Monday, April 27, 2009
The View from...er..The View of my Bicycle [COLUMN]
There is nothing like a global adversary to put things into perspective. That adversary right now is Swine Flu. In late 2006 I was very concerned that we were at the point we are now (2 and a half years later). Fortunately, so were a lot of other people, including Richard Branson, and we treated the then threat of H5N1 with appropriate concern and distributed and stockpiled Tamiflu all over the world. So that's the good news - some prep is already in place. And the measures we took to contain SARS and monitor H5N1 are to some extent practised.
The bad news...well, the bad news is pretty bad. The bad news is Swine Flu has at least a 45 day lead-time on us. It gestated in Mexico for the entire month of March and April. Mexican doctors mistakenly thought a threefold increase in flu cases was just a late season spike. I'll say that again. When the season should have been over, there was a threefold spike that was mis-diagnosed to the extent that right now around 90 Mexicans are officially dead, but Mexican doctors says this figure is already well over 200.
Why is this flu special? Well it's a recombinant strain - which means it has reassociated itself with another virus. It's officially a Type A-Influenza strain that has characteristics of North American Avian flu and Swine.
So while they're calling it 'swine flu' what it really is is highly virulent, deadly avian influenza that has been floating around all this time, and has finally learned to jump into our species. In other words, it's learned to be effective. Scientists were saying in 2006 when H5N1 first emerged and then fizzled that a pandemic was a matter not of 'if', but 'when'. The critical step was human transmission (until then it was animal to human). That step has now been reached by the evolving strain.
In 1918 avian flu took 8 months to circle the globe three times, infecting everyone and killing between 50 and a 100 million. Bird flu in 1918 had a 3-5% kill rate. Now the population is around 3 times greater, and recent strains, like one in Vietnam have been tested with a 67% kill rate. The Mexican Flu has perhaps a 10-25% kill rate. I base this on unofficial data that over 200 people have died and around 1300 infected.
Interestingly there have been no deaths reported in any of the numerous cases reported in Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, New Zealand, France, Spain and possibly England and Scotland. In the USA there have been cases reported in New York, Ohio, Texas, Kansas and California. One possible reason for no deaths in these cases is that the vast majority of these cases involved children or students. One trademark of H1N1 is that it overwhelms (targets in fact) healthy immune systems and overwhelms them in a grisly reaction known as a cytokine storm. In a very short time lungs and other vital organs swell up with liquid (blood and puss) and the victim dies of a systemic organ failure or drowning.
How did this happen? You're not going to like this but it's rumored Mexican doctors have experimented (legally) on diabetic children, and this shpiel included doing tissue transplants (yes, animal to human). All of this occurred in hospital in Mexico.
I've written the following blog post to advise you on how to remain updated on developments, and also for bloggers on how to use discretion when distributing data on this sensitive topic.
A Personal View
As I say, my personal circumstances pale in comparison to some rigorous and fundamental shifts taking place in the world. It is probably hard for us to imagine or accept that our lives will never be the same, that we have rapidly been impoverished economically. This disease is a different order of magnitude. It may rob us of our health, even our lives.
Against these circumstances it may help to ask ourselves: who is important to me? Who are in my community of family and friends? Invest in those, because your relationships with others are never going to be more important.
It is hard to know whether we, wherever we are in the world, will going to work or school this week or next week. If we are and if we can we ought to consider this a privilege.
I have had an extraordinary 3 weeks - I've been in jail, I've met and interviewed Gavin Hood, I've injured a calf muscle in training, I've had some amazing opportunities and experiences come my way...some of which I'm still holding close to my chest.
I've also been, usually, to church the last 2 Sundays. Today, in fact, the preacher's wife prayed for (what was I supposed to say: No?) and I did feel a wonderful peace flowing through her hands and over me. While I love the way Christians embrace and accept one another and are effective in bringing about communities (for the greater good) it does worry me - their concern about reality.
The preacher today said effectively we should gracefully support the new government. I disagree. Here's why:
We must accept the ANC [That's Bullshit]
How I feel about the election results
I've said all along that there is so much noise that we lack clear signals. There are so many distractions that we lack discernment. I've been to some meetings with this Christian folks, and hey, I respect them. They're successful, wealthy, solid, decent people. You talk about evolution though and the blinds go up. At our last meeting they were saying that they can accept that there are a few small little changes in the lifetime of an animal, but there are no mutations. They throw evolution back at you with absurdities like: "Well, why doesn't a horse change into a butterfly." That's like me asking why didn't Jesus turn his donkey into a chariot or a Rolls Royce. C'mon, if you're going to sensible defend what you believe, then make the same effort with what you don't believe.
Our humility gets restored in the face of this monster. It really does feel like Nature is aiming its bazooka at the cancer of this planet. The real pandemic on planet earth is us. We pollute, destroy, we run amok like we deserve it all, like it's God's gift, and that we are God's gift. We don't consider that we are part of a fragile system, and when you start mucking about, that system is antagonised and turns on you.
So you don't believe in evolution? You don't believe nature has the ability to learn, to shift, to jump, to evolve. We forgot about H5N1 in 2006. It never went away. People still died, off and on, month after month, since 2006. But it didn't make the news. Britney Spears throwing a tantrum and a rugby player cheating on his wife was what we were interested in. And going to the mall to buy military style cargo pants.
Energy prices went up (and were something like the H5N1 scare). Right now we think energy is yesterday's problem. How easily we are distracted in our what's-happening-right-now lives. Where's the subtlety?
And then the virus found a way to human beings not despite our efforts, thanks to our efforts. Playing to genetically modified foods and playing with animal and plant tissues. We underestimated evolution. H1N1 has evolved and it is now spreading. It may or may not be what we deserve. But what I see is a greedy, corrupt, dishonest, arrogant population. A lot of people today are unashamedly fat, depressed, hooked on gaming or porn or some sort of chemical substance. Our species needs to get back to a disciplined approach. We need to get fitter and more focussed. I hope - I pray - that what is happening now will snap most of us awake so that we can engage sensibly, and humbly with the world.
My final word is this. Today in church the preacher mentioned one friend of his that was sick, and the preacher Angus Buchan who had unexpected collapsed at a Might Men conference (there were different reports as to why he collapsed, but according to one they said he had the flu). He went to hospital of course, and our preacher came through to preach to us. (Which theoretically could mean anything). But here's the thing. While he was telling us about two people who had gotten sick a parktown prawn ran over the floor. It's like a large, oversized ant. As a species, it may be 200 million years old, and it was first described in 1899 by the entomologist William Kirby.
He saw it, and said to the audience: "Should I kill it?" He then stamped on it and chuckled as the one leg twitched in the air. He continued talking then stamped on the rest of the soggy, crushed body. We then proceeded to pray for two people who were sick.
If you don't see anything wrong with that picture...that human beings are special and chosen...and we can stamp on a creature that wanders into 'our space' then I do hope your paradigm shifts. If it doesn't then I don't see why we have any business being here to begin with. If you don't respect life, why should life, which I believe is holy - and should be respected - why the hell should it respect us?