The Tao of Politics

One of my main concerns is: how can I make a difference? There are thousands of political blogs out there. It’s easy to get lost in that ocean. So I may blog about politics on occasion, or I may blog about health issues, depending on where my interests lead me, and where I feel I can contribute something of significance.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Year 2005
This is an interesting year-end story: “Big little stories you might have missed,” from International Herald Tribune. I always enjoy reading this newspaper, especially when I am in France.

Health Notes
Here are tips on how to deal with the regular flu.

Mystery: how did Ms. Zhou contract the bird flu?

Political Notes
We finally get a lottery in North Carolina and it’s marred by scandal. Who gives a **ck? When can I buy a ticket?

Well, I’m glad we now have legislation preventing prisoners from suing their captors at Gitmo. We sure don’t want anymore frivolous lawsuits.

I don’t know if anyone else saw this, but here is Markos Moulitsas Zuniga’s take on some 2006 election contests.

As the old year ends, is the US planning to bomb Iran? If so, I think the American people would get fed up with this administration very quickly, not to mention the fact that the armed forces are already weary and stretched thin.

But hey, who knows? Maybe the president is planning to start another war to bolster his poll numbers and ensure retaining control of Congress next year? Nobody votes against a president in time of war, do they? Well, I will, and I won't be alone.

I wonder how much of the public's money and our children's future this president is willing to spend for political purposes?

Can George W. Bush break the record for most wars started by an American president?

Stay tuned, it could be an interesting 2006.

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Happy New Year!!!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Political Note
Does anyone have the answer for what to do about illegal immigration? The US House of Representatives seems to think they do. They propose building a 15 foot high fence along the Mexican border. Of course the Mexicans don’t think this is the answer. This article addresses some of the pros and cons.

Would you believe . . .
. . . US forces are beginning to focus more on training Iraqis? Good. It’s about time.

. . . Lynndie England is not a lucky person? First she was caught on film sticking her fingers where they didn’t belong. Now she has been hurt in prison doing virtually the same sort of thing. Maybe she should make a New Year’s resolution to keep her hands to herself more often?

. . . Donald Trump may run for Governor of New York?

. . . European stocks might be a good investment for 2006?

. . . the US Government is running out of cash? Who would have thunk it? I thought money grew on trees. Oh that’s right, the leaves have all fallen off the trees. Can you say “Winter of Discontent?”

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The Spread of H5N1 (Bird Flu) and the Bird Trade
Anyone who has read The Tao of Politics regularly knows that I have been particularly concerned about how bird flu is spread. There has been considerable disagreement on this point. One side claims that migratory birds spread H5N1. Another side claims that the disease is spread by exporting live birds from Asia – the bird, or poultry, trade. The latter point of view seems compelling in many ways, but I have wondered just how many birds are traded between Asia and Europe? Is it really enough so that the practice is now threatening the world with a possible pandemic? In order to answer some of these questions I did some research. Here are some of the results that I found:

The bird trade is vast. One way to stop the spread of bird flu is to close down wild bird markets in Asia.

Europe imports about a million wild birds per year.

One million wild birds are traded each year, and about two million are smuggled.

There is a vigorous poultry trade throughout Asia. Illegal trade may be taking place between China and Russia via Kazakhstan.

Spread of bird flu through Russia seems to follow trans-Siberian rail routes rather than migratory bird patterns.

One reason why migratory birds don’t seem to be the culprits is that infected ducks die within two days, so something else, the bird trade for example, seems a more likely candidate for the spread. Also, India, which sees as many as 20 million migratory birds per year, is relatively free of H5N1.

Finally, here is a great discussion on illegal bird trade and the spread of H5N1 generally.

So, have I answered my question? Is the bird trade vast enough to account for the spread of bird flu from Asia to Eastern Europe? Maybe. Of course no one knows for sure. But there is a lot of evidence supporting that contention. There is not much we can do about migrating birds, but there is much that we can do about Asian farms, bird markets, and smuggling. It seems to me that we should concentrate most of our efforts in areas where we know we can do some good.

This is not the last word on this subject. If anyone reading this has anything to add, please do. I really do want to know how this disease is spreading. Maybe we can spread some knowledge and resources around and get to the bottom of this.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Old Year, New Year
Apparently Brian McCartan of the Global Trends Project is a “glass half full” kind of guy. He has written an article, published 12/29/05 in The Christian Science Monitor, entitled, “War and Disasters Aside, 2005 Brought World Progress.” While he acknowledges all the gloomy news of 2005, he maintains that we should nonetheless feel encouraged because broader global trends indicate things are looking up. There are four main areas in which Brian thinks this progress is evident.

Income: he says that since 1960 more than one billion people “have pulled themselves out of the direst poverty.” Furthermore, globalization and industrialization “has raised incomes for billions of people.” (Which billions are we talking about? Bill Gates?) Health and Education: the gap between life expectancies in the richest and poorest countries has narrowed by ten years since 1960. (I don’t know why he keeps choosing 1960 for his baseline year. I know the world’s population has doubled since then. I thought this was an article about 2005.) Political and Civil Rights: human rights are on the rise and military dictatorships are on the decline. (I guess this is true. After all, we did liberate Iraq, get rid of one dictator, and only 30,000 Iraqis died in the process.) Armed Conflict: there were 50 armed conflicts in 1990 and only 30 today. (Right, and only about 2200 American soldiers have died, not to mention all the wounded and maimed.)

Brian McCartan says that if we focus on “sensational short-term stories that impact relatively few people,” we tend to lose sight of the real progress made. Tell that to the 1.5 million people displaced by Katrina this year, and the American people who will have to pick up the tab for the $75 billion in damage. Tell that to the quarter-million+ killed by the Tsunami a year ago. Tell that to the families of those servicemen who died in Iraq. For them, and others, it’s been a bad year.

You know, Brian McCartan says we made progress in 2005, but I just don’t see it. Even his article barely touches on 2005. Most of it compares the present day with 1960, with emphasis on the latter. Well I suppose he has a point about that. I mean, no one had a cell phone in 1960, and no one had a personal computer. The twenty-first century may pretty much suck so far, but at least no one has been assassinated like they were in the 1960s. So I guess that’s progress. But I have a feeling that Brian McCartan, like many writers, has taken statistics and tried to use them to prove a point. His point is that 2005 wasn’t such a bad year. His arguments are not persuasive. Sure, this year was better, in some ways, than 1960, but the only people who would claim that 2005 was a really good year is the oil companies.

Now, before everyone starts screaming at me, let me say that I think 2005 was a pretty good year. A lot of positive things happened to me this year, for which I am very grateful. But when I say that 2005 was a pretty good year, I am voicing a purely personal, and subjective opinion. For many people all over the world 2005 was a horrible year. I don’t think we should devalue their suffering by engaging in an intellectual exercise trying to prove that, in the abstract, 2005 wasn’t so bad. People don’t live in the abstract. They don’t starve in the abstract, they don’t suffer in the abstract, and they don’t die in the abstract. Let us hope that 2006 is better, really better.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Abortion Note
The Pope considers an embryo to be a complete human being. I guess this is not really a new bit of information, but it is a new papal statement. I don’t have a problem with this personally, and I doubt that many people would have a problem with it. This statement does have implications, though, such as saying that killing a human embryo is the same as murder. That’s where the problems arise, in a legal and emotional context. I wish we lived in a world in which every human being, born and unborn, was valued. We don’t live in such a world though.

Health Notes
Eating processed meat may increase your risk of colon cancer.

I don’t know what you can do about this, but infections, childhood and otherwise, are said to shorten people’s lives as well as shorten their height.

There does appear, however, to be something you can do something about: apparently taking vitamin D reduces the risk of certain cancers.

A shipment of corn from the US to Japan was found to contain aflatoxin, a highly dangerous, poisonous fungus. God, what an awful situation. Suppose inspectors hadn’t found the fungus. People could have died. Japan is now tightening their inspections of US corn, and rightly so.

As if we didn’t have enough evidence that we should lose a little weight, now they’re saying that obesity may cause someone to lose their eyesight. You know, some of the best exercise you can do is to push yourself away from the dinner table, get up, and walk away. The more often you do this exercise, the healthier you will be.

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Bird Flu Q&A
There is a lot about bird flu that scientists still don’t know. I reported here a couple of weeks ago that importing birds rather than migrating birds might be a major cause of spreading H5N1. Now here is another story that reinforces that contention. According to scientists, they are apparently not seeing the kind of spread of the bird flu virus that they would expect if migratory birds were the major culprit. So that takes us back to shipping and importing/exporting poultry as the cause of the spread. But that brings me back to my major question. Bird flu has spread to Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Does Eastern Europe import a lot of live birds from Asia? If they do, maybe they should stop. If they don’t, then how did H5N1 get there? I’m sure these and other questions will be answered eventually. In the meantime, I guess we just have to stay tuned for further developments.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Humpty Dumpty Iraq?
This is an interesting story that talks about the fact that the mood has soured in Iraq, with violence increasing, and people protesting the recent election results. Fortunately this was the top story on AOL when I logged on earlier, otherwise I might never have seen it. When I went looking for it at Yahoo! News, I really had to search for it, forgetting that it is a Reuters story. Instead I first ran across this story about how security has improved in Mosul, definitely an upbeat account that seems unwarranted by news from the other story. Sometimes it seems that the news you really need is hard to find, or obscured by other news that paints a very different picture.

I was dismayed by the Reuters report of new violence in Iraq, but I was not too surprised. I don’t know if we will ever be able to put Iraq back together again. Maybe it is too broken. Maybe we don’t have the right plan, or maybe our plan is marred by the fact that it’s our plan, or maybe they need for everyone to just leave them alone and let them work out their own problems.

I wish all the best for Iraq now and in the coming year. It seems that they are going to need all the best wishes they can get.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

An Embarrassment
USA Today is saying that Brokeback Mountain is the leading contender for the Oscar this year. The Democratic Party doesn’t need a film like this to even be made, much less for it to receive months of publicity right at an election time. Hollywood, by releasing this film, is giving the Right the ammunition they need to mobilize their votes by going to the public and saying, “Look at what the Left is doing to our country.” I think it’s potentially embarrassing.

I’ll grant you that Brokeback Mountain may be a sensitive film, and well-done, but tell that to the likes of Jesse Helms and his followers. They’re just going to use something like this to further their own political agendas. Of course they’re going to use things like this anyway, but why give them this kind of ammunition?

Perhaps I should be more sensitive to the plight of gays, more politically correct? I’m sorry, but the future of the gay movement is not one of my major concerns. The future of politics in this country is, and I don’t want anything to mess up this next election. We might have a real chance to take back some power in Congress. We don’t need any distractions.

I, for one, wish the sensitive gay film Brokeback Mountain had stayed in the closet. Not only do gays harm their own cause, at least politically, by flaunting their sexuality in a heterosexual country, but they might even be contributing to electing more Republicans. Gee, thanks.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Looking forward to 2006
It’s never too early to think about the 2006 election, especially since it is less than a year away. I am very hopeful that the Democrats can control one house of Congress.

US Conservatives at has an overview of the US Senate races. (Sorry I didn’t run across a liberal perspective, but this at least outlines the contests and gives some impression of the closeness of each race. Of course the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. There is the Cook Report, and Dean at Dean’s World also discusses 2006.) I cannot imagine our taking back the Senate outright, though we might make some gains that we could then build upon in 2008. I am particularly hopeful that Rick Santorum will go, although in some ways I’m just waiting for Joseph Lieberman to go over to the GOP, which would balance that out.

I don’t know if there are any hard, fast statistics on races for the US House of Representatives for 2006. The polling data I’ve seen suggest that the Democrats have like a ten point advantage over the Republicans. Can the Democrats hold onto that advantage? Will it translate into enough votes in key congressional precincts to change the party affiliation of the district? We need a net pickup of sixteen seats in order to take over the House of Representatives. I think it is definitely doable. That is one thing that will make 2006 an exciting year.

I believe that the American people think that the current administration in Washington is not accountable enough for its actions. One way to make them accountable is to elect a Congress that will hold them accountable. They have an opportunity in 2006 to make that happen.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Protect and Defend, or Pick and Choose?
A new study says that air pollution can cause heart disease. In fact one contributor to the study says, “We established a causal link between air pollution and atherosclerosis.”

You know, it’s good to see someone establish a causal link between something. Too often in the news you hear people say that they have not established a causal link between, say, smoking and lung cancer, or something equally absurd, and that seems to give them carte blanche to just continue doing whatever they’ve been doing, with impunity.

So, is this news about air pollution going to have any impact at all? Well, the Bush administration has proposed new air quality regulations, but according to some the proposals don’t go far enough in addressing the problem, and the Environmental Protection Agency (did they say protection????) is said to have “ignored recommendations for tighter controls from its own scientists and from an independent panel of outside experts.”

You know, the administration likes to quote the thousands who died on 9/11, and they like to warn us about the thousands who may die from a mushroom cloud, or from the next terrorist attack in general, but with thousands actually dying each year from polluted air, don’t you think we might have a real problem here instead of all your imagined problems that seem to be driving all your policy decisions???

When the President takes the oath of office he pledges to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States. I know that doesn’t say anything about people, but what good is the constitution if your people are dying?

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Stock Tip
If you could buy sauerkraut on the stock market, I don’t think you’d lose money, with sales up 50% in one quarter.

The Year to Come
One of the top news stories to watch for 2006, according to Lycos, will be Avian (bird) Flu. Of course, if the last year can serve as any guide, a lot of things will happen in 2006 that we can’t even imagine now, or at least that we can’t adequately predict. To paraphrase Bette Davis in “All About Eve,” fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

How about some medicine?
Here’s another article that brings into question the efficacy of the drug Tamiflu. I agree with this article: our scientists need to work on finding effective, reliable antiviral drugs. Viruses are not going to go away. We need better methods of dealing with them, of combating them. Here, however, is a pretty extensive discussion regarding vaccines versus antivirals.

Tell this to those who have died
And you see, here’s part of the problem, I think: our scientists are so busy trying to make us immune to the flu, which may be a losing battle, that they’re not adequately treating the ones who are sick today, and so many of them die.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bird Flu News
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni says China is cooperating with the US in battling the bird flu. I still wonder if China has fully reported all its casualties.

Avian flu is on the increase, and so is the possibility of a human pandemic. And Bloomberg reports that we are losing the battle against H5N1. We are obviously struggling to catch up. The birds have a head start. They fly around 24/7, and they're worse than stealth bombers. In fact their droppings are more dangerous, in some ways, than bombs. To contain this flu, and prevent a pandemic, is a big challenge, one that we may indeed lose.

Get plenty of sleep to bolster your immune system.

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Good Polls, Bad Polls
If you tell President Bush that his poll numbers are down, and ask him what he thinks of that, he is likely to tell you he doesn’t pay any attention to polls. But when the President wants to make a point, he doesn’t seem so averse to reading polls, to quoting them, or even to relying on them as he did in his Sunday night speech when he quoted the new ABC News – Time Magazine poll.

Polls are a little like statistics: you can draw different conclusions depending on what you emphasize. You can say, for example, as the President did, that nearly two-thirds of the Iraqis “expect things to improve even more in the year ahead.” Of course we don’t have to say that maybe these people think things will improve because they think we’ll get out of the country. And we also don’t have to draw the conclusion that 35% of Iraqis think this is as good as it gets, with car bombings and death everywhere. We also don’t have to say that only 44% of Iraqis say their country is better off now than before the war, or that 50% say it was wrong to invade in the first place.

(A side note: this war in Iraq is interesting in that both the American people and the Iraqi people think we shouldn’t be in Iraq, but neither of them wants us to leave right away. This is really emblematic of the ambivalence that so pervades this issue, and also illustrates the bind that many Democrats find themselves in. It also may suggest the main reason President Bush was re-elected last year: Americans feel like they are between Iraq and a hard place. When forced to choose, they chose Iraq. It doesn’t mean that is what they wanted, but that is what they chose because it was the lesser of two evils. If we could ever come to terms with these seeming contradictions, we would come a long way toward resolving most political conflicts in the country, probably in favor of the Democrats.)

So, President Bush uses polls when he wants to, cherry picks them when he wants to, and ignores them the rest of the time. I guess that is anyone’s prerogative, especially the President’s. Other polls, however, suggest that even with this reliance on polls, and with all the speeches the President has given recently, American opinion on Iraq doesn’t change so easily. And now for, the first time, a majority (53%) of the American people had an unfavorable impression of him. I guess this is one poll that the President will choose to ignore.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tammy Flu vs. Tamiflu
I remember the Asian flu of 1957. We didn’t have a hundred channels on the TV then, and I listened to the radio a lot. I remember that the song “Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds was popular then. I listened to it a lot that summer. I loved “Tammy” and I loved Debbie Reynolds. I don’t think I actually caught the Asian flu. I guess I had “Tammy” and Debbie to protect me.

Today we are facing the possibility of another flu pandemic, this one from birds. The product Tamiflu may or may not prove effective in dealing with bird flu. Additionally, Tamiflu is fraught with controversy. Tamiflu, as one article notes, is not a panacea. Nor is it the only answer for a possible flu pandemic. One interesting idea that was touched on in this last article is this: since we are afraid that bird flu is going to be transmitted to a person who already has the regular flu, thereby allowing an exchange of genetic material that might then make the deadly H5N1 transmissible human to human, why not vaccinate everyone against the regular flu so they don’t get sick to begin with? Then if someone contracted bird flu, at least it would “minimize the risk of the avian flu virus mutating and causing a pandemic.” Therefore, you don’t necessarily have to find a vaccine for H5N1 since you have vaccines for other strains of flu. Stop one strain and you may stop others. As the article notes, however, “there has been relatively weak demand for vaccines” up until now.

So, will Tamiflu protect today’s generation like “Tammy” protected me in 1957? That remains to be seen. The year 1957 was an innocent time compared to 2005, and of course I was so young then. I didn’t realize how dangerous the world was when I was ten years old. I think it’s more dangerous today.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Political Notes
So, 2008 will be the first time since 1952 that neither a sitting president nor a vice-president is on the ballot. We all know what happened then: after twenty years of Democratic rule, Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was elected by a landslide. I have a feeling that after twelve years of Bush rule (41 and 43) the American public will have had enough, and we’ll see a Democratic sweep.

I find it interesting that President Bush refuses to comment on the ongoing CIA leak case, but that doesn’t keep him from commenting on the ongoing Tom DeLay case. While he’s at it, maybe he could use his presidential prerogative to give us a hint as to whom Bob Novak’s source is.

I find it interesting that the Bush administration wants to wall up the border with Mexico, and maybe that of Canada as well, and yet there are real threats out there that cannot be kept out by a wall, namely West Nile Virus, for example, from which there have been 98 deaths this year. And this is not to even mention the threat from bird flu, which also cannot be kept out by a wall, or a human flu pandemic if one develops.

Speaking of walls, will the improvements to the New Orleans levee system be adequate? What about a category 5 storm? And it certainly doesn’t address the increase of West Nile Virus that occurred as a result of all that standing water in New Orleans.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What’s with China?
China is in the news a lot concerning bird flu, but it is difficult to know exactly what to believe. One article has China talking confidently about its ability to deal with the problem, citing as evidence that they have gone fifteen days without an outbreak of H5N1 among birds. The article goes on to say that nearly 7 billion birds have been vaccinated this year, 22,225,800 have been culled, and only five people have become ill, with only two of them having died.

All this sounds reasonable enough. The article goes on to say, however, that 151,200 birds died from bird flu. You would think that with 151,200 sick and dead birds around, more than five humans would have also become infected. Either it was a different strain of the virus, or the bird flu is not as big a problem as originally thought, or somebody’s not telling the whole truth.

In an earlier post here I mentioned an article in New Scientist which said that 300 people might have already died from bird flu in China. So is there a cover-up? We don’t know and we may never know. We must rely on China, and other Asian countries, to address the bird flu problem honestly, openly, and vigorously, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of people around the world. Will they cooperate? Only time will tell.

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Saying something doesn’t make it true
The Republicans continually say that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. They repeat it like a mantra, or as a stock answer when they don’t know what else to say, a talking point. They all say it, Karen Hughes on Hardball last night, Elizabeth Dole in a recent opinion piece (Raleigh News and Observer, Dec. 11), Ken Mehlman countless times, everyone. But saying it doesn’t make it true.

If America thinks she is dictating the central front in the war on terror, she is badly mistaken. The terrorists are dictating it, in London, Madrid, Bali, New York. Terror has no front. If America thinks it does, she is being sadly naïve. We're so used to thinking in terms of symmetrical warfare, but this is a different kind of war. All the terrorists have to do is slink back into the shadows, and the front shifts. Iraq is the central front in the war in Iraq, nothing more, nothing less. And I’m sorry, but I’m not buying what the Republicans are selling, which is their version of reality.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Importing Bird Flu?
This article speculates that bird flu may be spread by the practice of importing birds and not by migrating birds after all. So, does Europe import a lot of birds from Asia? I don’t know. I certainly do think we should attack bird flu on as many fronts as possible, and if the bird trade is a problem, we need to do something about it. Also, if the bird trade is the major problem, that certainly would make it a lot easier to get it under control. You could stop exporters from exporting, but how could you stop birds from migrating?

Here is an interactive map that graphically shows the spread of bird flu.

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Body Count
News sources estimate the number of human deaths from bird flu since 2003 to be about 70. However some sources put the number much higher. New Scientist reported in November that one estimate places the number of deaths in China alone at 300, including some human to human transmissions. Why the disparity in numbers? Either the higher number is wrong or the Chinese government is trying to keep their numbers secret. An earlier article, also in New Scientist, characterizes the situation in China as “out of control.” That’s just the kind of news we like to hear.

Here again is a slideshow of bird flu photos. New photos seem to be added periodically. There is an option in the upper right corner of the screen where you can display multiple (8) photos at a time to help you get to the ones you to see faster.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

President Bush today, during his remarks in Philadelphia, said “by helping democracy succeed in Iraq, we bring greater security to our citizens here at home. The terrorists know that democracy is their enemy. And they will continue fighting freedom's progress with all the hateful determination they can muster.”

Now, I don’t want to nitpick, but I just wonder if these assumptions are true. I think the US was safer when Saddam was in power and did not tolerate having terrorist groups operating in his country. Also, democracy did not prevent the United States being hit by three massive acts of terrorism, one domestic (Oklahoma City), and two foreign (World Trade Center twice). In fact, the terrorists used the fact that we are an open society to mount their vicious attacks. So I’m sorry, I don’t buy the President’s assumptions. He’ll have to go back and think up some other reasons to justify this crazy war in Iraq.

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The Mechanism for a Pandemic
Tourism to the Far East doesn’t seem to be affected by bird flu. In fact in some areas tourism is up. Vietnam alone, which has had the most bird flu deaths, received more than three million human visitors this year. So what do you think that means? If and when this flu morphs into a virulent strain, you’re going to have millions of people going in, being exposed, getting ill, then getting back on their jet planes and spreading the sickness to the four corners of the earth, all within a matter or hours or days or weeks at the most. And probably all this before you even realize there is a problem. Of course this is what happened with AIDS, but it took years for that to reach the scale and scope that it has. If you have an illness that is more easily spread, one like H5N1, it will be much faster and the impact will be much greater. What to do? Hope the mutation doesn’t take place, and work to limit its impact if it does. But you’ve also got to attack it at its source – that is, the bird farms of Asia – otherwise, threats from a pandemic will continue to arise every few years, and someday we really will be hit with The Big One. The mechanism for such a pandemic is sitting there waiting.

Here is a slideshow of bird flu related photos. The first twelve photos seem particularly pertinent. Other bird photos are scattered throughout the remainder. There is an option in the upper right corner of the screen where you can display multiple (8) photos at a time to help you get to the ones you want to see faster.

Background Info
Here is an article on bird flu, with links, from Wikipedia.

Brief Health Note
Just because you eat organic food doesn’t mean you’re avoiding all pesticides.

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Cure Worse Than Disease?
I guess everyone remembers the big anthrax scare of 2001. Four years later I am still handling my mail differently than I did before then. There are a lot of crazy people and groups out there who could still attack us with anthrax, but in many ways the organizations we need to be the most afraid of are the US government and the drug companies. It seems that 20,000 of our troops were hospitalized from 1998-2000 after being administered anthrax vaccine. And it also seems that the Pentagon did not report these 20,000 cases, which they were supposed to have done. So I leave it to you to decide: who, in reality was the biggest anthrax threat of the last decade, Uncle Saddam or Uncle Sam?

We are currently ramping up vaccine production to fight a potential flu pandemic. Let’s just hope that these new vaccines don’t create more casualties than the flu does.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bush Thinks War on Terror Unwinnable
In an interview with Matt Lauer in 2004, George W. Bush, when asked if we could win the war against terror, said, “I don’t think you can win it." So whatever the President says now, and for whatever reason, he really believes the war against terror is not winnable. Otherwise, why would he say that to Matt Lauer? Nobody forced him to say it.

Many reputable people, and more than half of US citizens, have questioned the winnability of the war in Iraq. In a democracy, that is supposed to be healthy, not heresy, particularly if it is true. If you’re going to throw stones at the questioners, you’d better throw stones at George W. Bush. Our commander in chief thinks the war against terror is not winnable. And I wonder what he really thinks about the war in Iraq.

But this is the point to which we have come in this country: George W. Bush, who is supposed to be a uniter not a divider, has us bickering among ourselves about a stupid war that should have never been fought to begin with, instead of addressing the real and immediate problems that face our nation. That is a downright shame and a national disgrace.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Bird Flew
As I said recently, President Bush today is going to practice running down to the White House basement to hide in case there is an outbreak of bird flu among the hawks and doves on Capitol Hill.

Concerning efforts to develop effective measures to combat bird flu, if you don’t know that a vaccine is going to work, then why would you take it?

If anyone wonders why we have a problem with bird flu, check out this photo.

Finally, did you know there are ninety live bird markets in New York City, which handle ten million live birds a year? Researchers at Cornell may doubt the seriousness of the bird flu threat, but with markets like these, not to mention the backyard farms across the country, the spread of the H5N1 virus seems inevitable. But in some ways it doesn’t matter how many birds in this country get infected. If bird flu develops into a pandemic, the most dangerous birds in facilitating its spread will be the 747, 767, and the Airbus.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Funny Joke
Here is a funny joke that I ran across at the blog "Forwarded To Me."
Questioning the News
The environment is damaging our health? This may not be news to most people, but this report from the World Health Organization gives an overview of what some of our health problems are and what their causes are. With that kind of information we might be able to work toward solutions, if we have an administration in Washington that is so inclined.

Would the Bush administration misrepresent flu statistics in order to help the drug companies? No way. You think?

Most hospitals don’t follow good hygiene practices? Wow, I know that some of the places I used to eat didn’t score 100% on their health inspections, but hospitals? That’s mind boggling. You might want to stay home if you can. I try to stay out of drug stores. The way I look at is, there are a lot of sick people who go to drug stores, and the less time spent there the better.

Kellogg is reducing trans fats in some of its products? When is it going to get rid of all trans fats? If Kellogg wants me to eat their food, they should get rid of all trans fats. I don’t eat anything with hydrogenated oil. Also, regarding labeling, one thing that irritates me is that a product in the grocery store can list hydrogenated oil as one of its ingredients, and yet still say that it contains 0% trans fats per serving. That is misleading, and you really have to be alert and determined if you want to avoid hydrogenated oil.

Life expectancy in the United States hits all-time high? That may be true, but there is a table accompanying this article that suggests that life expectancy in this country is greater than in Japan, and I think that is just bull. Life expectancy in Japan exceeds that in the US by several years.

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Political Notes
If some of the Democratic leaders have said anything about the winnability of the war in Iraq, they were just repeating what our military leaders and other experts have been saying. If you don’t like the message, don’t shoot the messenger.

If the American people can’t figure out that George W. Bush is manipulating them psychologically with the constant references in his speeches to “victory,” then they deserve him, and God help us all.

No, I take that back. The American people don’t deserve anything bad. But you’ve got to wonder, if they’re so gullible as to be taken in by the president’s propaganda, and if the country goes down the toilet as a result, whose responsibility is it? The people who put him in office and who support his policies have to take part of the blame. I guess it’s the people who don’t support him, and those have yet to vote, the children, both present and future, who don’t deserve this kind of America. So please, God help us all.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about already
Has anyone ever heard of monkeypox, much less ever worried about it? Apparently it could be used in bioterrorism. Here are the symptoms.

And now it seems that a woman whose baby has a large head has to worry that the baby might develop brain cancer. The research says that the larger the head the greater the risk. I’m sure most women who have experienced childbirth have felt that their baby had a large head, but they have enough to worry as it is. I’m also sure that most women who have experienced childbirth have wished their baby had a smaller head, but that’s just something they can’t control. Forget about it.

President Bush is going to practice running to the White House basement in case of an outbreak of bird flu among the hawks and doves on Capitol Hill.

What did you do in the lab today, Billy?
Scientists say they are close to finding cures for some deadly diseases? That’s good. They should be finding cures for diseases instead of creating new diseases, resurrecting old ones, or tinkering with our food supply.

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News of Note
So there is now a Spanish version of the food pyramid? What took so long?

And the Inuit are suing the United States for their contribution to global warming, which is ruining the Arctic habitat? I wonder if the United States now wishes it had ratified the Kyoto Accords?

And there may be an asteroid with our name on it? Possible impact, 2036? This is another reason why enterprises like the war in Iraq are such a waste. We are squandering resources that are needed for other things, like recovering from and planning for ACTUAL disasters, not to mention ACTUAL threats such as those from Al Qaeda. Also, not to mention ACTUALLY paying for things instead of borrowing money from the future, which is uncertain at best. I wonder if the President and his cronies are fully in touch with reality or if they’re just a bunch of psychotics?

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Preparing for the Worst
I grew up in the 1950s when the threat of nuclear war was a possibility, and when many people were building fallout shelters. Fifty years later it seems like we might want to dust off some of those old plans.

There are two major articles in USA Today about preparing for a Flu Pandemic. One article features a man who is laying in a stash of supplies, complete with guns and ammunition. Some people are taking it that seriously, and I guess we should too. The other article goes into more detail about making preparations.

In the 50s, my family didn’t build a fallout shelter, although I wanted to. Turns out we didn’t need one then. Do we need to take extraordinary measures now? Who knows? In any event, there are the articles mentioned above, and the US Government now has a website devoted to the potential Pandemic. I have added it to my link list.

We’re going to keep on top of this story. I don’t think the monster is at the door, but he is certainly in the skies. We will definitely be following it as the situation worsens or improves. (I think you can buy guns at Dick’s and Kmart, can’t you?)

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Daily Reads
I've included links (at right) to Influenza News and to Bird Flu News. These two topics are even more important than global warming (Al Gore joke there) and we need to know what's going on.

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Good Food, Good For You
My friend Bob, at Imagination in Eating, believes that most of our weight problems stem from lack of imagination about what to eat. For example, how many people, upon becoming adults and going out into the real world, really know what to eat? Many of them, by default, just eat whatever is available. If they cook, and if their mother wasn't macrobiotic or something, they probably eat way too much meat and fat. Bob seeks to correct that problem for people by revealing what he eats. Bob is very careful about what he eats, but he likes food that tastes good. If you eat Bob's food, you might be a lot better off. Check him out sometime.
Need More Reasons to Lose Weight?
Men treated for prostate cancer are more likely to have their cancer recur if they are obese.

Poor eating habits may contribute to increased risk of breast cancer. You know, I love that sentence: of course the phrase “may contribute” also means “may not contribute;” and also of course, the majority of people probably go with the latter interpretation. But it seems to me that if something “may contribute” to your death, wouldn’t you want to avoid it just to be on the safe side? The people who make the other choice are just being stupid, and I lump myself in that category. I used to smoke and eat nothing but fast food, and those were stupid things to do. I still don’t eat as well as I should all the time. The pressure to go off one’s diet is intense, but at least I try to make smart choices more often than I make stupid choices. Being informed helps. If you don’t know that hydrogenated oil is bad for you, for example, it’s real easy to eat a lot of hydrogenated oil. I used to, but I don’t anymore. And constant vigilance helps. Food that is bad for you is everywhere. It takes a lot of work to avoid all that food. And of course it takes a willingness to avoid it as well.

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Let’s Start a War
Do we really need a million dollar study to tell us that the food advertised to our children on TV and sold to them in stores is making them fat? Isn’t that a no brainer? Thing is, though, that’s not only true for the children, but for the adults too. So, what can we do?

In some ways the junkfood, fatteningfood situation in this country is like the Iraq War: with Iraq, we are there now and have to make the best of a bad situation. With processed food in this country, it’s everywhere, almost like the only game in town, and we have to learn some healthy alternatives, against intense pressure to do otherwise. Just like the Iraq War, our people are dying, but from obesity. The companies aren’t the enemy, but often the food is. Who would choose a bowl of beans and rice over a plate of Fettuccine Alfredo? I would, but how many others would? Not many, right? And that is the problem.

So I propose that we start a war on fattening food. Any successful war begins with a single shot, so this is my shot: take responsibility for your health, for your life, and make some healthy food choices. There’s lots of healthy food out there that tastes pretty good. Give it chance. Change your attitude. Watch your calories just like you would watch out for spiders. Get some exercise.

Can we win this war? Probably not. The food companies have too many resources in their arsenal, one of which is the American public’s disdain for a healthy lifestyle. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can win a few battles. We can change ourselves. And if enough of us do that, maybe I would be optimistic again. After all it’s a war many of us can’t afford to lose.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bill Gates and the Future
Please visit The Tao of Biotechnology for a speculative discussion of how Bill Gates might influence the future, not necessarily for the better.
Caution, Please
I guess we all remember how researchers recently recreated the 1918 Spanish Flu in a laboratory. Here are November 26 and 27 opinion pieces from the New York Daily News, one against such research, and one for it. As you might suspect, I am in favor of the former position. In fact, the con piece is very interesting, outlining instances in which experimental viruses have escaped in the past. Of course that’s my biggest fear, especially in this day and age when scientists are working with such potentially volatile genetic material.

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Health Notes
State health officials have a good point: how can we deal with a possible bird flu pandemic when we “already (have) trouble vaccinating the public against the regular flu?” I think this is just one more example of how wrong our priorities are in this country: we can fight a useless, pre-emptive war of choice, but we can’t vaccinate our citizens. Yes, something is dreadfully wrong here, and we’d better get it right before it’s too late.

Wonder what a pandemic would be like? Looks to me like the number of cases would increase, if not exponentially, then at least geometrically. Anyway, that’s what authorities are planning for. Also, here are more projections: worst case scenarios say two million dead in the US, 40% of workers out sick at one time, etc. Well, that’s why they call it a pandemic.

Seventy-five percent of the Japanese said they did not want to eat US beef when it becomes available again after a two-year ban due to Mad Cow Disease. The Japanese, among the healthiest and longest living people in the world, are also said to be among the smartest.

Now they tell me: it seems that a lidocaine suppository is more effective in reducing pain during prostate biopsies than lidocaine gel alone. I have a feeling, though, that it’s still no picnic. A prostate biopsy is an unpleasant ordeal, and doctors need to find or develop better ways to diagnose prostate cancer.

Check out updated news on Bird Flu

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I Demand a Refund
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says we should not define success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks. That’s like saying you should not define a good washing machine by the fact that we have to keep paying and paying for it.

President Bush and his staff like to talk about things in advertising terms. Selling the war, to them, was like selling a new product. But if Sears sold washing machines like Bush sold the war, they’d soon be out of business. It’s called false advertising and bait and switch. We were told we would be greeted as liberators. We were told that the mission was accomplished. We ended up with a war that was much more costly, and we continue paying, in blood, money, and in loss of credibility around the world. We were sold a false product in Iraq, and, sorry Rummy, but we now have a right to be dissatisfied.

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