April 29, 2009

How do we Slow the Spread of Swine Flu? Twitter.

I can't help but feel skeptical about the swine flu (almost) pandemic. I have heard or read so many different expert opinions that I can't decide if I should take advantage of the cheap flight rates and immediately fly to Mexico or purchase a hyperbolic bubble and move to an uninhabited island in Nunavut.

This morning I listened to a medical expert on CBC talk about how the current strain of swine flu is 'mild' and there is little to fear. He gave a comparison to SARS. With SARS, according to this guy, there was 1 in 10 chance of death but that the swine flu had, at worst, a 1 in 500 chance. Considering that outside of Mexico there may not even be 500 infected people, that's not a bad number. And in a given year, according to the all-knowing and infallible wikipedia, the usual epidemic has a worldwide death rate of 1 in 100.

But then on the other hand there are the experts who are advising countries to load up on Tamiflu and the like. And big-pharmas are standing on the sidelines wringing their hands hoping that's exactly what countries do. Some of the biggest boom times for them was when the Avian flu was going to supposedly ravage the world population. We watched while people like Donald Rumsfeld pushed the concerns of the pending Avian flu pandemic and profited from owning shares connected the anti-viral. Is that what we're facing again? Another false alarm that will only cause some big company to make more money?

Well, not so according to an expert from Mount Sinai in Toronto. This woman was all about us being vigilant and taking all precautions to prevent the spread of swine flu. And maybe she has a point, especially where I am concerned. After all, of the four reported cases in Ontario three are in the Durham region and the nature of my job puts me in close contact with hundreds of people each day. And given the environment of my job, it wouldn't take long for my 'office' to resemble one of the hard hit Mexican villages. Also, seeing that Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag have isolated themselves in Mexico to avoid infection then we should definitely all be concerned. Anyway, the doc from Mount Sinai said the best response to the pending pandemic is social distancing. Avoiding social gatherings and recreational outings will slow the spread and limit the number of infections.

Between Avian flu, West Nile virus, Swine flu, seasonal influenza, common colds, random bacteria, mad cow, psycho squirrel and the like, if we were to significantly react to every warning our society wouldn't function, we wouldn't live our lives, we wouldn't breed and we would all starve to death.

My point is that panicking should be saved for times of panic. Unless you're in a small Mexican village or the crowded downtown of Mexico City where the quality of medical service isn't of the highest degree and the general level of environmental cleanliness isn't exactly excellent, then sure, I get being quite worried. But when the mortality rate is five times better than the yearly, general epidemics, are thousands of kilometres away from ground zero, little correlation to Mexico or people visiting there and have access to world-class medical services, panicking at this point seems somewhat far-fetched.

I'm not attempting to minimize how this outbreak has affected those who have lost loved ones or are suffering from this. And this is not to say that this virus won't be the next real pandemic. What I am saying is that at this point in time we should probably go on with our lives and not add to our stresses and focus on the things we can control and we enjoy. Let's react when it's absolutely necessary and not make big-pharmas anymore wealthy for no reason. If we over react to this episode, like with Avian flu, and it turns out to be nothing, like Avian flu, well... Well, we all know the fable of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'.

Or we can begin our social distancing now. In other words, we all should find our inner tween and take to Twitter immediately.

April 15, 2009

Harper Cheats and Encourages Others to do the Same OR We in Durham Aren't Suprised

When I read that Elizabeth May accused Harper of 'cheating' during the leader debates, all I could do was chuckle to myself. It came as little surprise to hear that Harper couldn't actually debate without some sort of assistance. The same is true of many Conservative candidates in the last election.

Out here in little old Durham (the region, not the riding), just east of Toronto, there were lots of stories floating around of Conservative candidates repeating, verbatim, things that the big-wigs were already saying in public and having talking points, speeches and local media pieces drafted by the central campaign workers. This is likely the same all over the nation as the Conservative party was very careful about controlling their message at all costs.

However, cheating in or breaking of rules - or at least the ethics - is another thing all together. And it comes as little surprise to some of us here in Durham (the riding, not the region). Leading up to the Rogers televised debate there were whispers that Bev Oda and her campaign were making demands that Rogers had to meet if they wanted her to appear on the program. The specifics of her demands were unclear to us leading up to the debate. Following the debate it became apparent what her demands likely were - she had wanted the questions to review beforehand.

From a couple firsthand accounts and some other people several members of our campaign talked to afterward, the binder she was using during the debate contained ordered responses for all the questions, including those from the guest panelists. Now I'm sure someone, somewhere will say she may have just had well-prepared notes and had the topics nicely ordered. But in perfect order of the questions asked, including the guest panelist questions? Seems a little funky from where I'm sitting. And like May questioned 'tattling' on Harper, some of us felt it to be somewhat useless to go on a tirade about the incident because it would likely just come across as 'childish', it wouldn't necessarily aid our cause and it would take our focus off of our task at hand - attempting to defeat the incumbent.

I truly question if May or our campaign had ran to the hills with this type of information if the outcomes would have changed. I don't think it would have made any difference. For us in Durham riding we always knew we had a steep climb to the top. We were against an incumbent cabinet minister, with greater resources, within a considerably conservative riding, running a generally unknown candidate, backstopped by a poor national campaign. We had hope and conviction but sometimes those just aren't enough. Crying foul over a cheat-book would have seem desperate at best and petty at worst considering the tasks that laid ahead.

What effect May's disclosure might have is to further compound the feeling that Harper can't be trusted and has little leadership quality by those that already lean that way and nudge those who are undecided in that direction as well. This isn't a positive thing for a man that has been and continues to suffer from a poor public opinion. He didn't win the last election because he's well-liked or because he was seen as some magnificent leader. He won because he was essentially considered the lesser evil. Canwest/Global ran several polls that consistently showed that Harper polled better when directly compared to the other leaders but when addressed individually he polled unfavourably just like the others. As well, hopefully this means that come the next election, Harper and his cronies won't try to pull the same fast-one and will be forced to actually know their platform (if they actually have one next time) and think of responses on their feet. Something that will likely play very well for Ignatieff and Layton.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)