Pig lick sick

So the swine flu has come to Huntsville. Great. So far the megahype has been over a pandemic of the sniffles. Really mild cases in the USA.

(I don’t count the one death, since that child was a Mexican citizen here for medical treatment.)

Overall a non-event, but one not to ignore I suppose. While the cases have been mild, the virus seems to spread far to easy not to worry about. And since it already shows signs of mutation, the real danger isn’t the current wave, but the second wave.

In 1918 the N1H1 breakout known as “Spanish Flu” was initially mild. Yes, that flu is the ancestor to the current outbreak. It was the second wave of 1918 and the third wave in 1919 that ended up killing millions.

Of course, the outbreak of 1976 ended with the USA killing more people via vaccines than the relatively small and hardly contagious flu did. (One source claims 39 died from shots while one died from flu)

And you have to keep in mind that the normal seasonal flu kills 30,000 people in a normal season.

Nevertheless, as harmless as this outbreak has been this far, there is cause for concern. This is a new virus. It may have ancestors in known, prexistant strains, but this bug is newly mutated and moving fast. It has crossed between the avian and mammal barrier and the swine human barrier. It is young, unknown and spreading. People are right to be concerned.

But panic? I think not. While we may not know this bug intimately, we do know it’s method of propigation. Caution, not hysteria, is called for. Not all virus grow to superbugs. Some evolve unsuccessfully. This one may do so yet.

So while local schools are closed and the swine flu count is up to a suspected 12, I’ll hold my panic a bit longer. Besides, I didn’t buy milk, bread and masks at the store last night.


Letters of Marque

The recent events of privacy such as the attack on the Liberty Sun or the more well know situation with the Maersk Alabama has me thinking about pirates and their cousins, the privateer.

There is a very thin line between pirates and privateers. A pirate attacks ships in open water for the purpose of financial gain. So does a privateer. But a privateer does so with the knowledge and consent of a national power.

A privateer, or corsair, is a vessel granted letters of marque that grants them the power and limited protection of a nation to engage in the search, seizure, and destruction of assets or personnel belonging to a foreign party. These warrents, or letters of marque, dictact and limit what actions can be undertaken and who can be targeted. This means unlike the current rash of Somali pirates who attack any and every likely vessel, a privateer can only attack those vessels that fall inside their warrent.

Privateering was all but abolished by the Declaration of Paris, at which time the signatory nations outlawed the issuing of such letters of marque or lettre de course. It ended one of the most powerful non-wartime weapons of the great seafaring nations and what could be an effective weapon against terrorism.

You see, terrorists and pirates have a lot of similarities. Both tend to be supported but not sanctioned by nation-states, so there isn’t much ability for a nation to target another nation on the basis of terrorism or piracy. If the actions were sanctioned by a nation, then the actions would be an act of war.

The signatories of the Declaration of Paris have no recourse against either terrorists or pirates except through their military or police structure. They can not warrent a private organisation to inflict damage on their non-state enemy.

But in todays disjointed and chaotic battlefield, the non-state entity is the most common opponant to the modern military. We are not fighting nations, but well funded multinational quasi state organizations geared toward ideology (in the case of terrorists) or profit (in the case of pirates).

What modern superstates need is the ability to focus highly trained persons against these threats without the recourse or monetary support of armies and navies. They need privateers.

Imagine how privateers could be used in a multitude of ways to protect superstate interests. Take for a moment our own superstate, the USA. We currently have threats to our nation in a wide array of areas, far more than just those off the coast of Somalia. Drug running, human smuggling, and other border incursions have seriously threatened our security and involve high reward senarios for those undertaking them.

If instead of relaying just on our Navy and Coast Guard for the protection of our border along the Gulf of Mexico, we could employ privateers, with specific warrents to intercept boats and planes that are believed to be running drugs to the USA. Safety measures and restrictions could and should be placed inside the letter of marque to ensure that this power isn’t abused by privateers, as long as the profit motive of the privateer is left intact. In fact, the profit motive would be the single biggest savior to human life in the actions of privateers. Sinking a boat or shooting down a plane does not generate profit. Capturing them does.

The same could be used off the coast of Somalia to deter piracy there. Letters of Marque granted to well trained organizations could defend ships from the pirates. While little profit is to be realized by capturing poor peasants in speedboats, these ships often have multimillion dollar cargo. If the warrents of these privateers gave them a fraction of the value of the cargo for each ship they actively help, then there would be privateering profit to be found in those waters.

But the problem returns to the Declaration of Paris. Privateers are outlawed. If only some country hadn’t signed that treaty, a country with a strong sense of right and wrong who could actvely and effectivly regulate privateers.

Oh wait. The USA didn’t sign the treaty. We have not given up the right to issue letters of marque. In fact, Article 1 of our constitution makes it very clear that Congress can issue letters of Marque. In fact, the airship Resolute, a privately owned anti-submarine airship, held letters of marque during World War II.

So if congress had a spine and an ounce of common sense, this is an effective and cheap alternative to making America and her interests safer. But somehow I think the current congress won’t even consider it.