meaning struggle.  It is specifically used to refer to the war of independence.)  No one had guns at the Soweto uprising except the cops.  So before Dead Prez even got here, people had a beef about that.  Then they cam on YFM and they were just preaching their revolutionary stuff, ‘ don’t rely on the man,’ that kind of thing.  At the time kids were calling in going, ‘yeah, I feel you man.  Fuck white people.’  But the minute they left everyone was saying, ‘Who are they to come to South Africa and tell us about our struggle?’

“It’s difficult because there’s already so much conflict between people here because the focus of the rest of the world had always been on Soweto.  But there’s been struggle all over; every township had struggles from Soweto to Guguletu.”

I ask Mizchif what he thought, personally, and he laughs.  “I just thought it was funny because the Dead Prez show was half-and-half, white and black.  Because who has the money and the transport to go to a show like that?”

I think back to the Mos Def gig in London, a performance to the self-consciously conscious.  I mention it to Mizchif and he shakes his head and smiles.

“Really it’s just typical of Americans.  They have such a stereotyped view of Africa.  When I was at high school in New York, my father ended up coming to teach our Social Studies class because, when I took the worksheets about Africa home, he was absolutely disgusted.  Yes there’s a rural Africa and a poor Africa and AIDS in Africa, but there are modern and urban and rich sides too.”  (117-118).

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capitalism: car shortage

The end of the American empire is going to be rough.   There is no doubt that many working class folks will suffer as our economy continues to crash.  Interesting dimension — the L.A. Times notes that we are in a car crunch — not enough automobiles for the American market — thus the prices are high.

Doug Stevens

The cause identified for this shortage is the earthquake which killed more than 14,000 people (official police estimate), left uncontrolled mox reactors dumping nuclear fuel into the ocean air and water, and wrecked people’s homes and businesses.   Given the chance, we’d rather read disaster in terms of the impact on our consumer market.  News stories about radiation abatement and the deadly nuclear reactor don’t get coverage, but we get the explicit run down of how much the earthquake and tsunami hurt the run of 2011 Hondas.

“Although automakers will work hard to catch up during the second half of this year, ultimately about 700,000 vehicles will never be built because of the quake.

The shortfall has allowed Toyota and competitors such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to raise sticker prices.”

via Car shoppers advised to postpone purchases: Best option for car shoppers: postpone buying – latimes.com.

This is capitalist semiotics at it’s most refined — there is no doubt that natural disasters have an impact on business —  but it is the prioritizing of the disruption of automobile production as it impacts United States consumers that seems so grimy to me.

For those who make a living selling cars, this story is particularly important.  So as the article progresses, they note that one result has been an enormous surge in the trade-in value of cars:

In 2007, a 3-year-old Ford Explorer would bring about $7,100 as a trade-in for a new car. Now, a 3-year-old Explorer gets double that amount — $14,200 — according to auto price information company Kelley Blue Book. The trade-in value for a 3-year-old Honda Civic has jumped by $3,500 to $12,200 in the same period.

via Car shoppers advised to postpone purchases: Best option for car shoppers: postpone buying – latimes.com.

Another way of reading this change is to note the declining value of the dollar.  American money is less valuable — and this makes all the valuable goods cheap for other countries to buy.   If you are over thirty, then you probably remember the phenomenon of travelling to other countries for a “deal” — well, now the United States looks like a deal.

I’m not all that concerned about the actual corporations who make money off of these transactions — but the folks who need transportation and can’t afford a safe used car are going to struggle.   The United States is a nation which holds fierce the right to individual automobile transit, and has stubbornly refused to invest in public transportation.

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