Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Calling it What it Is: The Mexico City Flu

The New York Times has an interesting article out today about the naming of this latest deadly flu strain--a topic that has bugged me (no pun intended) for several days now. First, it should not be named "swine flu" since it is a hybrid strain composed of 2 parts swine flu, 1 part avian flu, and 1 part human flu. It is also unfair to pork producers who will bear the brunt of the stigma.

As the article explains, pandemic influenza are usually named after the region or country where they were first identified. The naming of such calamities can be quite controversial and politically sensitive.

According to the NYT: "The World Organization for Animal Health, which handles veterinary issues around the world, issued a statement late Monday suggesting that the new disease should be labeled 'North American influenza,' in keeping with a long medical tradition of naming influenza pandemics for the regions where they were first identified. This has included the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1919, the Asian flu of 1957 to 1958 and the Hong Kong flu of 1967 to 1968. The debate is likely to continue as scientists and health authorities try to trace the disease. While all signs now point to Mexico as the epicenter, the genetic material in the virus there was a swine influenza virus of Eurasian origin. And influenza viruses tend to emerge from Asia....But flu specialists in Asia said that the new virus probably did not make the jump from animals to people in Asia."

I would be okay with naming it the North American Flu but ground zero for this particular flu is Mexico City. So, let's call it what it is, The Mexico City Flu.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Air Force One Photo Op Gone Wrong

This is not rocket science or brain surgery. After 9/11, I think it is safe to say that you should not stage a photo op of a jumbo jet flying at low altitudes across the Manhattan skyline. The fact that the airliner happens to be one of the planes that carries the president, also known as Air Force One only when he is on board, makes this a double no-no. The low-flying presidential aircraft is said to have caused near panic in the city which saw two of them crash into the World Trade Center towers that September morning in 2001.

The photo op was staged by the Defense Department which was trying to update its file photos. For his part, President Obama was said to be "furious" about the incident. The director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, took the blame: "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption."

It is amazing that no one in the White House or DOD thought this might be a bit traumatic for the residents of New York City and put the brakes on the operation. Oh, and it's not as if the plane changed it's colors or design after January 20. Same old plane. I'm pretty sure the old pictures were good enough. Besides the sheer stupidity of the event, I wonder how much this escapade cost taxpayers...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Obama Administration at 100 Days

The 100 day snapshot is an overrated tool by which to judge a president. After all, most of the grand accomplishments of any president take several months if not years to accomplish. For President Barack Obama, it may be even more unfair--he inherited a more difficult situation than any president in this century. From two wars abroad, to an economic meltdown, to an auto industry near bankruptcy, to a nation of overwhelming pessimism, what individual since Lincoln has had a more difficult environment to deal with upon their inauguration?

The said, this president, love him, hate him, or something in between, has not shrunk from attempting big things. His agenda is enormous: reshape the economic system of the country, rethink the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, remake the health care system, and reverse many of the George W. Bush administration's policies from torture to the environment to secrecy. In his first month he passed the biggest spending bill in American history in the form of the stimulus package, and a gargantuan budget left over from the previous administration. He has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, bring the troops home from Iraq, and made public hundreds of controversial memos from the Bush administration condoning "enhanced interrogation techniques" (or torture depending upon your point of view) of suspected terrorists. He has taken on pirates and won. He has greeted Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega and the Queen of England. He has propped up the financial system and chastised American automakers. All this and more in just 100 days.

The challenges that lie ahead are daunting, perhaps even more daunting than 100 days ago. The financial system is still in crisis, GM and Chrysler are still at the precipice, and North Korea and Iran are as belligerent is ever. And the flu which rages in Mexico and has cropped up in recent days in the United States may pose the biggest challenge of all--an unseen killer spreading sickness and fear throughout the world. And just who do you think America will look to for leadership?

A few years is a much better gauge of a president's accomplishments and leadership than a few months. As we near the end of Obama's first term, it will be much clearer whether this president has achieved most of what he set out to do. For the time being, the 100 days mark is all we have to judge him by.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flu Fears Abound

I spent the morning at Target today buying emergency supplies, things I don't normally get, at least in great quantities: first aid kit, bottled water, batteries, protective masks, etc. It is only a matter of time until the next global pandemic hits and the time may very well be now.

According to the World Health Organization and medical experts, Mexico and the United States are seeing cases of a totally new influenza strain, H1N1--a lethal combination of swine, avian, and human virus wrapped up as one. 68 people have died in Mexico already with a suspected 1000 plus infected with the new strain. Eight cases have been reported in the U.S. with no deaths. Particularly disturbing is that the majority of dead in Mexico are aged 25-45--an age group that typically does okay during a normal flu outbreak but did poorly during the 1918 Spanish Flu, a global pandemic which killed 50 million people worldwide.

There are some advantages that humankind has in the 21st century which were not available 100 years ago. First, our technology, knowledge, and sanitary practices are better. We also have a better understand of these viruses and have the ability to make vaccines and anti-virals. In this particular instance we also are lucky in the sense that we are entering the warm summer months--a time of year that is inhospitable to flu viruses.

Still, the WHO, CDC, and governments across the globe need to act quickly. The U.S. government should consider temporarily closing the border with Mexico. Some of the 75 students at a private school in Queens, New York, who are suspected of contracting the Mexican flu traveled to Mexico recently. In our global age where international travel is relatively easy, cheap, and common, governments have to act quickly to contain the outbreak, though it may be too late already.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

W, the B Movie

I have to be up front about this--I'm not a big fan of Oliver Stone. Loved Platoon. JFK and Nixon, not so much. Both were a perversion of history, mixing fact and fiction, educating or rather mis-educating (is that even a word?) whole generations. That said, when I picked up the W DVD from the library, I was excited. I shouldn't have been. The whole movie was a big disappointment.

Where to start? I'll just ramble now. The acting was bad, real bad. "B" movie bad. The actors seemed more concerned with becoming the caricatures of the people they played than actually playing the people. Rove was painful, Laura was stilted, Rummy was ridiculous, Powell spoke in an odd whisper, and Condi was an over-the-top sycophant. The plot was all over the place and Stone rearranged the timeline like he always does. The musical score was distracting, particularly during the most crucial part of the movie where the inner circle was discussing whether or not to go into Iraq--a scene which needed no score. Finally, if you watch the whole movie, Stone's thesis is that W has Daddy issues and that's what his whole presidency is all about. Sorry, I'm just not buying it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lone Star Secession

Texas Governor Rick Perry certainly made news the other day at one of those tea party rallies. Not only did he protest big government and taxes, he started talking about the "S" word--secession. Yes, the governor of America's second largest state began waxing poetic about Texas leaving the union:

Most scholars think the talk of secession is just political hot air aimed at positioning Perry for a primary fight against fellow Republican Senator Kay Bailey Huchison:

If Texas does eventually decide to seceed, the Federal Government won't just wish them well. And, it wouldn't turn out very well for them. But public opinion in Texas is clearly not with the secessionists: 75% of Texans want to stay while only 18% want to leave. Still, I'm amazed that 1 out of 5 would opt for Texas secession...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bush-Cheney Marriage on the Rocks?

Trouble in paradise. The NYT reports that the relationship between former President George W. Bush and former VP Richard Cheney soured near the end of the administration and continues to be strained. The Bush 43 gang is scheduled to meet this week to discuss the future of the George W. Bush Policy Institute, the Bush library, and legacy. Noticeably absent from the attendee list is the former Veep. Explains the NYT:

This is the second administration in a row in which the relationship between the outgoing president and vice president deteriorated. The relationship between Bill Clinton and Al Gore followed a similar trajectory, though it has improved in recent years. It will be interesting to observe the Bush-Cheney relationship evolve, especially outside the glare of the Klieg lights.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You Must be a Cleveland Sports Fan If...

...you have spent decades in misery rooting for teams that, when they were bad, they were really really bad, and when they were good, they always come up just short.

After all, who can forget Cleveland Brown's running back Earnest Byner's fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos. Heck, I'm not even from Ohio or a Cleveland sports fan but that game is burned in my memory. Down 38-31, Byner fumbled with 1:12 to go in the game on the Denver 3 yard line as the Browns were ready to tie. Instead, the fumble allowed the Broncos to eliminate the Browns for the second consecutive year (1987 was the year Elway engineered "The Drive" against Cleveland--perhaps the most amazing comeback drive in NFL history).

Why am I rehashing old war stories from Cleveland's sports past? On April 15, 2009, Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist Terry Pluto will address a luncheon crowd at the Akron Press Club in The University of Akron's Martin Center. His topic: "The Pain and Suffering of a Cleveland Sports Fan." A lot to talk about. For more details, see the Akron Press Club website.

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