Nicholas Landau nlandau at eden.rutgers.edu
Sat Oct 17 22:40:51 EST 1998

"John Smith" <send no email at futurex.com> writes:

>Nicholas Landau wrote>...

>> The answer to the second is probably not.  People are so numerous
>> and so widespread that it would require a herculean effort to expose
>> every last human to some infectious agent.

>Humans are also very social, live in
>huge unnatural cities, travel by airplanes
>and cars, and prolong the lives of the
>contagiously infected in hospitals, where the 
>disease can be further spread.

Granted that we are social and that we get around on a global
scale.  We are capable of rapidly imposing controls measures
against contagion, as well.  It is not really a new art,
either.  The borders of entire nations can be closed off in
case of emergency; of course, smaller areas can also be
interdicted.  Futhermore, not everybody lives in a cosmopolitan
city.  There are pockets of humanity which have no contact with
the "global civilization" (there are people who live in the
interior of Java who haven't had any contact since the 1940s.)

I think that any plague is going to miss somebody.  With some
five (six?) billion people kicking around, somebody is bound
to be immune to whatever is whipped up, even should everyone
be exposed.

>> In the end, humanity has weathered many a devastating plague, but
>> we are still here.  

>Thousands of other species have become
>extinct however- and the reasons for
>most of these extinctions is quite unknown.

Thousands?!  Oh my, I would say closer to hundreds of millions of
species have become extinct!  However, we have only observed one
to be finished off by plague.  Some captive breeding species (I
don't even remember the species) was recently polished off by
an epidemic of protozoan.  I think the story was in this week's
NY Times science section.  The story claimed it was the first
extinction ever observed to be due finally to disease.

I think that disease often contributes to extinctions, but I am
not sure that it is commonly the sole cause of an extinction.

>> Grim grim grim.  What is the defense from such things?
>Stockpiles of antibodies and antibiotics
>specific for the potential bioweapons are 
>likely to be created as we prepare for an
>era of bioterrorism, but perhaps the only real
>defense is the same one used to protect us
>from nuclear weapons- Mutually Assured 
>Destruction capability. MAD perhaps, but
>it has worked.

I disagree with you here, too, John.  MAD was a very dangerous
(and somewhat cowardly) approach to enforced peace.  The weakness
is any case in which one side begins to doubt the other side's
offensive capability, or becomes convinced of its own defensive
capabilities.  Remember the "enough shovels" speech by Ronald
Reagan?  All that is needed is a single leader of unimpressive
intelligence (who may, for example, believe earnestly that American
ICBMs can be recalled to their point of launch after being fired)
to effect MAD.  This certainly must never be allowed to happen.

We still do not have an acceptable nuclear defense.  MAD would have
no effect on terrorists, anyway.  How do you assure the destruction
of a few religious nut cases?  They may not care if they live or die.
They may not care if everyone in the nation of their birth lives or
dies.  It is difficult to deter those who harbor fundamentalist

Offense is the best defense only then the enemy is interested in
defending itself.  I say hire lots more microbioliogists to
develop a credible system of civil defense.  I am sure that it
won't be cheap, but military spending is generally politically

What do you say to that proposal?


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