Swine Flu Pandemic deaths in USA: 1 Other USA Flu Deaths: 36,000

Update:  The 2009/2010  H1N1 Swine Flu season is more severe than last year when I wrote this post, though the statistics haven’t shaken out yet.  My current take is that while initial concerns may have been overblown we are *now* facing a fairly serious health risk and I’d encourage  folks to take the vaccine when it’s available in your area.     I’m actually optimistic that the *total deaths from flu* will go down this year as people are taking far greater precautions than usual.


You’ve got to hand it to the hype machine on this one for exaggerating the chances that the Swine Flu is going to get ya.    I certainly understand why the CDC would be concerned that a new virus will spread and become dangerous, but the near-panic we’ve seen over the past week is simply not warranted by a reasonable interpretation of the data.   I’m hardly a flu expert but it appears that the contagion, far from exploding, has been kept almost completely in check with only a handful of cases outside of the likely area of origin in Mexico and no rapid spread even in Mexico.    It’s possible all the fear and masks have kept things in check but more likely this just isn’t that deadly a virus.

For example if we had followed all the precautions many are  following *right now* by wearing masks, avoiding mass public activities, and obsessive hand washing the number of *regular* flu deaths would likely have been on the order of many thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, less than they were in the 2009 Flu season (which roughly corresponds to “winter” and takes on average about 36,000 lives each year in the USA alone based on the CDC data cited below.

I’m seeing some parallels with the hysterical responses to minor weather events which are often foolishly attributed to climate crisis when in fact they are simply minor changes in the weather.  At least in the case of this flu there is an objectively identifiable new flu strain – H1N1,  that *theoretically* could create massive trouble along the lines of the 1918 flu pandemic.   That flu pandemic killed more people than any event with the possible exception of WWII depending on death toll estimates which generally fall between 50 million and 100 million for the flu.     The “better documented” WWII death toll was about 73 million worldwide.   Obviously this means that flu pandemics are of critical importance, but it’s also important to recognize that millions die every year from very easily preventable diseases like malaria and rotoviruses to which we have historically paid far too little attention.

In the USA WWII took about 400,000 lives while the 1918 Pandemic took about 500,000

So with 1 US death so far, and that I think from a victim sent to Texas from Mexico, we are looking at a death toll 1/500,000th as large as in 1918.   Not sure that calls for the response we’ve seen so far.

Clearly the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic is nothing to sneeze at but I think it’s also clear that the 24 hour news and even the CDC – perhaps practicing for a real threat – have hyped this event out of proportion to the real threat.    If that’s because the threat really, really cannot be known I supposed it’s fine, but if it’s because this type of thing keeps people focused in ways that are profitable to TV News or grant and funding producing for CDC I hope we take a close look at all this when it’s over.    Although epidemiologists are probably going to say “better safe than sorry” with Pandemic alerts it’s also true  that overhyped events can lead to a lax future response from a public that becomes too used to “crying wolf” when the threat is actually quite low.

The world currently faces several catastrophic health, poverty, and human rights crises in the developing world and will face more global crises in the coming decades – we don’t need more fake ones.

CDC on Flu Deaths

Prescription Report on Tamiflu, an antiviral treatment for Swine Flu.   NO, you probably don’t need this drug!

CNN on flu hysteria as the “real problem”.   Hey, talk about a two for one story here!    Hype the flu news and then hype the hype about the flu news.    However in this case I’m not sure TV News is to blame as the CDC and government folks have been quick to talk about “inevitable” pandemic and other statements that have led to much of the trouble.    In fact I think we’re seeing the same challenge of bureaucratic interpretations here we see with global warming alarmism.  There are often political and social penalties for bureaucrats who fail to identify major problems.   There are *huge* rewards if you manage to convince grant and government funders that minor problems are major problems.   Yet we don’t tend to punish folks for “exaggerating risks” which is part of the reason … we have a lot of exaggeration of catastrophic risk in our society and too little attention to “mundane” but real risks like  normal flu deaths, gun deaths, and highways deaths which account for well over 100,000 dead each year.     Add heart disease and cancer to the list – they are also largely preventable grim reapers – and you find we are under quiet attack 24/7 by deathly dangers that make the 9/11 toll look completely trivial by comparison.

Think about this – if  we *knew* that a terror group was going to kill 100,000 Americans next year with an assault of viruses, guns, and car bombs there would be a near panic with calls for martial law or on the other end of the spectrum perhaps an armed revolution.      But since these risks are less dramatic we don’t fret enough about them, while worrying far too much about swine flu and the terrorists who only rarely materialize and appear to rarely if ever pose a truly catastrophic risk.      I would caveat this last point saying there are certainly terror groups out there that would consider catastrophic action and we certainly should seek to get them, but we always need to monitor the costs in terms of lives and money and compare this to alternatives.

Oban Scotch for Christmas

I owed a friend a pretty good bottle of Scotch for a favor, and knew he liked Oban Scotch.   Unfortunately I had not checked the local price which is consistently $69.95.   Not bad, but I was shooting for a $50 “thank you” gift.   Enter the internet shopping thingie at Google which offered up Turnpike spirits way out east as having the best price by far on Oban – $42 plus shipping.    Unfortunately the website showed “not available” so I called them and got excellent help.  He had some bottles and I managed to order 4 of them.   With shipping I’m going to be under $50, and have a few more nice gifts to give.   Hey Dad – don’t read this post!

Shopping for scotch shows that the internet has not stabilized pricing at all – at least for Oban Scotch.   This single product has dozens of different online prices, which is especially interesting given that locally the price seems almost “fixed”.    I’m guessing few people buy liquor online – perhaps it is an impulse or very-close-to-Christmas purchase usually and therefore people go local?  However it would seem this price inefficiency could be monetized somehow by matching  low online pricing to high priced areas.    I’m guessing that our local liquore store paid more for the bottle they are selling at $69.95 than I just paid Turnpike, so somewhere in here there is a business.

1850 bottle of Scotch sets sales record at almost $60,000

A 157 year old Bowmore Scotch sold for almost $60,000, setting a new world scotch record.  My experiences with single malts have been uninspired – so much so that I’m skeptical about most people who claim to have special tastes for good scotch.

However in this case I’m guessing that even I could tell the difference.    

But at $2000 for a shot of this whiskey I’m confident we’ll never know.   

 Hey Mr. Bartender, can you make mine a 1850 Bowmore whiskey sour with extra ice?

Take two Resveratrols and call me in the morning ?

Noting the number of scams and bogus claims in the nutritional supplement biz I’m always reluctant to accept claims of new “wonder supplements”. However Resveratrol as a “life extension” really looks promising and seems to hold up to scrutiny the more it is tested. 2006 tests on mice prolonged their life significantly, and although human and mice biology differ it’s reasonable to assume we fellow vertebrates have a lot in common. The resveratrol appears to offer benefits related to caloric restriction which is well documented as a way to extend the life of mice. Unfortunately we humans, especially meat and potato guys like me, don’t like caloric restriction.

I’m going to break my normal rule of thinking supplements are not worth the cost and trouble and start taking this supplement.     I’m also going to hope Ray Kurzweil is right that if you can make it to 2040 ….. you’ve made it to eternity due to the coming explosion of AI merging with our biological selves.

Airports Blog and Online Highways Blog

Well, I’m going blog crazy these days and hope I can keep up the writing pace needed to maintain a bunch of blogs related to website projects. For me, the blog format makes it a lot easier to write a lot. Perhaps this is because I’m a very fast writer but somewhat design challenged. Blog content management allows me to focus only on the words and ideas and not much on the navigation, design, or overall site structure.

The new Travel blog is Online Highways, a companion to our mega travel site. I’m also starting an Airports Blog
as a companion to my languishing QuickAid.com Airports website project which *will* get a major overhaul as part of this process.

The President Picker blog is one I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up. Here I will try to keep current with the latest presidential stuff though president news is so overwhelming so early in the process I’m hardly providing much of a service here.

More likely to get maintained will be the Prescription Report blog. This will be a companion to the Prescription Report website. The idea here is simple – whenever I see an advertisement for a new prescription drug I’ll review the drug, trying to provide information about the basics of the drugs include the safety and about the pros and cons of the prescription drug as well as links to company sites and sites with alternative views about the drug.

Another one I have yet to start will feature detailed travel tips from Oregon. This is an area where, theoretically, I’m a big expert so you’d think it would be going by now … but … it’s not. Soon though, soon!

Millions die. Millions more wait to die. All due to our narrow and irrational focus. Man do we suck!

Another one for the “narrow focus kills millions” department:

Wikipedia on Rotavirus Vaccines, which are improving and will save *millions* of people:

An earlier vaccine, Rotashield by Wyeth-Ayerst, had to be taken off the market in the late 1990s after it was discovered in rare cases to be linked to a severe complication called intussusception. This event was so rare that widespread adoption of Rotashield in developing countries would nevertheless have saved millions of lives, but use of a vaccine deemed unsafe in the U.S. was seen as unacceptable.
Also notable is the fact that the new vaccines are very expensive in USA but heavily subsidized in developing world.  However still it appears too expensive for widespread use.   I remain unclear on how the pharma industry fits into the big picture but it’s a topic I’d like to take on soon as personal research.

When I’ve looked into specifics it generally appears they actually are NOT profiteering from the poor (though certainly they milk the rich like crazy, manipulating people with TV advertising and doctors with freebies). However it seems to me that in developing countries the big pharmas often do the right thing and either give away or heavily discount life saving drugs.  But many activists argue they are the major part of the problem – I think due to big pharma’s opposition to widespread generics.

Unfortunately much of that debate is mired in socialist economic diatribes which often suggest that anything corporate is evil, and therefore not reasonably considered part of a solution, rather than looking for the optimal solution point.

Head on – apply directly to your gullibility and wax your forehead.

Another homeopathic remedy rears it’s silly head with the product I’ve seen advertised so much on TV without any description of what it’s supposed to do.   Apparently that’s because it does .. nothing.

HeadOn is a homeopathic topical headache relief product produced by Miralus Healthcare.[1] Although intended uses are not listed on the website or in the commercial spot, the purported purpose of the product is to assuage head pains after being applied directly to the forehead.[1] Chemical analysis has shown that the product consists of almost entirely wax.

Almost 5000 dead and counting

No, not from the Indonesian earthquake – indeed a terrible tragedy. Global warming? Ha – not even the most alarmist proponents make this claim. Nope, not from terrorism, which tragically took perhaps 5 or even 10 lives today despite *trillions* of dollars spent fighting wars and providing security across thousands of first world venues.

Malaria killed the 5000. Today. And yesterday. And tomorrow. 1-3 Million per year with some indications the count has been historically too low on this disease.

But let's not worry about Malaria because the cost to dramatically reduce transmission is …. $2.50 for nets that protect people while they sleep. $5.50 for the really good nets that can protect people for 5 years.

More death news you won't see on CNN or FOX. Yet today (nor yesterday or the days before) I didn't see anything on CNN or FOX about this ongoing life and death battle with parasitic diseases where the death toll eclipses that of *all wars ever fought for all time*.

CNN did, however, have a long report lamenting the fact that that about 100 people per week die waiting for organ transplants. We better get to work on that, because why spend $2.50 for a net to save a kid's life when you can spend $250,000.00 giving a rich guy a extra few years?

Book ’em!

I just read that we Americans have 1 in 136 people locked up. Right now. Incredibly, about 1 in 37 Americans have served time.  Among industrialized nations (and most others) we are the world's leading incarcerator. This is not a statistic to be proud of by any means and is an alarming indicator of an unhealthy society.

The Sentencing Project tried to answer the question "why?". This from a 2003 study comparing incarceration rates around the world:

The high rate of imprisonment in the United States can be explained by several
· A higher rate of violent crime than other industrialized nations.
· Harsher sentencing practices than in other nations, particularly for property and drug
· Sentencing policy changes over a period of three decades, particularly the shift
toward mandatory and determinate sentencing, restrictions on judicial discretion, and
a greater emphasis on imprisonment as a preferred sanction.
· Policy changes adopted as part of the “war on drugs,” leading to a vastly increased
use of the criminal justice system as a means of responding to drug problems.

600 Billion down your own human drain

CNN interviewed the author of a book that suggests the pharmaceutical industry is out of control, beyond the reach of reasonable regulation, and suggested some "Trust busting" a la Teddy Roosevelt may be needed.

The interesting stat was that 600 billion is spend annually on unneeded drugs.   Wow.   If true that is a staggering waste.    Hey – I should start a website featuring objective information about Drugs.  It could be called Prescription Report.   Wait!  I already did that but it sucks.   I'll fix that someday.