For a likely pandemic, swine flu outbreak seems relatively mild for now, and why shouldn’t the Mexican border be closed???

April 30, 2009

While I am not for a minute underestimating the potential of the 2009 H1N1 virus, better known as the swine flu, it seems that for now for what is seen as a potential for a pandemic is not acting like a pandemic.

That is to say that although Mexico has suffered 150 or more deaths officially attributed to the H1N1 virus – let’s just call it swine flu with no offense to pigs or pork – it does not seem to be terribly deadly elsewhere – yet. The U.S. has only suffered one death and that was a child who came here from Mexico seeking medical treatment. As of this writing I have not read nor heard about deaths elsewhere (although news changes rapidly).

A look at the current numbers (and realize that by the time many read this they no longer will be current) shows 109 confirmed cases in the U.S. and a handful in the various regions of the world. It seems that most of the cases can be attributed to the simple fact that people travel directly from Mexico to other areas of the world. A member of President Obama’s staff and his family are suspected of having contracted the swine flu, it has been reported. There had even been concern for the president himself when one report said that an official with whom he shook hands on his recent trip to Mexico later died, but last I heard it was not from the swine flu (maybe it was old age, I don’t know).

So anyway, 150 deaths in Mexico (some say no more than might be attributed in any given year or less to the more regular forms of flu), and 109 cases (and counting?) in the U.S. and as I said a handful elsewhere. I should note that Mexico reports 2,400 suspected cases.

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AND HERE IS AN UPDATE FROM MY ORIGINAL POST:

The World Health Organization (WHO) is now calling the current swine flu virus Influenza A (H1N1).

The latest numbers as of this update (late Thursday evening my time) are 257 confirmed cases world-wide, 109 in the U.S. and 97 in Mexico.

I will also note here that I have been reading that so far this current virus has actually not been detected in pigs (that’s curious).

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But the world population is 6.7 billion. So by any measure, the potential pandemic is small at this time.

According to current news reports, the swine flu is suspected to have begun in a Mexican village in the state of Veracruz where the villagers think it may have originated from a commercial hog farm (run by a U.S. company). Tests, though, reportedly have come up negative for swine flu at that hog farm. It has also been reported that villagers there reported getting sick as far back as April 2 and I have also read as far back as February.

So, anyway, the swine flu spread in Mexico and then because of travel spread to the U.S. and elsewhere.

I have to wonder why the border has not been shut down. Perhaps that would be an overreaction, but I do not understand the rationale given by officials in the Obama administration and the advice of health authorities that it would be useless since the virus has already traveled here.

Would not more cases coming in increase the likelihood of increased transmission by some exponential effect? I am not calling for a border shutdown, but I would be interested to know why it should not be seriously considered, at least till things are sorted out. I realize it would have a drastic effect on the economy (more than has already taken place) and the lives of people who find themselves for family reasons going back and forth, but so could a pandemic.

The big mystery in all of this is why the swine flu seems to be harder on the Mexican population than those elsewhere. It seems as if the cases people are contracting elsewhere seem to be milder so far.

While I am out of my league in a matter that only doctors would understand, I have to wonder if the lack of healthy and sanitary living conditions in much of Mexico is the reason. I have not heard that discussed (although it may have been). Maybe that would not be politically correct.

Mexican citizens themselves can hardly be blamed for the swine flu. For all I know it may be the fault of U.S. hog farm (factory) operations in Mexico (or not). But it is interesting to note that with the amount of world travel there is, a heath problem in one nation becomes a health problem everywhere.

P.s.

One health official noted today that in the southern hemisphere (that would of course be considerably south of Mexico) winter is coming on and it will be important to see if the virus will take off there. Also health officials are looking at the fact it could show a resurgence here in the northern hemisphere next Fall. I understand the so-called second wave of the influenza pandemic back in 1918 was the worst part of it.

P.s. P.s.

There has also been an observation that unlike other flu strains that seem to leave the very young and the very old most vulnerable, this one seems to strike otherwise healthy people not in those two afore-mentioned catergories. And there has been talk that perhaps people with healthy immune systems are more vulnerable because in reaction to this new strain  their immune systems overreact. No, I have no idea how that is. I’d like to read more about that.

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I would not want to be called a “Red” no matter what it means today…

April 30, 2009

When did being “Red” come to mean being a Republican?

When Rush Limburger (not his real name) said “good riddance” about Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter jumping from the Republican fold to the Democrats and said he wished he’d take Sen. John McCain (the Republican’s unsuccessful presidential candidate) and his daughter and political blogger Megan McCain with him, she had a response:

“Red till I’m dead baby. I love the Republican Party enough to give it criticism…”

When I was a little kid in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s, saying you were “red” meant you were a communist.

I recall the worry of the “red menace” and teachers having to sign loyalty oaths, lest they be moles for the KGB (Soviet spies) trying to indoctrinate our little minds (as if an enemy agent would have any qualms about signing a piece of paper).

Even though I’ve followed current events and politics all my life, somehow this slipped by me. Yes I have realized for some time now that when the TV talking heads say “red” states, they mean where Republicans are ahead in voting registration and when they say “blue” they are talking about Democrats.

And when I looked this thing up on Wikipedia the article said it all began with the election of 2000 when one of the networks started the ball rolling with a color-coded map that put the Republicans in red and the Democrats in blue.

I’m surprised that the Republicans went along with it. You’d think the last thing the party of Joe McCarthy who made wild allegations of people being communist agents (sometimes true, possibly, often not) in order to gain political power by sensationalism that got his name in the news and the ability to intimidate others would want to be identified with the color red that stood for communism or the red menace for so long. Who lost China to the Red Chinese (communist Chinese)? they hollered after 1949. Democratic president Harry S Truman was so unnerved by the accusation of being soft on the red menace that he got the nation involved in the Korean War in order to prove he was not soft on communism.

Democratic Party support for labor and civil rights and social programs has often led its opposition to call it “liberal”, “socialist”, and “left learning”, since socialists and communists in this nation are said to be on the left of the political spectrum (but when the old Soviet Union broke up the communists there were called “conservatives” because they wanted to hold on to what had been the status quo – but I digress).

So, anyway, a color is just a color and right and left depend upon point of view and I guess geography.

But I still would not want to be called a “Red”.


Exploding swine flu vials, now there’s something to be concerned about; meanwhile, pigs are getting a bad rap…

April 29, 2009

UPDATE: Since I first posted this blog the World Health Organizaton has raised its alert level on swine flu to its second highest mark, phase 5, meaning a pandemic (epidemic over a wide geographical area) is imminent.  Germany and Austria have been added to the list of nations reporting swine flu. “It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic,” the health organization director Dr. Margaret Chan was quoted as saying.

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So, amid all this concern, anxiety, panic, or however you might describe it over the swine flu, a container filled with swine flu virus explodes on a train carrying 60 passengers in Switzerland.

That’s what I read on the Der Spiegel website.

According to the story, officials assured everyone that even though it was swine flu, it was a strain of the virus somehow different than the one that is killing people in Mexico and seems to be spreading world wide (I don’t know the science of that).

Just like it was noted in the story, it was something like a plot for a science fiction movie (although it really happened). A lab technician out of Geneva had been sent to Zurich to pick up several ampules of the flu virus that were to be used in testing for the flu epidemic. The ampules were hermetically sealed and packed in dry ice in the container, but apparently not packed properly and gas escaped, resulting in the explosion. The train was evacuated and passengers were held for an hour, but then released. But officials said they did take contact information, presumably for followup.

In a previous blog I said that I would be making sure to use hand sanitizer a lot (I already had been doing that compulsively after going through a bout of low-immune system problems in the recent past – I’m supposedly okay now).

So where did I go today? To one of our local hospitals to visit an ailing brother-in-law (not from the swine flu). But I did use plenty of sanitizer while I was there, but I did not wear a face mask (I just try to hold my breath when people crowd too close, like in the elevator).

There has now been at least one confirmed death in the U.S. from swine flue, a 23-month old child in Houston, Tx. The child had been in Mexico. Some 150 deaths in Mexico have been attributed to the swine flu.

I  read a story that said students from a New York School had been in Cancun, Mexico and contracted the virus. Now hundreds of students in New York have reportedly come down with the flu.

Several U.S. states have reported cases. And several nations around the world have reported cases, to include New Zealand, Israel, Canada, Great Britain (to include Scotland) and Spain.

As everyone is reporting it is called swine flu because originally it was a virus found in pigs and sometimes transmitted from them to humans. This virus seems to have mutated and is being transmitted from human to human. The experts do not have a lot of answers yet and seem to be saying there is not much they can do to fight it right now.

As to the source, I have heard at least two reports (details unclear – partly because I did not take my own notes when I heard them) that workers at a commercial hog farm or farms in Mexico reported getting a flu-like sickness, possibly as far back as February.

It has now been reported that a 5-year-old boy in the Mexican state of Veracruz had the first identified case of swine flu. It was recorded on April 2. He appeared to be recovering at last word. His family reportedly lives near a large U.S.-owned hog farm. But tests there for swine flu were said to be negative.

U.S. companies are running what would more accurately be described as hog factories in Mexico. They run them in the U.S. too, but they get a lot of opposition. The animals are raised in tight confinement and there is a lot of waste.

Even though health officials have repeatedly said you cannot get the swine flu from eating pork (but you should cook it well – that has always been the case with pork), at least one hog industry member said the market is being affected adversely.

In Egypt the government has ordered that all pigs be slaughtered. Although Egypt is a predominantly Muslim nation, whose adherants don’t eat pork, pig farmers there sell pork to the Christian minority. (What the thinking is on this I don’t know, since the disease is reportedly being spread from human to human despite its name.)

I sure don’t like the idea of those commercial hog factories. I raised pigs once when I was in high school and a member of the Future Farmers of America. But mine were not confined in a tight space. And I’ve seen plenty of places where pigs were raised with much open room to run, even on pasture. Pigs love to forage and root.

And contrary to popular conception and the vernacular (“dirty as a pig”), pigs by nature are quite intelligent and clean animals when they can be. They do like to wallow in mud. That’s because they have no pores through which to sweat. On a hot day they love a pig wallow.

My pigs drank out of a fountain which they had to push their snouts up against for the water to run. Also, “eat like a pig” might be accurate if comparing someone’s eating manner to a pig at the trough, but in reality pigs only eat until they are full, whereas a cow or especially a horse will eat until they are sick.

But pigs are highly susceptible to contracting various diseases that afflict swine.

I personally think there ought to be a law against cramped confinement of swine and all other animals. I’m not big on cattle feedlots either. In fact, feedlot type feeding has been linked to mad cow disease (you’d go mad too).

But I would not be concerned about eating sufficiently-cooked pork. And I am going to keep using that hand sanitizer.

P.s.

Due to concerns of the swine industry, at least one health official said there is some consideration in coming up with a new name for what is being called the swine flu.  And what I gather is some type of fundamentalist right wing group called SaveCalifornia.com is calling on President Obama to close the border with Mexico and is calling the virus the “killer Mexican flu”.


Way to go Republicans; chase your membership out of the party…

April 28, 2009

I’m having a hard time figuring what Republican Party leaders are thinking. They chased Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter out of their ranks and now he has become a Democrat.

If Al Franken finally gets seated as the new Democratic Senator from Minnesota, which it now appears is just a matter of time (more time than has already taken place since last Fall’s election), the Democrats will have a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

While I realize Specter was a thorn in the side of the Republicans, especially the far right ones, it would seem they need all the members they can get just about now.

This goes along with the far right Republican strategy of hounding out any Republican who would dare side with the Democrats (and the public at large) on any given issue. Free thinkers the Republicans are not.

I’ve always figured that the electorate is neither far left nor far right, but middle of the road. The current Republican Party strategy seems strange to me.

But I say to the Republicans: keep it up. You’re doing a nice job.


World’s newspapers share top story: the swine flu…

April 28, 2009

Newspapers all over the world shared a top story in their Monday editions, the swine flu. I understand that there is concern that a lot of misinformation is going around via new electronic gossipy devices such as Twitter, and I have nothing authoritative to add to the serious subject of the swine flu. But I was perusing a site I have on my favorites by the Newseum that displays front pages all over the U.S. and all over the world. Most of the papers carried the swine flu as the lead story and others had it prominently displayed. The Japan Times (English edition) headline said: Swine Flu in Mexico Sparks Global Panic. I thought that was a little over the top, perhaps (above that newspaper’s masthead is the slogan: All the news without fear or favor).

From Minnesota, however, the Duluth News headline read: Flu Threat Real, but Don’t Panic. The Buffalo News ran the story below the fold with a headline that read: Nations Gird to Avoid Flu Pandemic.

Most of the newspapers had photos of people in Mexico City wearing face masks. A newspaper in Germany ran a photo of Mexican soldiers armed with automatic weapons and wearing face masks with a headline that said: Soldiers Looking for Sick (that seemed ominous).

One in Vienna had a photo of a violin player in an orchestra wearing a face mask, but I don’t know if the photo was in Vienna or Mexico. But a violin player photo from the city famous for violins seemed appropriate to me.

My German is not good, but I do know some Spanish. The headline in Reforma out of Mexico City, the heart of the Swine flu crisis, read: Federal District Lives in Suspense. An accompanying photo showed a religious procession with people wearing masks carrying a replica of Jesus on the cross.

And I hope I am not spreading misinformation, but it seemed the headline below the main story said something to the effect that “they knew since April 2.”  I do know that I heard a story on the CBS Evening News that said workers on commercial hog farms in Mexico (some owned by U.S. companies) had reported getting sick for some time.

By the time most people read this blog it will be Tuesday, and I don’t know what the updated assessment will be, but I know I am going to avoid crowds and keep using that hand sanitizer.

P.s.

You can see the front pages of newspapers all over the world by Googling newseum front pages. (Newspapers are not dead yet!)


There was a conspiracy to torture, but prosecution could dismantle our system…

April 26, 2009

(Note: In my last post I hinted I might quit blogging – fat chance, unless my laptop konks out.)

When prosecuting wrong doers do you go after the wrongdoers or the lawyers who gave them “bad advice?”

That seemed to be the question on a couple of Sunday morning news/talk/opinion shows I just watched.

But I’ll cut to the chase here. From the investigative news accounts I have taken in so far it seems abundantly clear that what happened is that former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and others directly or indirectly (a wink and a nod) solicited bad advice from legal counsel to justify what anyone without consulting a lawyer would know was wrong (under the Geneva convention and any sense of morality), that is to torture people.

They told the lawyers what they wanted the lawyers to repeat back to them. The lawyers just had to figure out the right legal justifications and terminology.

So who’s wrong. Well both sides of course. It was a conspiracy.

In my opinionated mind they are all guilty of something akin to the war crimes for which we prosecuted military and governmental leaders of Germany and Japan after World War II.

(We hanged some of them.)

I think the resulting scope of the Bush/Cheney violations or the resulting torture activities is probably much smaller than that of the Axis powers in World War II.

And the problem is that if our government now was to go after Bush and Cheney it might mean the total break down of our system. How could we have a system in which, say, the president of the United States has to fear that in the future he could be prosecuted for a policy decision? And I think that is the question that our current president, Barack Obama, is wrestling with.

While I think that Bush and Cheney knew full well that what they did was wrong, they also rationalized it, perhaps through tortured logic (pun intended, even though it’s not so funny) that it was for the security of the nation (but if you waterboard someone hundreds of times, as has been reported, does that not tend to prove it doesn’t work?. And in my mind, even if it did, it was wrong).

Certainly if Bush and Cheney has perpetrated torture and killings and other war crimes on the scale of Adolf Hitler or Gen. Tojo then there would be no question as to their guilt and need to be prosecuted. But I don’t think it quite matches.

Adding to the cover for our two bad boys is the fact that much of what they were doing and how they were doing it was reported early on. The American public in general seemed to acquiesce.

The most shameful part of all of this is that the only people who were ever jailed and/or otherwise severely punished were some enlisted people in the military.

While I am not at all sure that those punished people were entirely without culpability, giving to the circumstances, that is to say, knowing now that apparently orders from the top came down directly and indirectly to torture prisoners (detainees), I personally believe it would be right that those enlisted personnel be fully pardoned and their ranks reinstated.

Whether there can ever be any prosecutions, I don’t know. But if there are to be, they should be at the higher levels. But then we’re back to Bush and Cheney and the whole idea of prosecuting ex presidents and vice presidents, something that again I think would tear apart our system of government.

The tragedy of our for the most part senseless and every-changing war policies in the Middle East and our economic fiasco brought on by imprudent use of credit point to a moral breakdown that took place in our society. We may be pulling ourselves out of that.

I don’t know, maybe an official statement owning up to the fact that we used poor judgment but will do better in the future is enough.

P.s.

Whatever leverage the U.S. may have had against other nations or enemies torturing our own citizens has been severely eroded.


I’m entitled to my own opinions but maybe I could keep them to myself … or could I???

April 25, 2009

Maybe it’s time to quit blogging.

I’ve heard it said that opinions (which I spew out constantly) are like rear ends. Everyone has one and they all stink.

I’m not sure why I have so many opinions and why I have this compulsion to give them out.

In my mind, even though I have opinions, I feel that I respect those of others (except from the likes of Rush Limberger) and I often allow in my writings that I am not even totally convinced mine are correct.

The only thing that I can come up with as to why I have all these opinions is that I was raised in a strange environment as a child in which all the TV news seeped into me in a kind of osmosis fashion. For several years my next oldest brother and I slept in a bedroom that doubled as the family’s TV room. And each morning my mom would turn on the Today Show.

I used to watch the Huntley-Brinkley newscast every night too.

Later, instead of reading comic books I devoured Time Magazine.

My father was a newspaperman too. But I think I got more of my interest in current events from my mother. At 98 she is still a fan. She takes in CNN as much as she can.

In school I was passable in most subjects – math was my weak area – but I automatically excelled in what was called social studies (history, geography, civics).

I eventually obtained a four-year college degree in Political Science for the sole reason that it was the path of least resistance, since it came so easy to me.

But alas I have found that all this opinion stuff has not made me happy nor has it made those around me happy.

Opinions. Everyone has them but….

 P.s.

I’ve been told I am not the world’s best listener. While I know that is true, it is ironic that I spent some 15 years as a journalist scrawling out copious notes in my own cumbersome form of shorthand (using 4 for for or four, or a ? for the word what or the word question(ed), that kind of thing) and poring over them and trying to get into my stories a goodly sample of what everyone said (covering all sides – there are usually more than two sides, if that makes sense).

P.s. P.s.

I recall an unsuccessful and bitterly disappointed candidate for California governor once saying: “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more”. Uh, he did come back (and got kicked around again after doing some kicking of his own). I do go on.

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