Random thoughts, 10 June 2009

2009/06/10

It appears that the World Health Organization may be set to declare that the Influenza A H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic. [1] While this is not surprising, given that the WHO and other health groups have been hinting at this direction ever since the outbreak started, as mentioned before, it is still no reason to panic. As pointed out yesterday, and further reinforced by today’s WHO Update 46, [2] the mortality rate is still well below that which accompanied other, far more deadly pandemics. Mexico still has the highest number of confirmed deaths (106) and the highest morality rate, at 1.85% (106 confirmed deaths / 5,717 confirmed cases = 0.0185; 0.0185 x 100 = 1.85%); our own mortality rate is far lower, at 0.2% (27 confirmed deaths / 13,217 confirmed cases = 0.00204; 0.00204 x 100 = 0.2%). Worldwide, the mortality rate is also not particularly concerning at only 0.51% (141 confirmed deaths / 27,737 confirmed cases = 0.00508; 0.00508 x 100 = 0.51%). As also mentioned before, it appears that quality of care has a profound effect on the outcome of these cases; while just under half of all confirmed cases worldwide are here in the U.S., our mortality rate is, as mentioned, extraordinarily low. Other developed nations also appear to be weathering the outbreak relatively well: the U.K., for example, has 666 confirmed cases (no snickering at the figure) but no confirmed deaths; Japan also has no confirmed deaths out of 485 confirmed cases. Again, there does not appear to be any reason to panic.

On a related note, some are now proposing that a terrorist act could be the cause of the Air France Flight 447 crash, due to a pair of names on the passenger manifest. [3] It is argued that these two individuals may have ties to Al Qaeda, but as we have found (embarrassingly) in the past, terrorist watch lists can be notoriously misleading and incorrect. As for the “bright white flash” supposedly witnessed by a Spanish airliner in the region at the time, keep in mind that the Air France Flight was allegedly flying through a thunderstorm; I suspect that bright flashes during such natural events are quite commonplace. Of course, no one should rule out the possibility of foul play this early in the investigation, but on the other hand, neither should anyone jump to conclusions. Given the depth of the water where the plane went down, it is likely that we will never know for certain what actually happened on the flight; if recovery teams are unable to locate the plane’s “black” box, it would be difficult to determine anything with certainty. Of course, I am reminded of the efforts to determine what happened to BOAC Flight 781 (sometimes referred to by the plane’s designation, “Yoke Peter,” from the plane’s identification tag, G-ALYP); [4] of course, as this was very early in the Jet Age, de Havilland had a vested interest in determining both what happened to the flight, and proving that their Comet aircraft was, in fact, safe. I suspect that such extensive measures will probably not be undertaken in the case of Air France Flight 447; besides which, much of said investigation takes place via computer simulations, anyways.

In other world news, Russia and China have both expressed support for a U.S.-backed proposal to expand U.N.-imposed sanctions on the DPRK in the wake of the latter’s recent nuclear test, and repeated test launches of short- and long-range missiles. [5] Er, I mean, “civilian rockets.” Admittedly, it is unusual for both Russia and China to agree with us on much of the UNSC’s business, but as helpful as this may be, I doubt it will have much bearing on the leadership of the DPRK. After all, the DPRK is already acknowledged as one of the most (if not the most) isolated nation in the world, and yet, they still carry on with their belligerent antics, regardless. Meanwhile, their people suffer constantly from lack of food, clean water, of practically any of the benefits of modern civilization; but then, I suspect that you already know that. Sadly, we do not assassinate enemy heads of state, even if they so richly deserve the distinction. Alas. [6]

Meanwhile, in domestic news, it appears that a Senate vote on “car-swapping” may be coming up soon. [7] Such incentives are not unique, as I have heard of at least one similar program in Germany; it strikes me as not such a bad idea, either. While my zeal for environmental protection (or lack thereof) is probably plainly obvious, I do support high-gas-mileage vehicles for strategic reasons. Specifically, since the lion’s share of our domestic thirst for liquid petroleum stems from transportation uses, the lower we can make these figures, the less we’ll need invest our precious blood and treasure in the various oil-producing crapholes [*] around the world. Part of the problem with this and other eco-friendly (and petroleum-light) programs is that they cost more than equivalent fossil fuel-based systems; though the Church of Environmentalism™ would probably like to believe that we use fossil fuels out of ignorance, malice towards the planet, etc., the fact is that we use such fuels because they are relatively cheap and plentiful. In short, we lose far less energy extracting them from their naturally-occurring reservoirs than we gain from burning them. Returning to the “cash-for-clunkers” proposal, this strikes me as a relatively non-invasive way for the government to incentivize the purchase of more efficient vehicles while offsetting the increased cost of said vehicles; it may also be not particularly costly, especially if the government turns around and recycles the steel, sells off useable components, etc. It could also have a stimulative effect, if the vehicle dismantling takes place domestically, which would not be a shabby side benefit in these troubled times. Of course, given the President’s stated distaste for domestic “low-skill” jobs, this latter scenario may not occur. Pity, that.

In other domestic news, apparently, nobody knows who’s really speaking for the GOP these days. [8] Of course, with the plethora of voices out there these days, this is unsurprising. Perhaps, more importantly, should we even care, at this point? While I have a marked distaste for the policies of the Democrats these days, they are not entirely inaccurate in their charge that the GOP amounts to little more than a “Party of No.” Many of the most prominent conservative critics are quick to point accusingly at the Democrats for leading our nation to ruin, but they have precious few counter-proposals on their side. Criticism is not useful, if it only serves to denounce the opposition. And yes, I realize that there may be some irony involved in my analysis here, given that I tend to be highly critical of the Left, and have few proposals of my own to offer. Point conceded; I will, however, also note that I am not a policy-maker, and it is not my job to do so. On the other hand, it is the job of the Congressional Republicans to do so, but they have not been doing very much of that these days.

Honestly, I care little for the fate of the GOP at this point, anyways. Clearly, they have no idea how to be fiscally conservative, even though they enjoy claiming that they represent such a position. Conversely, the increasing focus on socially conservative issues (and their support for legislating control of such issues) irks me to no end. I am, after all, primarily libertarian (note the small “l”) in my leanings. I would certainly like to see a new, centrist libertarian-ish party emerge from all the current partisan chaos, even if the GOP survives the process. Given the trend among the Democrats to lean further and further left-of-center in their policy goals, it is entirely possible that centrist Democrats (such as the so-called Blue Dogs) may feel increasingly uncomfortable with the size and scope of government expansion. The marriage of these latter with politically conservative, socially progressive ex-GOP members might be an interesting situation to see. Perhaps one of the most misleading aspects of the modern GOP is that they seem to equate social conservatism with political conservatism; these are most certainly not the same things, and absent this commingling, there may be far more commonality between such conservatives and fiscally conservative Democrats. As for my dislike of partisanship, I concede that we are likely to have political parties for the foreseeable future; what concerns me in a two-party system is if it ever evolves into a quasi-single-party system, i.e., if one party gains such overwhelming numerical superiority as to effectively negate the efforts of the opposition. While such a situation is not impossible in a multi-party situation, the more parties there are, the fewer members each party may have overall, and in such a situation, it is very likely that they will need to engage in real debate and compromise, and the more likely it is that the laws resulting from such compromises will take into consideration the broad scope of needs and interests of the nation.

Finally, for today’s tragic WTF?!? moment, it appears that the gunman responsible for the shooting death of a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. is an 88-year-old white supremacist. [9] Sadly, the gunman, while having been shot, appears to have survived the ordeal. Perhaps, there is a resident “Angel of Death” in the hospital where he is being treated? One can always hope, I guess. I suspect that people like this will keep crawling out of the woodwork on occasion, if for no other reason, than to remind the rest of us that ignorance is, in fact, still alive and well in the world. Oh yes, I know that this incident is considerably less significant if one does not believe the Holocaust took place; for the record, all you Holocaust deniers out there: you’re a bunch of idiots. How one could deny the systematic extermination of six million sentients, particularly when the Nazis kept documentation of their efforts (!) astounds me. Ah well, you can’t win them all, can you? Alas.

Notes:

[1]: ABC News article, 10 June 2009.

[2]: Full text of Update 46 available here, from the WHO website, updated 10 June 2009.

[3]: Christian Science Monitor article, 10 June 2009.

[4]: BOAC Flight 781, an early jet-powered passenger flight on a first-generation de Havilland Comet airliner, experienced an explosive decompression at cruising altitude over the Mediterranean in 1954. Part of the reason that de Havilland extensively investigated the accident with physical trials on other similar aircraft is that a) computer modeling did not exist at that time, and, more importantly, b) the aircraft did not carry a black box, cockpit voice recorder, or flight data recorder of any kind (this being very, very early in the Jet Age). See here for a description of the accident and de Havilland’s subsequent investigation (Wikipedia article).

[5]: Bloomberg.com article, 10 June 2009.

[6]: Yeah, yeah, I know. If we start doing it, then others will start doing it, too, and eventually, there will be great worldwide chaos. To which I respond, well, that’s why we have the Secret Service.

[7]: Detroit News article, 10 June 2009.

[*]: Again, yes. I am aware that “craphole” is not an official word. Using it is satisfying, nonetheless.

[8]: CNN Political Ticker article, 10 June 2009.

[9]: CNN article, 10 June 2009.

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