September 27, 2012
TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT:
It's a simple idea: To reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, put a price on them. But it's dividing even those who agree that government should be pursuing policies to promote clean energy. [...]What do you think? Register your vote and leave us your comments. We may use them in print in an upcoming special report.
BEHOLD, A PALE WRITER:
In the last days of September 1943, as the U.S. Army advanced to the rescue of Italian partisans -- some as young as nine -- battling the Germans in the streets of Naples, the enraged Nazis, in a criminal act of revenge against their erstwhile allies, deployed sappers to systematically destroy the city's aqueducts, reservoirs, and sewer system. This done, the supermen, pausing only to burn irreplaceable libraries, including hundreds of thousands of volumes and artifacts at the University of Naples -- where Thomas Aquinas once taught -- showed their youthful Neapolitan opponents their backs, and on October 1, to the delirious cheers of the Naples populace, Allied forces entered the town in triumph.
But a city of over a million people had been left without sanitation, and within weeks, as the Germans had intended, epidemics broke out. By November, thousands of Neapolitans were infected with typhus, with one in four of those contracting it dying of the lice-transmitted disease. The dead were so numerous that, as in the dark time of the Black Death, bodies were put out into the street by the hundreds to be hauled away by carts. Alarmed, General Eisenhower contacted Washington and made a desperate plea for help to contain the disaster.
Fortunately, the brass had a new secret weapon ready just in time to deal with the emergency. It was called DDT, a pesticide of unprecedented effectiveness. First synthesized by a graduate student in 1874, DDT went unnoticed until its potential application as an insecticide was discovered by chemist Paul H. Müller while working for the Swiss company Geigy during the late 1930s. Acquainted with Müller's work, Victor Froelicher, Geigy's New York representative, disclosed it to the American military's Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in October 1942. Examining Müller's data, the OSRD's experts immediately realized its importance. On Guadalcanal, and elsewhere in the South Pacific, the Marines were losing more men to malaria than they were to the Japanese, with the entire 1st Marine Division rendered unfit for combat by the insect-borne disease. Without delay, first Geigy's Cincinnati factory and then the giant DuPont chemical company were given contracts to produce the new pesticide in quantity.
By January 1, 1944, the first shipments of what would eventually amount to sixty tons of DDT reached Italy. Stations were set up in the palazzos of Naples, and as the people walked by in lines, military police officers with spray guns dusted them with DDT. Other spray teams prowled the town, dusting public buildings and shelters. The effects were little short of miraculous. Within days, the city's vast population of typhus-transmitting lice was virtually exterminated; by month's end, the epidemic was over.
January 1944. The U.S. Army uses DDT to end the typhus epidemic in Naples.The retreating Germans, however, did not give up so easily on the use of insects as vectors of death. As the Allied forces advanced north from Naples toward Rome, they neared the Pontine Marshes, which for thousands of years had been rendered nearly uninhabitable by their enormous infestation of virulently malarial mosquitoes. In his most noteworthy accomplishment before the war, Mussolini had drained these marshes, making them potentially suitable for human settlement. The Germans demolished Mussolini's dikes, quickly transforming the area back into the mosquito-infested malarial hellhole it had been for millennia. This promised to be very effective. In the brief Sicilian campaign of early summer 1943, malaria had struck 22,000 Allied troops -- a greater casualty toll than that inflicted by the Axis forces themselves. The malarial losses inflicted by the deadly Pontine Marshes were poised to be far worse.
But the Nazis had not reckoned on DDT. In coordination with their ground forces, the Americans deployed airborne crop dusters, as well as truck dusters and infantry DDT spray teams. Success was total. The Pontine mosquitoes were wiped out. With negligible losses to malaria, the GIs pushed on to Rome, liberating the Eternal City in the early morning of June 5.
From now on, "DDT marches with the troops," declared the Allied high command. The order could not have come at a better time. As British and American forces advanced in Europe, they encountered millions of victims of Nazi oppression -- civilians under occupation, slave laborers, prisoners of war, concentration camp inmates -- dying in droves from insect-borne diseases. But with the armies of liberation came squads spraying DDT, and with it life for millions otherwise doomed to destruction. The same story was repeated in the Philippines, Burma, China, and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific theater. Never before in history had a single chemical saved so many lives in such a short amount of time.
A Civilian SuccessIn recognition for his role in this public health miracle, Paul Müller was given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1948. Presenting the award, the Nobel Committee said: "DDT has been used in large quantities in the evacuation of concentration camps, of prisoners and deportees. Without any doubt, the material has already preserved the life and health of hundreds of thousands."
With the coming of peace, DDT became available to civilian public health agencies around the world. They had good reason to put it to use immediately, since over 80 percent of all infectious diseases afflicting humans are carried by insects or other small arthropods. These scourges, which have killed billions of people, include bubonic plague, yellow fever, typhus, dengue, Chagas disease, African sleeping sickness, elephantiasis, trypanosomiasis, viral encephalitis, leishmaniasis, filariasis, and, most deadly of all, malaria. Insects have also caused or contributed to mass death by starvation or malnutrition, by consuming up to 40 percent of the food crop and destroying much of the livestock in many developing countries.
One of the first countries to benefit from the use of DDT for civilian purposes was the United States. In the years immediately preceding World War II, between one and six million Americans, mostly drawn from the rural South, contracted malaria annually. In 1946, the U.S. Public Health Service initiated a campaign to wipe out malaria through the application of DDT to the interior walls of homes. The results were dramatic. In the first half of 1952, there were only two confirmed cases of malaria contracted within the United States.
Other countries were quick to take note of the American success, and those that could afford it swiftly put DDT into action. In Europe, malaria was virtually eradicated by the mid-1950s. South African cases of malaria quickly dropped by 80 percent; Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) reduced its malaria incidence from 2.8 million in 1946 to 17 in 1963; and India cut its malaria death rate almost to zero. In 1955, with financial backing from the United States, the U.N. World Health Organization launched a global campaign to use DDT to eradicate malaria. Implemented successfully across large areas of the developing world, this effort soon cut malaria rates in numerous countries in Latin America and Asia by 99 percent or better. Even for Africa, hope that the age-old scourge would be brought to an end appeared to be in sight.
But events took another turn with the appearance of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring.
THERE IS NO CONSERVATISM WITHOUT COMPASSION:
Every church re-creates itself in each generation, a kind of call-and-response between its doctrine and its congregants. In Boston during the eighties and nineties, when Mitt Romney was the church official in charge of more than a dozen congregations, Mormonism was engaging modern America--ethnic diversity, feminist claims, identity politics--and trying, however uneasily, to make some accommodation with it. Romney sent a management consultant named Paul Dredge to run the church in Lynn and a podiatrist named Doug John to minister to its young men. Romney sent them to try to train some of the refugee teenagers as leaders, capable of one day running a church steeped in the habits of the American middle class--the endless bureaucratic meetings, the emphasis on voluntarism and leadership, the youth programs based on scouting. "I think part of the interest in the church was, what is this American thing about, anyway?" Dredge remembers.What Dredge and John encountered, in Lynn, was an almost cosmic mismatch. John realized, right away, that scouting was probably a nonstarter. "The setting they were living in wasn't exactly Boy Scout stuff," he tells me. The most charismatic kid turned out to be a gang leader. John took the boys to the Green Mountains, in Vermont, and to dances with other Mormon kids--rich cheery blonde girls from Arlington and Belmont--but "most of the time they stood around and talked to one another. I'm not sure dances were something that was normal for them." What vexed Dredge was that no matter how many basketball games or Cambodian-food festivals he staged (at one point he helped intervene in an arranged marriage so that his congregants could find a love match), he couldn't seem to convert the congregants' social interest in the church into a spiritual commitment.Romney was not vexed at all. Lynn was at times a thankless post, but he routinely sent the most competent Mormons in the area to help. "If you get only a handful of members," he told Dredge, "that is still a good result." Romney himself came to Lynn often, and when he did, it was with a blast of fellowship--greeting the congregants by name, packing teenagers into a van for a basketball game, showing them by his presence that they mattered too. Romney once organized an International Night, structured deliberately so that the Chinese scarf dances would outclass the American square dances, and the Brazilian food would put the American carrot-and-raisin salad to shame. "His idea was, maybe they aren't going to be as good at public speaking, or at organizing, or give these profound intellectual interpretations," says one of Romney's aides in the church, "but here is something where they are actually superior, where they could shine."
The Mitt Romney who led the outreach to Lynn--the Mormon Mitt Romney--has appeared mostly absent from his presidential campaign. The emptiness has invited skepticism: Liberals find Romney's discomfort in talking about his religion disquieting, even sinister, as if he must be hiding something, and some conservative Evangelicals have been leery, too. Romney's co-congregants in Boston are simply perplexed. "Sometimes I wish he would explain more what being a Mormon has meant to him," Romney's friend from the church Grant Bennett tells me plaintively. In his religious life they see the feeling for others that he's never conveyed in public--they see the contours of his empathy.And yet there is something genuinely mysterious--and not just underexposed--in Romney's faith. As a church leader, Romney seemed devoted to a Mormon ethic of sacrifice for the welfare of the group, an almost communitarian system of belief. As a candidate, his philosophy has been nakedly individualistic and elitist--a turn made explicit last week, when a video emerged of Romney at a Florida fund-raiser writing off 47 percent of the country as shiftless freeloaders: "My job is not to worry about these people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Many of the Boston Mormons believe the Romney they saw in church reflected a separate, genuine strain of his character, one that was opportunistically quashed as he entered national politics. But the clues from Romney's tenure as a church leader suggest a more complicated relationship to his religion and, therefore, a different explanation--that his approach to leadership seems not so much a departure from his own version of Mormonism as an extension of it. More than anything else, Romney's church seems to have armed him with a particular view of success.
WAIT, YOU NEED A REASON TO DRINK A GUINESS?:
In 1799, after spending 40 years tinkering with various ales and porters at his Dublin brewery, Arthur Guinness decided to dedicate his company solely to the perfection of a single brew: a roasted barley-flavored porter with a creamy head. Two hundred thirteen years later, Guinness' signature concoction is Ireland's unofficial national tipple--and internationally, Guinness is as synonymous with the Emerald Isle as leprechauns and shamrocks. [...]Though its effect on sales trends remains to be seen, the first few Arthur's Days seem to have worked as far as getting out the crowds (and today's celebration looks poised to be just as big). For the past three years, on a predetermined Thursday toward the end of September, hundreds of thousands of people have turned up at their local (as the Irish call their neighborhood pub) and at gradually expanding international events, to raise their glasses at exactly 5:59 p.m. and toast "To Arthur!" (On European clocks, that time is known as 17:59, a nod to the year of Guinness' lease-signing.) The Thursday slot conveniently coincides with student drinking night, and the timing of the toast captures the after-work crowd.The success of Arthur's day is unusual. You typically don't see Nutella fans storming grocery stores on Feb. 5 for World Nutella Day or Patron addicts lining up shots at every bar on National Tequila Day in late July.
YEAH, BUT I EARNED IT, YOU DIDN'T:
We have unique data from a 2008 national survey by the Cornell Survey Research Institute that asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 social policies provided by the federal government, from student loans to Medicare. These policies do not include government activity that benefits everyone -- national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations -- but only tangible benefits that accrue to specific households.The survey asked about people's policy usage throughout their lives, not just at a moment in time, and it included questions about social policies embedded in the tax code, which are usually overlooked.What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans -- 96 percent -- have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.