January 18, 2013

By Tyler Sheets
Staff Writer

This week I set out to understand as much as I could about Africa that didn’t focus on ethnic conflict, famine, or terrorism. Here are some of the articles I enjoyed most:

Arguments for and against the legitimacy of growing African economies

Ganja Growing Grandmas of Swaziland

The stench of an antelope could be key to preventing sleeping sickness and boosting local economies in Kenya.

Two young American lovers set off to Africa in the name of conservation, but ended up making a snuff film. Did they go too far?

Cloud computing wasn’t made with Africa in mind, but it might be more valuable there than anywhere.

Africa’s $10 robot teachers are coming to classrooms across the continent.

Google’s drones battle rhino poachers.

The obstacles to investing in Africa are different and often greater than elsewhere in the world. Here’s a simple guide to how they can be overcome.

Photo by Africa Renewal

LOSING TO WIN: DID KILLING BIN LADEN LET POLIO LIVE?

By Tyler Sheets
Staff Writer

Janice Flood Nichols

As a child in the early 1950s, Janice Flood Nichols lost her twin brother to polio. On the night of his funeral, she was admitted to the hospital with the paralytic form of polio herself. Her outlook was not promising. 58,000 Americans had contracted polio the previous year; of these, 3,000 died and more than 21,000 were left paralyzed.

Though polio is now a forgotten disease in the United States, it was the leading public health terror American families faced before April 12, 1955. On that date—ten years to the day after polio’s most famous victim, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died— television broadcasts, loudspeakers in grocery stores, classrooms, and churches across the country announced that Jonas Salk, a Jewish immigrant researcher, had developed a polio vaccine. Even though no disease had ever been entirely eliminated, experts discussed polio’s eradication. Salk went on to win the first ever Congressional Medal for Distinguished Civilian service. Parades were proposed in his honor. Warner Brothers quickly bought rights to make a movie about his life. Most importantly to Dr. Salk, in a short time it seemed polio was forgotten in America.

Polio did not, however, forget Janice Flood Nichols. Though she received the vaccine and apparently conquered polio in the mid-1950s, during her first and only pregnancy, she discovered that her weakened internal muscles had not supported the structure of her sacrum. A caesarean section saved her son’s life, but her fight with polio was still not over. Nichols began to experience symptoms of post-polio syndrome, uncomfortable after-effects suffered by those who fought polio as children. Her body lives on as a relic of a disease that once terrified the most powerful nation on earth. Nichols calls polio “the disease that keeps on giving”.

Just as Janice Flood Nichols has never been completely free from polio, global eradication remains an elusive goal. Though Janice’s community suffered from a polio epidemic because of a lack of medical understanding, polio lives on today for purely political reasons. Polio’s most impenetrable fortress today is in the headquarters of international political problems: Pakistan.

Health or Security

Polio has tortured mankind for millennia. Even ancient Egyptian art depicts polio sufferers. But despite this long history, in early 2012 the World Health Organization declared that, after a year of a record-low number of cases of polio, polio was now a global health emergency. It did so because the end was in sight, and the declaration of a global health emergency freed up extra funding needed for a surge against the virus. It was a “now or never” strategy.

“Now” no longer seems likely. Three weeks ago, six public health workers involved in the eradication effort were killed while conducting immunizations of Pakistani children. Though this type of violence is not common, it was anticipated by many health workers in the region. Miseducation campaigns and general Amerophobia (fear of all things American) have led many in Pakistan to believe that the immunizations were an effort to sterilize all Muslim children. This idea has been around in Pakistan for some time. Similar paranoia has been a roadblock to immunization efforts in other countries as well. Less than a month ago, retiring congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, in an interview with C-SPAN, reaffirmed his belief that immunizations have a causal relationship to both autism and Alzheimer’s disease. His explanation was essentially that his grandson had several shots and also had autism, so the shots obviously caused autism. Though misinformation campaigns are ubiquitous and can be expected during any immunization campaign, one conspiracy about vaccinations particular to Pakistan has proven to be somewhat true.

Taliban leaders, the de facto authority in two of Pakistan’s three main polio transmission zones, have issued religious edicts (which can act as law in much of Pakistan) accusing U.S. intelligence agencies of using fake immunization campaigns to undermine local leaders. We now know that they were correct.

Now I want to be clear: The six health workers killed last month were almost certainly not involved in any CIA plot. Their murders should be condemned and their killers should be fully prosecuted. However, the CIA’s actions have made a significant impact on polio eradication and it should be held accountable for that impact.

The CIA made major headway in its hunt for Osama bin Laden when it tracked his courier to Abbottabad, a Pakistani city. The Guardian reported that the CIA then began to conduct surveillance on the compound, but wanted confirmation before infiltrating it. Their research revealed that the only people with previous access to the compound had been health workers delivering oral polio vaccines to the children living in the compound. Oral vaccines wouldn’t work because the CIA needed to match DNA samples of children in the compound with the DNA of bin Laden’s daughter, who passed away in Boston months earlier.

Agents contacted the head health official in the Khyber region, Shakil Afridi, about setting up a false Hepatitis B vaccination program. The doctor agreed. A sample was taken. The sample was matched. The man responsible for 9/11 was killed. In all the celebration, few considered the impact or legality of using a medical cover for a military operation in a country with an already ineffective health care system.

Some did, however. Michael Specter of the New Yorker called the plot a “stunning display of arrogance, stupidity, or both”. But support for President Obama surged and most health organizations were relatively quiet. Presumably nobody wanted to offer any negativity when so many were celebrating bin Laden’s death. Yet the CIA should not count this as a victory without drawbacks. Indeed, with victory over polio in sight and with victory in the war on terror a mirage, the CIA’s plot let us lose the former for the benefit of the latter.

Since May 2, 2011, the day bin Laden was shot and dropped into the sea, tensions have been increasing between the Taliban and health workers. The Taliban has made numerous threats against these workers’ well being. Now six health workers have been killed. As health work becomes more dangerous and requires more security, it becomes more expensive. Costs aside, fewer health workers will be willing to risk their safety. This is particularly true of women, who perceive themselves as especially vulnerable in Pakistan.

The more successful polio eradication programs have made female workers a critical element of their campaigns. UNICEF, one of the primary organizations responsible for eradication in India and elsewhere, conducts thorough interviews with parents who reject immunization. In India, results showed that many parents were uncomfortable letting men into their home or handling their children. A massive effort was made to recruit female health workers and the job was completed. Polio is no longer endemic in India.

As the situation has become more dangerous for health workers, polio is not slowing its effort to survive in Pakistan. Four primary factors make Pakistan an ideal last stronghold for polio, and many now are saying it will be the last country on earth where polio is endemic. First, for a variety of reasons Pakistanis have been on the move lately. Violence in some areas, floods in others, and general economic push/pull factors have meant that people, including people with polio, have been traveling. When they travel, polio travels.

Second, health care in Pakistan is poor. That is primarily because of corrupt local governments. The federal government has very little influence in the areas where polio is most often transmitted, and local leaders would prefer to hand health care jobs and financing over to friends and family rather than the health care worker most suited for success at the position. These corrupt local governments can be found in the same areas where polio is most common.

Not only is organized governmental health care poor, but health practices in the home are very poor as well. This is primarily because the people of these areas are poor and uneducated. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a key polio transmission zone, female literacy is 3%. This lack of female education is perfectly partnered with the male involvement with the Taliban’s conspiracies to leave the children vulnerable to polio. Though these three factors will likely stick around, anti-American sentiment, the final catalyst for polio, can and should be stopped.

Anti-american sentiment should not play a role in the fight against polio, but it does. Though disliking the West is not an available option for refusing immunization on UNICEF’s interview sheet, it often is the reason. The CIA’s fake vaccination program did not do much to help. Furthermore, the “program” is indicative of something more deeply wrong with the United States’ current security philosophy. Too often leaders in the Pentagon and the CIA believe their military objectives take priority over objectives like public health, when in reality, the two objectives are linked. Choosing U.S. security over Pakistani health care will lead to negative outcomes for both.

Health and Security

An article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs entitled “Do Less Harm” discusses the apparent unwillingness of the Pentagon to understand that military success has been, is, and will continue to be linked to the well-being of the citizenry of nations, and the perception of the United States’ impact on that well-being. The author of the piece is primarily frustrated with the lack of a permanent policy mandating that the United States give money to families who have lost loved ones as “collateral damage”. The idea works here as well and is indicative of a poor understanding of the societies we fight among when the United States goes to war. Further evidence of this military-first ideology is that fact that drone strikes were once only a part of a larger strategy, but are now the entire strategy. The U.S. military is primarily concerned with killing easily replaceable Taliban leaders, even when this requires killing scores of civilians. Any philosophy that places military victory over all other victories will delay military victory and have an adverse effect on other victories such as the victory over polio.

Eradicating polio from Pakistan would have been a major increase in soft power for the United States; instead, bin Laden is dead. If the U.S. goal is to eliminate those who hate America, there is no better way to accomplish this than to provide a polio-free environment for children to be raised in. This undermines Taliban authority in the area and can help to mitigate the negative effects of collateral damage and other factors stoking anti-U.S. fervor. Instead of choosing to aid in the anti-polio campaign, America now has to deal with a Pakistan where many believe it is sterilizing their children and using doctors to kill off their leaders. Though I believe the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden, a more holistic approach could have allowed us to defeat both.

Finally, improving efforts to eradicate polio would have reaffirmed the United States’ effort to advance global and multi-lateral interests. Though the United States famously donates more foreign aid than any other nation, its image still suffers from decades of unilateralism. Choosing to kill bin Laden in a way that did not let the global medical world defeat only the third virus in history reaffirmed that notion.

The fight on polio is in trouble but is not lost. The United Nations has halted vaccination programs, as have several local leaders in Pakistan. If the security isn’t provided to allow them to return to work on this mission, polio will not stay where it is now. Donald McNiel, a New York Times reporter who is an expert on polio, has likened the virus to a campfire that will not settle until every spark is stamped out. This is an excellent opportunity for the United States to improve relations with the Pakistani government and more importantly its people. A fantastic effort is needed both in the media and on the ground to ensure that polio is eradicated in Pakistan, but the United States has made fantastic efforts to accomplish its goals in Pakistan before. Our leaders should take up this fight primarily because the war against polio is one that we can win.

Sources

Janice Flood Nichols “Twin Voices” 2007

Michael Specter “The C.I.A. and the Polio Murders” New Yorker 12/18/2012

Walsh & McNeil “Gunmen in Pakistan Kill Women Who Were Giving Children Polio Vaccines” New York Times 12/18/2012

McNeil “Deans Condemn Vaccine Ruse Used in Bin Laden Hunt” New York Times 1/7/2013

Leslie Roberts “Fighting Polio in Pakistan” Science Magazine 8/3/2012

Photo by Gates Foundation

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE HORSE DANCE

By Samson Yuchi Mai
Staff Writer

There is no doubt that the viral song, “Gangnam Style,” by Korean pop sensation Psy was an instant hit the moment it came to the States. Psy has appeared on various shows like Ellen, the VMA awards, and now he even has a Gangnam Style fashion line collaboration with Jill Stuart. This song has captured the imaginations of Americans and non-Americans alike, and there have been countless parodies of the now famous horse dance. Psy and his horse dance are becoming cultural icons. However, many people are not aware of Psy’s underlying message in his hit song. In fact, since his song has gained so much media attention, he has changed his message of its motivation.

Psy has stated that he never intended for his song to be for an American or international audience. That is why most of his song is in Korean with the exception of the words, “Ehhhhhh Sexy Lady,” “Korean,” and “style.” His original intention was to use humor to ridicule the image of the people in the Gangnam district and connect this satire with the current trends in South Korean and global society.

The underlying trend that explains the making of this hit song is the rise of the South Korean economy. Its economic growth occurred simultaneously with the transition of the country from a military dictatorship to a democracy. It was one of the four Asian Tigers during the 1970s and 1980s that followed the explosive growth rates of Japan’s economy. South Korea is now the world’s eleventh largest economy. Many of its brands like Samsung and Hyundai are household names.

However, serious questions have been raised about the sustainability of South Korea’s economic model. The top ten chaebols, conglomerates in various sectors like finance, electronics, and energy produce 77 percent of South Korea’s GDP. Academic studies have shown that these chaebols act like their counterparts in Japan, keirestsus, which are rent seeking organizations that hold a huge share of the market and stifle competition.

Although South Korea has experienced astounding economic growth, it has not been equal throughout all parts of society. Similar to what is happening now in China, there is unequal economic growth between the provinces due to economic and military interests. The inflation in certain areas like Gangnam contributed to real estate bubbles that eventually led to the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The disparity is also evident in income equality and education attainment. 41 percent of the students that attend Seoul University, the top university in the country, come from Gangnam district. The OECD cites South Korea as having the third-highest level of income disparity among the industrialized nations.

In order to understand the meaning of his artistic production, it is necessary to understand what the Gangnam district is. Gangnam district is a 15 square mile area in Seoul that produces $84 billion of South Korea’s GDP. That is equivalent to seven percent of its total GDP. Gangnam also is the central consumer hub for South Korea. Gangnam is so wealthy that it has more net value than Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have their flagship Korean stores in Gangnam district. All the elite families that run big Korean conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai have their residences in Gangnam.

Americans might have a difficult time understanding how powerful and wealthy Gangnam is. According to Susan Kang, the chief evangelist of Soompi.com, “The closest approximation would be Silicon Valley, Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Miami Beach all rolled into one.” Psy was bold because he did what other few Korean artists dared to do: parody the nation’s wealthiest neighborhood and its inhabitants.

He thought his parody of Gangnam would gain traction with the domestic audience because of their opinions of the residents that live there. The Wall Street Journal reported that three quarters of Koreans polled in a survey done by reformists in the ruling Saenuri thought chaebols were immoral organizations. Recent events have solidified these views, as Chey Tae-Woo, chairman of SK Group, was indicted on charges of embezzlement.

As a Gwang-dae performer, a combination of jester and comedian, Psy can get away with his parody. The Gwang-dae traces its origins back to the caste of performers that entertained South Korean royal households. They were given license to criticize the aristocracy to a certain extent due to the protection of the royal patron.

Psy is considered a social deviant by South Korean standards. He was caught smoking marijuana and tried to dodge the mandatory military draft. He does not fit the norm of most South Korean stars. He does not look like a model as opposed to other big names in the industry like Super Junior and Wonder Girls. His first album was fined for inappropriate and profane content and his second album was outright prohibited. His music offers social commentary which is considered “operatic” in the industry according to The Atlantic. He writes his own songs and produces his own choreography which is another rarity in the industry.

In fact, Gangnam Style contains underlying subtleties. He pokes fun at the materialism that is rampant in South Korean society. Much of the consumer spending is driven by credit, as the average adult has five credit cards. This credit bubble is driven by the illusion that the continual economic boom since the late 1990s will continue. Much of the youth and adults in South Korea try to emulate the spending patterns of the wealthy from Gangnam. South Koreans joke at women who would spend $2 on Ramen for a meal, but they are more than willing to spend $6 or more on coffee. He parodies this behavior in the opening of the song when the scene begins with Psy tanning at a beach resort, but it ends up being a playground. Blogger Jea Kim lambasts this type of behavior: “It’s about how people outside of Gangnam pursue their dream to be one of those Gangnam residents without even realizing what it really means.” Behind the scenes in the music video of Gangnam Style, in a rare moment of candidness, Psy says, “Human society is so hollow, and even while filming I felt pathetic. Each frame by frame was hollow.” Kim characterizes the aspirations of South Korea as “nothing but materialistic and about people who are chasing rainbows.”

Many of these trends are familiar to American and international audiences. American society and its economy are based around consumerism and credit. On the other hand, the consumer is a dull agent not knowing what products he buys or the philosophy behind each brand name. Consumers buy for the aesthetics and social status, not fully comprehending what the fundamental value of the product is. Many Americans try to emulate the lifestyle and spending behaviors of the rich whether the person is a Wall Street banker or a hipster. With high unemployment rates especially among the youth, can the true message of the “horse dance” resonate with the American public?

Works Cited

1.Fischer, Max. “Gangnam Style Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation.” The Atlantic. 2012. Web: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/gangnam-style-dissected-the-subversive-message-within-south-koreas-music-video-sensation/261462/

2.Yang, Jeff. “Gangnam Style’s US Popularity has Koreans Puzzled, Gratified.” Wall Street Journal. 28 Aug. 2012. Web: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/08/28/gangnam-style-viral-popularity-in-u-s-has-koreans-puzzled-gratified/tab/video/

3.“K-pop diplomacy.” Al Jazeera. 3 Sep. 2012. Web: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/k-pop-diplomacy-0022328

Photo by Stuart Grout