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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, August 15, 2003



Overexposure To Heat Can Cause Disorientation

Evidently, overexposure to stories about excessive heat can have a similar effect.

The French government has been criticized for its inept performance during a heat wave which may have claimed as many as 3,000 French lives. However, in a surprising turn to libertarianism, Atrios defends the French and announces that he does not see a role for Big Government in disaster prevention or relief.

The NY Times has a different, more predictable view of the French situation - of course the French government could have done more.

Let's see:

PARIS, Aug. 14 — While Europe's record heat wave has begun to moderate, the recriminations for what is only now being recognized as an epidemic of heat-related death are just beginning.

The withering heat of the last several weeks is being blamed for hundreds of deaths across Europe, and perhaps 3,000 deaths in France alone, according to Jean-François Mattei, the minister of health in France, where the bodies have been piling up quickly in the 100 degree-plus temperatures.


Emphasis added throughout. Is this the paper of record, or some irreverent blog, with this casual reference to the number of deaths? Continuing...

...Health experts said the stress of such heat, coupled with a general lack of air conditioning and insufficient public preparedness, was to blame for the high death toll.

...In the early days of this summer's heat wave, officials played down its significance, and most of the French government left for the annual monthlong August vacation. But as the death toll grew, the finger-pointing began.

...One factor common to the victims was a lack of air conditioning, which is less common in Europe than in the United States. But the problem was aggravated by the practice, at least in France, Italy and Spain, of shutting down parts of hospitals while doctors and staff take August vacations. The director of the big Saint-Louis Hospital, in Paris's 10th Arrondissement, Jean-Patrick Lajonchère, told the daily Le Monde that 35 percent of the hospital's capacity had been closed because of the summer break.

The city's medical system appeared overwhelmed. The Lariboisière Hospital, one of Paris's largest, reported about 220 admissions a day through the week. As part of an emergency plan, the government on Wednesday [August 13] began calling back hospital workers and government employees.


Earlier in the story, we were told that the heat wave began in mid-July, so this "response" came 3-4 weeks into it.

This being France, the heat also sparked a political emergency. As recently as Tuesday, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was rejecting criticism of his handling of the heat-related deaths as "partisan polemics." But today he cut short his vacation to convene cabinet ministers who approved, among other measures, extending the Paris emergency plan in place to the entire country and opening military hospitals to those, particularly the elderly, suffering from the heat.

Even a libertarian like Atrios might admit that opening military hospitals is typically a government initiative.

...The Communist Party linked the crisis with government efforts to rein in health spending. The tiny Greens Party called for Mr. Raffarin's resignation.

Mr. Raffarin refused, telling reporters: "I will not resign," adding: "This is not the time for arguing. I feel that I have done all that was necessary at the right time."


Others disagree.

Now, with all respect to those who may think I am gloating, let's just say that the French government failed to identify a problem, and failed to respond effectively as the problem worsened. I at least have no doubt that more effective action could have saved lives.

Notes: The original Atrios post; the WaPo editorial; the InstaPost that inspired Jesse; Bill Quick, and the CNN story that got him started.

And we love the CNN story, from August 12, when the French Government was still in denial:

Doctors have warned that many more people will die unless the government acknowledges there is a crisis.

The French Health Ministry responded to the criticism Monday, insisting there has been no massive increase in emergencies, even if more elderly people were being admitted to hospital.

The government said it was unclear if the heat was to blame.

"People don't come in with 'dying of heat' on their foreheads," The Associated Press quoted Stephane Grossier of the Health Ministry as saying. "Things are not as simple as they seem."


Avoid simplistic solutions.

Finally, a quick response to Jesse's strawman - if Bill Quick, Glenn, and I are criticizing anyone (I am!), it is the French government. So most of his tirade about (paraphrasing) "show me a lefty gloating specifically about soldiers dying, not folks pointing to casualties as evidence of this war's folly" is utterly misdirected. I am pointing to these deaths as evidence of the inability of the French Government to confront a problem, just as war critics point to casualties in Iraq to advance their agenda. I also reject the rest of the strawman, which seems to require Glenn to restrict his criticisms to well-known moderate lefties, since I think we are all free to criticize extremists. I believe that is part of the "anti-idiotarian" platform.

As an example of the sort of "gloating" the anti-war crowd produces, try this.


UPDATE: Jesse responds, identifying the concept of partisan blinders but missing the point as to who is wearing them. Switch the name here, and Jesse and I are in total agreement: Jesse is"a good guy, he's just entirely wrong on this one."

And, inspired by Jesse's helpful suggestion that "it's pretty goddamned solid that Glenn and Bill (and the latter's commenters) decided that the lessons to be learned from this heatwave is that they should have supported the war", we did check the Quick comments. I am missing the "support the war" rhetoric, but we do see the genesis of the "gloating" meme - apparently, if righties do not clearly decry the loss of innocent life, they are reveling in it. Thanks for the tip.

My suggestion - some creative lawyer-bloggers could draw up standard form disclaimers for both sides of the aisle. I will periodically link to the form denouncing racism, McCarthyism, and the loss of innocent life; folks on the left who are so inclined can link to a form denouncing Stalinism, communism, forced collectivism, and whatever else the folks who enjoy the labeling game come up with.

A quicker solution would be for folks to check their default settings, of course.

UPDATE: We deplore the loss of innocent life. We also file this story under "When life hands you lemons, don't whine about it", and have a serious follow-up from CNN.

MORE: We deplore all loss of innocent life as we note that heads have commenced rolling.



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