Pig Fever

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Oink! Oink!

This public service message is brought to you by the WHO and CDC: To avoid besmirching the good name of pigs everywhere, health officials ask that the general public and especially hyperventilating media types refer to the recent influenza outbreak strain as  H1N1, instead of the more memorable “swine flu.” Curiously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still refers (refer? Plural or singular?) to the flu strain as “swine flu.”

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Doomsday scenario unfolds in Mexico.

As the H1N1 flu continues to spread, WHO officials are doing their level best to head off a global panic, which coincidentally is timed with their announcement that a pandemic is inevitable if not already happening.OK, that’s helpful.

We have confirmed cases spreading throughout the United States and talk of closing the Mexican border (yes, it has worked so well at keeping out swineflukidillegal immigrants) has been brushed aside as, well, a waste of time and effort. I mean, how do you stop something that can travel through the air with a sneeze or cough when we can’t stop a truckload of impoverished farm workers?

Meanwhile, our fearless leader, President Obama offers shockingly sane advice:

“Wash your hands when you shake hands, cover your mouth when you cough. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, take them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don’t get on an airplane.”

That’s just crazy talk.

More crazy talk: Influenza of various strains in an average season kills 30,000 or so Americans. Every year. The majority of fatalities are people over 65 or with already weakened immune systems. If you are reasonably healthy and take a few steps (See: Obama crazy talk, above) you are unlikely to suffer anything worse than feeling really crappy for a few days, maybe lose a few pounds, and go on with life.

flugraphMeanwhile, this really scary map makes the H1N1 outbreak look like nuclear attack. Maybe this is what the folks at Fox have in mind for next season’s 24: “Just as doctors cure Jack Bauer’s weaponized Mad Cow disease, he starts grunting like a pig! Jack and his team (it’s pretty much down to just Chloe — blame the writers) have only 13 episodes to stop the Swine Flu attack and uncover the conspiracy that comes to be known as Bacongate.”

The American Red Cross has some words of wisdom as well.

And I’d like to ask this of the shopping public: Please, stop sneezing on my wife.

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Party’s over

This just in:

Longtime Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is reportedly switching to the Democratic Party.

artspecterhallcnnHere’s part of a statement Specter released at politicspa.com:

“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

While this move clearly was made in part to help Specter win re-election next year, as NPR reports, it also reflects a growing belief that the GOP has strayed, that in recent years (decades?) it has been hijacked by extremists who are unwilling or unable to find any common ground with centrists or (God forbid!) liberals.

If you’ve come to believe that the Rush Limbaughs and Hannities and Glen Becks of the world represent Republicans, I can tell from firsthand conversations that many Republicans are surprisingly sane and open to ideas other than angry rants of the shouting heads of conservative radio and TV.


It’s the end of the world

… as we know it,

And I feel, eh, OK.

Wildfires in Myrtle Beach! Record-setting temperatures in Northeast Ohio! Mexican swine flu invasion! Air Force One triggering panic in New York City! Birds! Snakes! Aeroplanes! Excessive use of exclamation points!

Gloom

Yup, these are heady times for gloom-and-doomers, what with disaster lurking at every corner, the economy in the dumps, a land war in Asia (and another Mess-opotamia in the Mideast) and whatever other malady you care to throw in.

Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. But no matter how cataclysmic events might be for you or for somebody or something, for much of the world it’s business as usual. Life goes on. The world turns, the sun burns, time passes with or without you.

I forget who said this, but he/she made an excellent point: This whole Save the Earth thing is mislabeled. Planet Earth will in all likelihood be just fine no matter how badly we mismanage our resources. We might perish. All life on this planet could perish. We could turn the entire surface of the planet into a barren wasteland. But the planet will be just fine.

It’s not as catchy, but maybe we ought to call next April 22 “Life on Earth Day” for a more accurate portrayal of the real issues at hand.

But I digress. The recent burst of minor catastrophes has bumped the buzz about President Obama’s first 100 days to the back burner, which might be where it belongs anyway. Polls show that four out of five dentists approve. That fifth dentist is still really cheesed about the November election results.

Doom

Still, every time I hear a talking head jabber on about possible pandemic from the swine flu, I have to roll my eyes. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. Either way, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to stop it. Tens of thousands of people die every year from influenza, of piggish origin or not.

The very young, the very old and folk with compromised immune systems are vulnerable. Most of us who catch the flu will feel like crap for a few days, be feverish, achy and sneezy, but otherwise will recover. Take some commonsense (oxymoron, anyone?) measures to prevent or at least reduce the spread: Wash your hands, cover your mouth, wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands, and for God’s sake, wash your hands.

And, please, stop sneezing on my wife at Macy’s.

Myrtle Beach haze

CNN reports that a wildfire near the South Carolina coast has burned 20,000 acres, including roughly 70 homes, forcing the evacuation of a couple of subdivisions.

So far there have been no fatalities, and tourism officials in Horry County  (pronounced Oh-REE, if you want to sound like a local, named for Revolutionary War hero Peter Horry) are putting on a mostly smiley face, which you might not be able to see for all the smoke.

A friend in South Carolina says the fire might be headed toward Carolina Forest, a newish development west of the Intracoastal Waterway that didn’t exist the last time there was a wildfire in that neck of the woods (30 years ago when it literally was just woods)

Embedded video from CNN Video

mbfires42409My old paper, The Sun News, said today (Friday) officials expect the fire to threaten another area soon: “The track of the fire is expected to turn to the north this afternoon and threatened many homes in the Poplar community near S.C. 90, according to Paul Whitten, Horry County public safety director.”

Local folks report that most of the golf courses in the area are open for business and the beaches are not threatened. Besides, sand really doesn’t burn, although the sea oats might not do so well.

Meanwhile, in what my old pals at The Sun News might have labeled “Only in Myrtle Beach,” a Barefoot Resort resident tells TSN he was pounding on a neighbor’s door to alert him about the encroaching fires and was thanked with the business end of a gun.

I am happy to report that my old house near U.S. 501 appears to be in no immediate danger and one of my favorite restaurants, Drunken Jack’s (a good bit south, in Murrels Inlet), is also in no danger. See the shameless but uncompensated plug here.

Smoke on the water

Fire down below:

My old stomping grounds are getting smoked out as a wildfire burns near Myrtle Beach, S.C.:

scfire They’re still trying to figure out how it got started. A few homes have burned, and a smoky haze is creating some interesting traffic hazards in the no-man’s land known as Restaurant Row between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach on U.S. 17, which has always been an adventure even without zero-visibility smoke.

I imagine the golfers aren’t enjoying the smoke-out. Maybe they’re resorting to hitting orange balls so they can find ’em in the pine straw!

The good old A&P (via a balky AOL link) says high winds and scrub in Lowcountry depressions known as Carolina Bays (home of the Venus’ flytrap) have made the fire especially difficult to contain.

The fire apparently is still on the mainland side of the Intracoastal Waterway, which is essentially a man-made river that separates the interior from the S.C. Coastal area (and much of the seaboard, but let’s save the geography lesson for another day), not terribly far from my old house near U.S. 501. I don’t think the old house is in any immediate danger.

Old friend pulls down a Pulitzer

Jim Schaefer was one of those guys you knew way back when, in high school or college, that you just knew was going places. Smart, funny, talented, all-around good guy.

Yesterday Jim was recognized as all that and a little more: Pulitzer Prize winner.

I knew Schaef back in the day at the Lantern, our little college newspaper at Ohio State, or as then-President Ed Jennings liked to say, THE Ohio State University.

Another Lantern alumnus, cartoonist Nick Anderson, won the Pulitzer a couple (five, maybe?) years ago.  The Lantern was unusually blessed with talent then: Terri Farell, Melissa McCoy, Bob Payne, Ken Torisky, Dennis Willard, Kevin Kellems, Doral Chenowith, Beth Castrodale, Justice Hill, Mitch Wilkinson, Kirk Buckley. I could name two dozen more, I’m sure.

Jim was well-liked and respected then, and that much has not changed in 20-some years since. He has a few gray hairs (don’t we all, those who still have full heads of hair?), and that Pulitzer sure will look good on his resume.

A lot has happened in between. There was that ugly strike at the Detroit newspapers in the 1990s that threatened Jim’s career (and a lot of others’ careers as well) just as he was really establishing himself. My employer, The Sun News, sent a “scab” writer to sister Knight Ridder paper the Free Press to cover pop music. Those hard times were followed by a roller coaster ride for the industry. A few years later Knight Ridder sold The Freep, then Knight Ridder sold out altogether.

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MARY SCHROEDER/Detroit Free Press: Staff writers Jim Schaefer, left, and Mike Elrick read online that they had won the Pulitzer as Free Press Editor and Vice President Paul Anger looks on, right.

Schaefer’s prize, shared with M.L. Elrick at the Free Press,  was for uncovering the scandal surrounding former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who got caught last year in a lie about, um, some extracurricular activity with his aide and a few other unsavory things. It’s a high-profile example of text messages being somebody’s undoing.

Sometimes, good guys do finish first.

Time to skewer some Shabab

The Obama administration is pondering its next move with certain Somali baddies. This time the Obamas are setting sights on apparent terrorist training camps run by a bunch of Boy Scouts known as al-Shabab, which U.S. officials worry will hook up with al-Qaida and target us.

200px-black_hawk_down_ver1This would not be an on-the-ground operation, which had disastrous  results in Somalia in the ’90s (see Black Hawk Down), but a remote airstrike, which presents problems of its own.

NPR reports that deep thinkers are worried that hitting al-Shabab camps might win sympathy for the terror group, which is not very popular in Somalia at the moment. That could change as word gets out that piracy just got a lot riskier as a career choice for Somalis.

Al-Shabab means “The Youth” in Arabic, which is how they bill themselves: fine young killers.

Says NPR:  “The members are young and portray themselves as a kind of jihadi hip. The recruiters who try to convince new soldiers to come into the fold look like young men who have just barely entered their teens, and the group’s recruitment videos are filled with hip-hop music.”

The recruiting tools, including videos produced in English, have had some success attracting young Somali-Americans to join al-Shabab. Which causes even more consternation among U.S. officials: Bombing American teenagers from Minneapolis is nobody’s idea of good PR.