When I was a medical student on my neurology clerkship in the early 70's, I had a number of patients suffering from post-encephalitic Parkinsonism, a condition thought at the time (though the connection has never been proved conclusively) to have been a very late consequence of the influenza pandemic of 1918. Having worked with these patients, I am disinclined to minimize the seriousness of any possible future flu pandemic.
Nonetheless, the flurry of stories in the past month about the threat of avian influenza (which may be a very real threat) seems to me possibly to indicate that we are beginning to achieve some success in Iraq.
When we begin to see heavy coverage of shark attacks, we will know we are well on the road to success in our goal of bringing democracy (I know, I know -- it won't be perfect) to the Middle East. And when we are compelled to read endless speculation about the fate of pretty interns, the battle will have been won.
In all seriousness, I am proposing a rough "metric" (and Donald Rumsfeld himself expressed a desire not long ago for such a tool) for judging our progress in Iraq, and the war against Islamic fascism in general:
Preponderance of stories about potentially real, but still speculative, threats (e.g., avian flu) = good progress
Preponderance of stories about threats which are real, but confined to those foolish enough to expose themselves to said threat (e.g., shark attack in shark-infested waters) = excellent progress.
Preponderance of stories about regrettable events which threaten no one, and affect only a few individuals and their families, but have some salacious interest to capture our attention (e.g. Chandra Levy) = more or less complete success.
Let me emphasize that I do not mean to minimize the seriousness of the threat of avian flu, and that I mean no disrespect to Jesse Arbogast and his family, still less to the late Chandra Levy and hers.
But it seems to me that a much more refined tool along the lines I suggest could actually provide Mr. Rumsfeld with his metric.
And it could provide ordinary readers like us with a kind of indirect "good news"* about our progress, which we certainly aren't going to get from our "mainstream" media.
*I once worked on a committee with a former editor of a local paper, who told me that among reporters the usual cliché is inverted to Good news is no news.
The will of the people
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