Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beware Of Doug--The Far Side

Was driving along, saw a "Beware of Dog" sign, and my inner insurgents idly thought of getting out and sabotaging it to read as above. Came home, searched, found. Thank you, Gary Larson.


While he was at Yale, George W. Bush was chosen to be a member of the secretive Skull & Bones society. His father, George H.W. Bush was also a member, and his grandfather had co-founded it. Skull & Bones are assigned nicknames when initiated. George Bush the Elder's nickname was "Magog." Via Alternet:

In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France's President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins".

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush's words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Romer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university's review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs."
(Note: graphic above is of Breugel the Elder's painting "Little Babel.")

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day: Post Traumatic Growth Disorder

Three or four times a day I see a story and think, "I should blog about that." Writing requires a measure of solitude, however, and what most hovers around me is usually cacophony. So instead of posts, little mental Post-It notes get written which then stick on each other, pile up and fade into the past. But one of those post-its boomeranged back from a week and a half ago, with personal connection, starting with a soldier going postal on a base in Iraq:
The 44-year-old signals specialist from the 54th Engineering Battalion, based in Bamberg, Germany, was charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault for Monday's shooting, which killed two military doctors and three soldiers, at a combat stress clinic at Camp Liberty, in Iraq.

Russell had been relieved of his weapon a week earlier, after making some "inappropriate remarks," his fellow soldier said, and he'd been referred to the stress clinic for counseling. But each day, the counselors "sent him back to his base," where Russell complained the doctors were refusing to take his symptoms seriously or give him the medication he thought he needed.

On Monday, the soldier says Russell was being transported back and forth to the mental health clinic by his staff sergeant escort.

After yet another argument at the clinic, he and his escort had just returned to Russell's brigade headquarters. That's when he "assaulted his escort, stole his weapon," and held him at briefly at gunpoint. Russell snatched away the keys for the vehicle, and drove back to the treatment center, where he allegedly opened fire.

The overpowered escort rushed inside to alert his command, and the battalion's physician's assistant immediately called over to the clinic, but it was too late. The call went through "just in time to hear the gun shots."

These "stress clinics" were supposed to be part of the answer, with hundreds of thousands of troops reporting symptoms of post traumatic stress, and the more severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
The clinic Sgt. Russell attacked had denied him medications he repeatedly asked for, and the new treatment he instead received is the brainchild of my wife's ex-fiancee, Major Thomas Jarrett. Shortly before a desperate, enraged vet shot up his clinic, he had this to say to a USA Today reporter:
Jarrett tells soldiers he is "fed up of hearing about" post-traumatic stress. He said he wants to talk of growing from trauma and becoming stronger because of it.
"Thriving through your combat experience" is Jarrett's mantra. All in-theatre personnel are urged to view a 90-minute video of his rap, and those who exhibit signs of PTSD will sometimes be discharged to Camp Victory to attend his "Warrior Resiliency and Thriving" class. That a positivist "Post Traumatic Growth" schtick has been enthusiastically adopted by the military should surprise no one; at this point, sending soldiers into reserve just because they're burned out by years of hunting Haji would mean calling the war off. As to the consequences, only 24 US soldiers committed suicide in the month of January, a militarily acceptable loss rate. Yet something of crucial significance is being obscured in the hokum, and bears a disquieting psychological parallel with a previous catastrophic American failure.

Can it be so bad, really? In a different way, yes it can. When soldiers in the Roman legions broke down and wouldn't fight, their comrades were gathered to watch them beaten to death. When German soldiers on the Eastern Front in World War Two went AWOL ( or eventually, lost their weapons or ate too much food), they were executed. The US military isn't there yet, but in denying unpleasant facts and routinely giving its current and former soldiers the shaft, it has moved decisively in that direction. The Af-Pak war is heating up and troops are going on their 3rd and 4th combat tours. Neither legions nor SS units were asked to do the same, and war's intensity now is much higher, its operations more sustained. Including night operations, historically very rare and now routine. The psychological toll may be worse than anyone wants to admit, and Sgt. Russell represents far more than an unfortunate incident.

Following WWII, clinical psychiatrists analyzed personnel data amassed with the goal of learning how to better maintain combat effectiveness.
Study results were unexpectedly and dramatically clear: all sane soldiers broke down if their combat exposure was longer than 90 days. Correlation between combat and acute breakdown was unpredictable, even curvilinear at first, but the correlation gradually tightened over time to almost 1:1. After 90 days of combat exposure, 98% of soldiers experienced incapacitating breakdown accompanied by lasting psychic distress. The 2% still functioning were psychopaths suffering from full-blown insanity, which combat progressively accentuates.

For the otherwise sane soldiers who came to the end of their ropes,
the term "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" was coined. Based upon the data, the psychiatrists concluded that warfare had surpassed the ability of human beings to endure it. This insight in hand, the Pentagon soon set out to find a pharmacological means of adapting humans to industrial combat. (For a powerful overview of combat's psychological effects and the US military's generally futile attempts to ameliorate them, see Richard A. Gabriel's 'No More Heroes: Madness and Psychiatry in War.')

When I was a small boy, about 5 years old, I remember meeting a man named Sonny Seeley at a camp picnic. He was commonly referred to as Uncle Seeley, though not any known uncle of mine. He was not a common visitor, and seemed from some far-off branch of the family. As they prepared foods indoors, I heard my grandmother and Aunt Sophie talk about what beautiful letters he had written them during the war, but how when he got home he hardly ever said another thing, what a shame; my impression is his letters were from North Africa. As he sat in the aluminum folding lawn chair in the pleasant sun he didn't venture much, and would stammer what was to me an uninterpretable tremulo when someone came up to greet him or ask a question. His whole body was trembling badly enough to not be able to speak intelligibly. He shook when he sat, his knees shook when he walked all skinny and gangly, like a stick puppet over-tensioned, hunched, unable to un-slack, even 20 years and more after whatever he'd been through.

My grandfather and his brothers hosted that picnic, which may well have been on Memorial Day, and were all in that war in one service or another. They sent their wives to bring Uncle Seeley a plate of hot-buttered steamed clams, rolls and potato salad. They plied him with beer cans glistening from the cooler. While he struggled out his thank-yous and precariously worked to hold his paper plate level, I, being young and relatively free of good judgment, asked him why he was shaking. "Shell-shock," someone said in a deep hushed voice above me. "Go play with the Lawn Darts." Lawn Darts were not yet illegal and would arc meaningfully through the air, proving gravity, stabilized by colorful plastic fins. I don't remember ever seeing Uncle Seeley again, and hope he was able to find some measure of relief.

One of my wife's oldest friends, a social worker in Manhattan, once described Thomas Jarrett as "about the least empathetic person I've ever met, and I meet a lot of people." Jarrett's schtick is a bastardized version of some positivist themes of Albert Ellis, an influential psychotherapist he interned with for one summer in the late 1990s. His application for further work with Ellis was rejected, so he never finished his PhD. He never served in combat, and strongly implies that he did. Jarrett's one more fraud in a Fraud War, passing out candy-coated delusions.

Denial is one survival mechanism for when a truth is too painful to face; delusion is another, for when you're not interested in the truth at all. For when it's hanging by the teeth it embedded in your ass. When you stride about in front of grunts who have made fun of the dead and dish warmed-over dianetics, delusion is your friend. Admittedly, denial and delusion are endemic qualities, possibly even necessary to military life, and often aren't obvious. We're set up that way. Truth is harsh, believing in nonsense comes almost as naturally as the urge to spread it. There's more truth to be found in 5 minutes of myths and fables than an hour of nightly news. Speaking of parallels, folk still commonly blame or take credit for protests at home halting the war in Vietnam, a "stabbed in the back" variant. On the contrary, that war stopped because soldiers were increasingly turning weapons on their superiors, mutiny was in the air and there weren't enough combat-ready units left to conduct field operations. Nearing the end, everybody there was just going through the motions.

Vietnam produced more PTSD victims than any other war in American history, both in total number and frequency, despite the Pentagon's emphasis on instilling the desire to kill into recruits, based again on data from WWII and Korean War which indicated only a small fraction of combat troops actually tried to shoot an individual enemy. In their inevitable post-war analyses, the Pentagon fingered low morale of draftees as the primary fault, resolving to go into their future conflicts strictly with volunteers, ones who remain annoyingly human to this day. To quote Richard Gabriel:
"...war exacts a terrible cost in human emotions quite apart from the usual costs calculated in terms of dollars, dead, and wounded. It is a cost every soldier will pay if he is exposed long enough to the horrors of the battlefield. Weakness or cowardice has nothing to do with the probability that a soldier will collapse under the strain of battle. It is not man that is too weak; it is the conduct of war that imposes too great a strain for the sane to endure."
People think soldiers who break down under the strains of ongoing sleep deprivation, constant threat of ambush, seeing friends get blown apart and killing civilians are weak, defective, or somehow exceptions to the rule. They are the rule, it is a well-measured rule, one denoting a reality which does not mesh well with a politically cynical, inherently paranoid "Long War." If indeed we are in a Long War, rather than squander hard power and soldier well-being as if they were limitless, flushing them down strategically harmless hell-holes, the American people would be better served by leaders who recognize that sending troops on combat patrols and driving over IEDs for years straight dulls their effectiveness. Eight years of tactical Action-Jackson approach has served no military purpose but that of potential enemies, who gauge our exhaustion and impending poverty with glee. Modern war serves money, and Iraq and Afghanistan have so far done horribly even at that.

That's one skeptic's opinion. This is not: what's done abroad comes back home
, and there is no such thing as "thriving through your combat experience." That's either craven or self-delusional bullshit conceived to advance one individual's career. Which it has, and which my wife foresaw. When she heard some years ago that Jarrett was going back into the military as a counselor, she immediately expressed a hunch he was going to damage a lot of people. The kind of damage that, she thought, might provoke one of his patients to kill him.

Naturally, when she told me about the news coverage of an ex's half-baked treatment scheme, I remembered the 20-year veteran sergeant who snapped and went looking for the ludicrous son of a bitch who told him to grin and bear it, killing 5 mental health staffers in the process.
I thought of Uncle Seeley shaking, of grunts sent to Tony Robbins seminars, and of new-fangled fates worse than death.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's All Fun & Games Until The Corpses Start Rotting, Pt. I

Scene: Early 2002,the Pentagon. Officers and bureaucrats are seated in bad chairs around an intelligence briefing discussing "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq. A Defense Intelligence Agency officer speaks:
"With all due respect, sir, our contacts in the Iraqi Army have reported Saddam ordered the destruction of all his WMD. They say he's been clean since 1998 and he's sending people around again to make sure it's all gone. Significant risk exists that we won't find anything."
Donald Rumsfeld frowns, turns to glare at the officer, raises his chin, and begins to speak:
"Clean? Clean?? To hell with your contacts. Your naivete is astounding. I personally gave Saddam nerve gas in 1987 so he could use it on the Iranians when they were kicking his ass. I gave him anthrax and then we taught him how to weaponize his own. I gave him enough VX to make cockroaches go extinct. I know what WMDs he has and how much so you had best get with The Program, which is about where."
That's pretty much how it played out. Rumsfeld gave the WMDs to Saddam at the behest of the Reagan Administration so Iraq wouldn't lose its war with Iran, a war which the State Department encouraged and green-lighted. So the assumption was understandable. The part about little balsa-wood rockets flying from Baghdad to gas Washington D.C.? They knew that and a lot of other stuff was BS. But they really did think Iraq had nerve gas.

Some more current assumptions leashing foreign policy hounds:
1) The CIA knows the Taliban is evil. Because they created it.
2) The Army knows the Taliban insurgency is well-armed. Because they're arming it.
3) The US government knows Iran will be a nuclear power. Because it provided the assistance to become one under a program called "Atoms for Peace."
4) Israel knows Iran will nuke it. Because its guilt complex is the size of apartheid South Africa.
The last two points, in which irony and hysteria perform a square dance, are worth watching.

Irony leads. The Ford Administration signed a directive in 1976 offering Iran a complete nuclear fuel cycle, in which the Iranian government would purchase and operate a U.S.-built plutonium extraction facility. Who ran the Ford Administration? Richard Cheney was the White House Chief of Staff; Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense. Their rationale was driven by oil deals: according to their strategy paper, "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."

Henry Kissinger, who had to turn up in this story somewhere, was Gerald Ford's first Secretary of State. He had been isolated by Cheney and Rumsfeld, who both despised him, and he recalled in 2005, "I don't think the issue of proliferation came up." In other words, the Two Duh-migos sold off billions of nuclear goodies while muffling any objections. A 1974 CIA assessment reads, "If [the Shah] is alive in the mid-1980s ... and if other countries [in the region] have proceeded with weapons development we have no doubt Iran will follow suit."

So the
bellicose curmudgeons emeritus most agitated about a nuclearized Iran are the ones who wanted it that way in the first place. You'd think it would be fun for a few journos to raise the point, as in, "Boy, you sure stepped in that one dinchya?" Too much to ask for, I know. Will move onto Israel's hysteria in the next post, because this week Israel's Threat-o-meter moved past the "Burning My Hand On The Stove" level to the near-maximum "Toxic Shock Syndrome."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Give Me A Waterboard, Dick Cheney, And One Hour, And I'll Have Him Confess To The Sharon Tate Murders"

Jesse Ventura added this treasure to my trove of revenge fantasies during a Larry King interview, further stoked this week by the entire Cheney family, which collectively told us we should be down on our knees thanking them for keeping us safe from the Bad People.

Other punishment favorites include holding a "Birdshot Party," sending him out as a postal carrier in the slums of Damascus, a regimen of beatings with a baseball bat, and simple execution. Of course these are negative, violent things, and I'm an optimistic and constructive chap. So here's what should really be done:
1) force-feed him a diet of nothing but marijuana brownies, cheeseburgers and milkshakes
2) make him listen to music by black artists, with emphasis on rappers, for 6 months non-stop
3) if he's still alive after 6 months, start an intensive program of feminist consciousness-raising training
In short, he should be sent to a re-education camp which uses advanced psychological therapies designed to literally kill him with kindness. Should he somehow survive it, he'd at least come out a better, perhaps even more bearable person.

I could easily perform this service to the world in a finished basement, pre-equipped for these and similar purposes, and hereby offer my dungeon and time gratis. As for step #3, Lord Wife went to NYU so she can devise the curriculum. Hmm...I think the music would start off with a Martha and the Vandellas video like the one above, a truly frightening version of "Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Marquis De Sade Said It Was Okay

Watching the back-and-forth torture recriminations gestate into flames which are doused and weakly gutter up again, I've been wondering who will finally come out and state the obvious: "enhanced interrogation" is ritual sadism. It was prescribed to place captives and interrogators into a negative power-pain exchange system, trading information for political gratification. The safe words are defined by the whip-hand. Words like "I traveled to Iraq and recruited terrorists."

Similar methods were employed in the past by religious inquisitors blessed and protected by their system. Cardinal Richeliu sent one to Loudon to tease the Devils out of an outspoken priest critical of corruption, who legally condemned and burned the critic, unconfessed, at the stake. Earlier, Torquemada strongly supported the use of torture on suspected crypto-Jews, Muslims, and witches in Spain, but strictly limited the allowable extent. It could only be amplified click by click in response to stages of denial.

Cardinal Dickeliu (a.k.a. Richard Cheney) and his Guantanamo Inquisition have failed. Having tired with impoverished and impudent shepherds they turn their sights to a fat heretical Congress. The next inquisition will be "Democrats Torture Too," and if the magistrates try to hold hearings they will be brought to private rooms where they will confess, oh yes, to whatever misdemeanors are proffered. Few can withstand. I live a fairly clean life but would not want to endure that scrutiny. We're all guilty of something, most of all elected representatives who have to take money from merchants to finance election campaigns.

The Democrats were complicit, and they are. It was politically popular to kick ass, even gratifying to subject captives to the lash. They knew all along and deserve every bit of what's contained in the Cheney Files. Now their mouths are frozen, their wills stemmed rather than have their sins shouted from the rooftops. The truth will still out if it takes 25 years or 50, but if it does not do so soon, a good traditional form of governance will give way like a breached dike. Another form more honest and brutal grows in many nations across the globe as it does here, its proto-brand is Don't Tread On Me, and it offers to pick up the toxins strewn by capitalism. It can embrace both democracy and religion and collect the garbage on time. I am theocratic, and I vote.

I empathize with Dick Cheney and am from the same place. I would love to go back to the A&W with my best baton-throwing blond with Jesus on the dashboard looking down on her great gams and the nicest ass in three counties. We would order cheeseburgers and root beer floats, roll the driver-side window halfway down and wait for the waitress in short-shorts to roll over on skates and hang the tray off it. We would ratchet the seats back as far as they would go and bask in the scents of rendered fats while we shared ketchup packets planned our futures and made out on Friday night. When we were finished I fired up my fuel-injected 327 Corvette and laid rubber 50 yards past the stop light, all the way into third gear. God was great.

No matter how many confessions are suffocated out, no matter how many resistant asses are kicked or suspicious wedding parties are bombed,
those blessed days aren't coming back. Our desires yearn for easy paths leading back to where everything is right again, we can put it straight again, insulate it against space and time so we can be the way we used to be. Sadism is pardoned by racism and xenophobia and I understand what Cardinal Dickeliu is trying to do: have our cake and eat it too. If the President said it was okay, it was legal, but globalization happened and they were the ones who made it so. There are fewer and fewer places for them to go. Do you remember hot fudge sundaes?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Swine Flu Blogging

My household has been in the grip of Swine Flu for the past three days. Our youngest got it first, exhibiting symptoms on Wednesday at 3 AM, angry because he doesn't yet know how to snort and clear the snot clogging his nasal passages, and his anger lasted until he fell back asleep at 10 AM.

I took ill yesterday, body and joint aches, low fever, plehgm and respiratory complaints. In the morning, there was that unmistakable Got Hit By a Truck feeling and I've stayed in bed most of the last two days. Then a family friend staying with us came down with it this morning, and Lord Running Boy's flushed cheeks, reasonable affect, hot forehead and slowed mien confirmed his case tonight. Only Lord Wife is symptom-free so far, and I hope she catches a prophylactic case of it.

People are joking we should have a Swine Flu Party because they intuitively think it's better to get it now rather than later. They're right. If you're exposed to the mild version, you've gained antibodies against the one that'll come roaring back in the Fall. In my previous post, I didn't mention my real reason for worry. This thing was first created in labs, combining the most genetically lethal versions of H1N1 Spanish Flu from cadavers with the 50% death rate H5N1 avian flu. It was taken from cadavers and designed for maximum death, for worst-case scenarios.

That's what they were so afraid of. They made it in Petri dishes back in 2004 and tried to make vaccines before toying with weaponization and genetic targeting. They think labs aren't part of nature, they can be walled off with doors. Atoms, crystals, molecules, structures communicate with each other through morphically resonant primordial soups none of us can see and few of us apprehend or understand. The rule is this: once it exists, it communicates and it proliferates. It's not so bad, just a lethargy and inability to concentrate on something so long as a movie or writing a blog post.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again

WASHINGTON—After nearly four months of frank, honest, and open dialogue about the failing economy, a weary U.S. populace announced this week that it is once again ready to be lied to about the current state of the financial system.

Tired of hearing the grim truth about their economic future, Americans demanded that the bald-faced lies resume immediately, particularly whenever politicians feel the need to divulge another terrifying problem with Wall Street, the housing market, or any one of a hundred other ticking time bombs everyone was better off not knowing about.

In addition, citizens are requesting that the phrase, "It will only get worse before it gets better," be permanently replaced with, "Things are going great. Enjoy yourselves."

"I thought I wanted a new era of transparency and accountability, but honestly, I just can't handle it," Ohio resident Nathan Pletcher said. "All I ever hear about now is how my retirement has been pushed back 15 years and how I won't be able to afford my daughter's tuition when she grows up."

"From now on, just tell me the bullshit I want to hear," Pletcher added. "Tell me my savings are okay, everybody has a job, and we're No. 1 again. Please, just lie to my face."

Via The Onion...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Aporkalypse Now

As a parent and human I've been watching the "Let None Call it Swine" Flu with vigilant caution, cramming virology and medical anthropology. When Max von Sydow played chess with death in the movie 'The Seventh Seal' (clip above), he might have won if he had consulted the Net. Link
The media exist in an information marketplace, always trying to take share away from competitors. If things are too quiet, it's in their edgy interests to go blow something up, so when a story comes along which can be used to elicit a strong emotional response, it's conflated and milked until the last drop. For them, a deadly flu should be perfect. When they start telling everyone, i.e. themselves, to remain gut has me start edging towards the exit sign. What scared them so badly? In short, we've got medical mysteries which together do seem to warrant a strong response by officials. That, and we appear to have a return of the Spanish Flu.

Swine Flu can again be referred to as such because the first case was just confirmed in Canadian pigs, which became infected by a worker returning from a trip to Mexico. Swine Flu is also a misnomer, as was Spanish Flu, since both are and were really forms of an originating avian flu strain, specifically the endemic Influenza A virus subtype H1N1. Two viral proteins, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N), are the basis of subtype designations, proteins which all viruses contain. The structure of these proteins differs from version to version due to very rapid genetic mutation in the viral genome, with the relevant H and N digits depending on which numeric forms of each the strain contains. Because of mutation's rapidity and unpredictability, the lethality of even the baseline can vary widely. It is typically not possible to develop appropriate vaccines, though the WHO previously urged the CDC to do so for Spanish Flu. They tried, failed, and they're afraid this is the Big One.

Reports from south of the border, whilst perhaps not very reliable, have all so far indicated a mortality rate higher than the dreaded 1917-1919 influenza A (2.5-5.0%) which broke out near the close of World War One and killed upwards of 70 million people. Coincidentally, the most virulent strain of H1N1 was re-created in international disease study labs five short years ago after exhuming the bodies of well-preserved victims. The blogosphere is, of course, teeming with reports that the flu threat is either a) way overblown, or b) a bio-engineered Great Die-Off. Each extreme or neither or both may be valid.

The Spanish Flu was exceptional in that it killed by using a sort of judo on human immuno-response systems. It tended to kill the healthiest people, particularly healthy adult males, by causing a cytokine storm; the stronger your immune system, the more likely you were to trigger the storm and die, usually from a viral pulmonary consolidation which mimicked pneumonia and could later morph into its bacterial form. As the Mexican version appears to do. The one toddler who died in Texas was from a prominent Mexican family; otherwise the Latino victims have been young, consistent with cytokine storm mechanisms, as with the victims of the 2005 outbreak of H5N1 Bird Flu.
So far this outbreak hasn't killed any non-Latinos and the US has been fatality-free so far, with broad-spectrum and mild symptoms.

Mass media have not yet investigated the source of the outbreak. Had they done so, they would've found it started in the small town of La Gloria in Vera Cruz, starting in February:
'Sources characterized the event as a ‘strange’ outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town’s population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.’
February is typically the end of flu season, not the beginning, thus the 'strange' descriptor. Yet the timing is nearly congruent with the North American outbreak of Spanish Flu, the first case observed at Fort Riley, Kansas on March 4th, 1918. La Gloria is the home of Granjas Carroll de Mexico, a factory hog operation owned by Smithfield Farms. It produced a million carcasses last year, along with enough manure lagoons that local residents began demonstrating against it. (Smithfield Farms is a supplier to McDonald's and Subway, and its then US-based operations were fined $12.3 million in 1997 for violating the Clean Water Act. It moved to Mexico after NAFTA's passage.)

Local residents in La Gloria directly attribute the flu outbreak to the pig plant, where the animals are packed into a close muddy proximity similar to trench conditions in France in 1918, where millions of fresh American soldiers were jammed ass by jowl. Oh, and Fort Riley circa 1918 was not just a military base. It was also a high-output pig and chicken farm.

How much to worry? Opinions differ greatly. In a Wednesday article in the LA Times, Wendy Orent, the author of "Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease" argues that because of past human exposure, rapid viral mutation cycles, and the lack of human proximity this particular version of H1N1 poses little reason for panic:
And we can predict the virus will only spread more easily over time: Natural selection ensures, by definition, that the most transmissible strains will be passed on. Fully adapted human flu is explosive -- no quarantine, no isolation, no Tamiflu can contain it.

Natural selection theory also tells us that whatever we will face, it won't be another 1918. As Ewald has argued for years, only packed conditions allowing deathly sick hosts to pass disease repeatedly to the well can produce highly virulent strains of flu -- for animals or for people. The usual sort of human crowding will not do it. Even massive, densely populated Mexico City, with more than 20 million inhabitants, won't produce the kind of lethal strains that the Western Front did in World War I. People died in Mexico because they were close to the epicenter of the disease, to the probable emergence of lethal strains from crowded pig breeding. But natural selection's corrective action is swift and predictable: The strains spreading across the world are milder.
While that may be true in terms of general virology, Orent's analysis discounts at least three obvious and contradictory possibilities:
1) early indications of higher lethality amongst children who have dimmer genetic memories of their forebears surviving other nasty forms of H1N1;

2) artificial introduction of easily transmissible but still deadly genetically-targeted versions which originated in a lab;

3) and natural mutation from mild into deadly strains as previously occurred in H1N1 following its emergence in early 1918.
Call me a yokel, but it seems viral evolution does not necessarily proceed in one direction towards lesser severity, increased transmission rates are known to augment and encourage mutation, and close-quarters air travel as a percentage of populace now far surpasses that of ship crossings undertaken a century ago. More people fly over the seas in one day than the total number of Allied soldiers who steamed across them throughout all of World War One.

Spanish Flu's recorded American outbreak in March, 1918 seemed to cause a brief blip in influenza deaths, after which the death rate returned to and remained at or below baseline from March of that year until November, when it suddenly rose to 25 times normal.

The mobility and proximity of doughboys in trenches is not unlike the recycled-air bubbles we hop into for international travel. And the lowest national death rates from Spanish Flu were in those countries which restricted travel (such as American Samoa and Japan) via preventative blockades, warding off ships from other places.

Firmly in the "Mostly Harmless" Camp, the Canadian pig farmer whose herd was infected had this to say:

"The chance that these pigs could transfer virus to a person is remote."
Probably true, unless you happen to have been drinking water laced with a 7% solution of pig shit, showered in same, or were bitten by a fly recently born in it. Then the chance seems far less remote. Furthermore, what does this perversely incented dumb-ass know? Orent's article also indicts factory poultry farms in Asia for the outbreak of H5N1 Bird Flu, a corona virus which scientists have derided as something not possible from nature, a force which had previously not seen fit to stuff hens into 10 by 12 inch cages and driven pigs so insane they chew each other's tails off on their crowded lot as antibiotics course through their veins and they root their futter out of common excrement reaching up past their hocks.

Current governmental recourse advises the immediate application of Tamiflu upon notice of flu-like symptoms. Tamiflu is owned by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffman La Roche and is a patented derivative of Chinese star anise, a substance long used as a hallucinogen. Where it has been widely employed, the horrifying side effects profile of Tamiflu gives a pause roughly equal to the possible dangers of Spanish Flu:
Japanese health authorities ordered doctors not to prescribe patients aged 10-19 following dozens of deaths and injuries among teenagers over the past six years.

More than 1,300 people have exhibited neuropsychiatric symptoms since Tamiflu went on sale in Japan in 2001, of whom 71 have died. Twenty-seven, most in their teens, fell from buildings.

Last month the health ministry announced new clinical trials to establish whether the antiviral could cause delirium, delusion and other neuropsychiatric symptoms. The ministry had previously ruled out any link.
Twenty-seven patients taking Tamiflu , "most in their teens" fell to their deaths from buildings in Japan since 2001, and an 8-year old kid committed suicide. The Bush Administration FDA issued a ruling that Tamiflu is safe for children, and it's being pushed as the global influenza solution. Hmm. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a virologist. I'm just a dad who loves his children, and I'm on this like a screaming eagle. I will personally claw the eyes out of the interested dickheads who set this up and use gravity to drop their bloody skulls on shattering rocks.

We have a box of Tamiflu, four doses. We bought it back when SARS started making its rounds. If history and evolution are any guides in their doubt-ridden complexities, well hopefully they won't be and we're already past the worst. But the viral onslaught might start in November and if it does, Tamiflu, a creation of a cynically profit-driven Pharma, might best be employed as a very last resort.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Neko Case, "Hold On, Hold On" Music & Lyrics

A little mental vacation on a sunny cumulonimbus-free afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. Tickets to Neko Case's June shows at the Paramount in Seattle start at two hundred and twenty dollars and you can't even find her music on a jukebox in a bar. Her album Middle Cyclone is taking her over the top music industry be damned. She writes it, she belts it, great musicians back it and a vocal accompanist adds a 12th-part Jimmy Martin high lonesome harmony to all the right places. Amongst her musical influences are Hank Williams, Tom Waits, Loretta Lynn, Neil Young, Nick Lowe, Charles Bukowski and Ralph Stanley. Lord Wife got tickets in Portland for my splendid birthday, at the Crystal Ballroom. The lyrics:

The most tender place in my heart is for strangers
I know it's unkind but my own blood is much too dangerous
Hangin' round the ceiling half the time
Hangin' round the ceiling half the time

Compared to some, I've been around
But I really did try so hard
That echo chorus lied to me with its
"Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on"

In the end I was the mean girl
Or somebody's in-between girl
Now it's the devil I love
And that's as funny as real love

I leave the party at 3AM
Alone, thank god!
With a valium from the bride--
It's the devil I love
It's the devil I love...
And that's as funny as real love
And it's as real as True Love

That echo chorus lied to me with its
"Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on!"

That echo chorus lied to me with its
"Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on!"