Friday, February 23, 2007

20 Skins a week, and the Chance to Get Ahead

This punch line to a old joke about mohels has taken on a whole new significance this week with the announcement that male circumcision has a significant role to play in AIDS prevention.

Rersearchers, who shut down a study in Kenya and South Africa "early" because of the remarkable insight they'd discovered, were beaming the good word world-wide. Apparently circumcision "would have prevented the 35 000 NEW cases of AIDS" that happened during the study period. I guess it's too late for them.

They were so excited about the good news that they left out the part about the proof. Apparently it's so crystal clear that it might not need any proof. Think of all the money that can be saved by just training up a generation of mohels for African service. Aftter all there are some parts of Africa where genital mutilation is still a cultural tradition. But I guess we'd need them Basutos and Bantus using some first world techniques, rather than a rusty butcherknife and piece of string. A whole new, permanent, class of pseudo-medicos the community nip-artist. How advanced a concept!

Meanwhile they same gang are poo-pooing the President of Gambia who claims he's the personal AIDS curer of his country. Apparently the science involved is similar, but he doesn't have Bill Gates, Steve Lewis and a billion dollars on side.

This whole notion first arose three years back when it was noticed that AIDS transmission rates in northern Africa were in no way comparable to the epidemic in southern countries. At first this was stupidly written off to the fact that most of these countries were Moslem, and Moslems generally take a dim view of putting willy where he shouldn't be. Then it was discovered that most Moslem men are circumcised - and science took it from there.

If the aids activists want to run a campaign that might work, run an 'Anti-fucking campaign'. It'll work in Africa where superstition is just below the surface. A campaign that leads, say, truckers to believe that women have teeth in their vaginas might be good, the notion of having one's peter cropped permanently might just be credible there. Describing prostitutes as having really 'bad gums' might deter the adventurous. Telling them that homosexual activity can result in permanent bonding, with some contrived pictures of four-legged men might work. Drug activity can be deterred by threats of implanted Ju-Ju eggs. And all this would cost next-to-nothing!

Something tells me that in 10 years, or so, when it's discovered that having a skinless frank really hasn't cured AIDS, some unscientific type might point out that mass conversion to Islam might have been more efficacious. But then that's much akin to seeking a cure by dipping it in holy water, or a virigin.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Air India Fiasco

Another million or two down the ‘turlet’ with the still-born Air India inquiry. Canada’s first brush with terrorism, if you don’t count Indian massacres and the Fenian raiders, Air India saw the bombing of two commercial flights by Sikh extremists living in Canada. The subsequent RCMP investigation took a number of years and identified a handful of perpetrators one of whom spent time in jail, one shot to death by Indian police and the others released when the crown’s case against them fell to bits after ‘witnesses’ developed amnesia or remembered everything backward.

As a sop to the outraged families of the dead, the Canadian government instituted a ‘judicial inquiry’ into the matter. The ‘inquiry’ has now come cropper on the reef of CSIS’ ‘national security’. The judge has threatened to abort the inquiry if he doesn’t get more cooperation from Canada’s cloak and dagger department. Of late they’ve given him steady amounts of blackened documentation.

The ‘security’ process strikes me as stupid for a number of reasons.

First there’s the process itself. Somebody thought it was a good idea to pay somebody in CSIS to sit editing documents in ebony. Hopefully they’ve read ‘Catch 22' and can do a Yossarian edit in equally creative ways. Given the obvious value of the documentation, this could not be left to any mere clerk. No it’s probably a couple of 6 digit boys engaged in this enterprise. “Just say no”, an excellent advisor in matters of the heart and a common-sensical approach to releasing secret documents. Say no, a judicial appeal would clarify the matter. As it is, there are significant costs so far and a judicial appeal still might be the best solution.

A second point that comes to mind is “What’s being protected?” The Airliner went down almost 20 years ago. The investigation took up the next 15. Now I know we’re pretty good in Canada, and maybe there are Indian or Sikh sources that are still valuable enough to protect - give ‘em a code name and remove identifying info and get on with it. There are Mounties involved - damn straight, and that might be the third part of the problem.

Whatever Mounties were involved in the investigation have probably been ‘outed’ already at the aborted trial’s voir dire level. Somebody knows who they are and, even if sworn to secrecy, those Sikhs who walked know. Besides their careers are drawing down, would they still be in the field? Only if they’d screwed up.

Then there’s CSIS itself. Supposedly a ‘civilian’ agency it’s full of the best intelligence Canada’s got, namely superannuated Mounties. They may have given up the serge for tweeds and a ‘deerslayer’, but the mentality under that hat is every bit the same. Probably even worse, insofar as they don’t have any Gennelmen Rankers to answer for and to. And we have a pretty good idea of how high elected officials rate in the eyes of the horsey set. This point alone is probably more at the root of the non-cooperation than anything else. You can bet your yellow-striped jodphurs that, if there was a government to embarrass, those documents would have been double-spaced and white-out free. They’re covering up the mess they made in a previous existence.

Prime Minister Harper should do some housecleaning at CSIS as well as the RCMP. There are some good civilian jobs for his conservative hacks there too.

In a sequel to this sad tale. It turnsout that Mr. Harper's government are stonewalling the opposition Liberals about a related issues (appointing law 'n order Judges, and extending the powers ofsecurity services)) by beating them around the head and ears about one of their MPs who is related by marriagwe to a person of interest to the inquiry. Mr. Harper, apparently doesn't want to get to the bottomof Air India bcause he's backing CSIS, and claims the Liberals don't want to do it because it might embarrass them.

If it hadn't, and didn't and doesn't and won't, cost so much taxpayers' money, this would be a farce.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Don'tcha Call Me Sometime?

Two stories out of the 'big smoke' area of Ontari-ari-ari-o this week about the impact of hi-tech on small minds.

The first from one of TO's bedroom communities is about a coterie of teenagers who, disliking some of the things going on at their high school (like banning in-class cell phones) decided to slag the principal on an on-line forum. He found out about it and a round of school suspensions ensued. No problem thus far. It's the results that are disturbing. There have been at least two follow-up stories in the newspapers about the 'innocent' school council president unfairly targeted by a vindictive administration who are putting his academic future in some doubt. He'd signed up for the group account but never posted, or even read, any of the material, or so he claims. Another kid admitted using foul language to describe the principal, but she was "mad" because he wouldn't solve a problem for her. The kids also claimed that, because they did their slagging away from school, it shouldn't count as a school offense and impinges on their right of 'free speech'.

Without putting too fine a point on it - it's just the ignorance of youth. Somebody should teach them about slander, and being a Catholic school one might have thought they would have been exposed to knowledge that calumny was one of the seven , soul-destroying, deadly sins. One gets the feeling that this isn't over yet. I think that principal now has a 'black mark' rather than a 'feather in his cap' - not conducive to a bright administrative future. The parents I think will be forming a child-protection league to get him at future Board meetings. Their kids seem to have learned nothing positive - other than to make their posts anonymously.

The second incident from a Toronto elementary school had some young bullies picking on a disabled classmate. One of them was thoughtful enough to get an mpeg on his cell phone and take it home for posting for some fun on U-Tube. Of course it got out and the children involved received 'consequences appropriate to their age' etc. That's administrator-speak for one hug, or two. The problem, as in the first case, is the ubiquitous cell phone.

Never before have human beings been more connected than through the marvel of portable communication. Of course, even given all the benefits - emergency use, reporting and recording events, etc, there's a whole nuther down side - loss of privacy, distraction, and of course the dumb things the jejeune have historically tried with the phone, but now well away from supervision. Many schools are banning the little suckers, although parents, or some of them, have this emotional need to know that little Bubba, or Bubbette, is only a call away from parental concern, support, love, etc. in case they get kidnapped by the big bad...

But you know, if the kid decides they're going off with a stranger, they'll probably turn off that phone, or give it up. What the phone has done is create situations in which over-emotional Moms and Dads can do some really stupid stuff for their kids and to the detriment of everybody else's. Like the circus that ensued after the shooting of a staff member at a Toronto area school a year or so back, or at the report of a sex assault in a Toronto school this year, or at the college in Montreal. Parents can really get in the way, and a cell phone call can do that.

Never mind the fact that the kid knows enough to do some really childish stuff with that phone like recording in-class as a parent information tool. Or to record some interesting event like a gang bang, a blow job or a beating. Parents, and I'll bet the ones belonging to the kids mentioned above are among them, are reticent to 'handicap' their kids by taking their 'toys' away. They'll want the system to make allowances for it.

And I'm all for that, provided parents can be held liable for any harm done by their electronically-gifted progeny. But like kids and cars, that's just not gonna happen either. More's the pity.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Winnertime, and the Livin' Ain't Easy

Here it is the 10th of February and I certainly believe it.

I'm just sticking this in as counterpoint to last month's commentary on the weather, or lack of same.

We have winter in spades! Right now, after 10 days of more-or less constant snow, most people around here are beginning to develop cabin fever or that frantic perspective towards the white stuff described in a seasonal e-mail about it, and the winter season. The folks two hours south are amazed that we're still alive under all the stuff.

It's not really all that bad. The snow has come slowly enough to give a chance to pile some of it at least. So we do and can get outside. Mind you there's almost too much for skiing, and the snowmobile races might be in jeopardy if it doesn't slow down enough to let the attending crowd get there.

The worst we had to deal with was the same amount in one day - and that was in March. Last year a February ice storm wreaked havoc with the community's greenery and my back fence. It has snowed, significantly, as late as April around here. But the prognosticating rodent says only 5 more weeks this year!!!

Hope springs eternal, and the shovelling seems that way too.

Hey Mac is Yer Canary Sick?

Just as miners once used canaries to indicate dangerous conditions down below, the scientific community is keeping tabs on the avian population in order to guage the possibility of what they consider to be the next 'pandemic' flu. Avian Virus H5N1 is considered to be a threat to humans, it is already a threat to birds.

This is bird flu season as migrating birds carry the disease into the northern hemisphere. It's been bird flu season in the southern hemisphere. This winter only a couple of outbreaks were reported in Indonesia, VietNam and Japan. Does that mean there's less disease, I doubt it. It just means some countries can't afford, or can't be bothered, to track and report it. This should be evident if the disease is more widespread this year in the north.

So far three outbreaks are reported, a minor one in Turkey, what had appeared to be a minor one in Hungary and a more concerning one in an English Turkey farm.

The disease, it is claimed, spreads from wild birds to domestic fowl through infected feces. That shouldn't be a problem unless domestic birds are exposed to wild ones, i.e. they're the 'free range' variety which spend a lot of time loose, outdoors. From domestic birds the disease has spread to humans and, in a few cases, from human to human, (through the respiratory tract - it is believed). The domestic cat is being pegged as a possible vector in spreading the infection through respiration and saliva. The new strain bird flu has fairly high mortality rate in infected humans.

In many parts of the world domestic birds run loose. In Europe and North America, market conditions make the factory farm approach more efficient economically. Outbreaks of avian illness can be devastating to these operations where the genetic background all the birds in a lot are similar. But because of the nature of these operations the disease is usually transmitted by human activity - i.e. bringing in infected birds, feed or disease organisms on apparel. Avian disease, including flu, has been an on-going problem, the new strain adds another risk element. It is now believed that the English outbreak may be related to the earlier Hungarian one because the corporation owning the farm, is reputed to have processed imported Hungarian poultry at its plant adjoining the farm earlier this year. In North America the risk, as in other diseases, seems to come more directly from human economic activity thus far.

In Canada - the summer home of a large number of migrating fowl, Avian flu virus has yet to appear in significant distribution. Maybe the South American birds are not yet well-infected as few outbreaks have been reported there, or in Central America. The odds are that situation will change - due to the cross-migration that occurs naturally - one day a sick bird will show up. An outbreak on a BC chicken farm some years back was blamed on wild birds, but retrospectively it might have been because of some human activity. If it does appear, Seagulls, Canada Geese, songbirds and other wild fowl which live in closer proximity to urban centres my have to be culled. Domestic cats will have to be restrained.

Canada maintains a testing watch on the disease, sampling wildfowl. So far this year no evidence of infection has been detected. But like BSE, Canada needs to be more proactive in ensuring that economic, or other human activity, is not exposing the country to infection. No airport screening or preventative measures are apparent to minimize the risk of the disease being brought home on someone's shoes or clothing. The current customs and immigration set-up is just a clearing house for cross contamination of large numbers of travellers. That is true of other diseases as well. A sick individual could, possibly, infect a significant number of others around them in line for customs clearance. Airports aren't designed to screen for illness, or disease transmission, but if they screen for terrorists they should be.

The Plague was spread from India to Asia by trade routes, the same way it was brought to Europe by ship. Travel and commerce to-day are far more timely and efficient, and so are the possibilities of importing and exporting disease. At the time of the Spanish Flu - travel between continents was still measured in days and weeks, and still it spread around the world. Today travel is measured in hours and millions are on the move daily. The next pandemic will spread like wildfire if only because of this. A canary might not be enough warning.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Call the Cops! There's Moonite Tonight!

“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

With these few words FDR showed just how well he knew the American people. Those descendants of tough, self-reliant folk who had set off into the unknown and ‘busted open’ a continent, were capable of some truly ridiculous stuff when they were ‘skeered’. The same big-hearted people who would look out for a neighbour, could turn, on the drop of a hat, and string him up from the nearest tree when ‘riled’. Roosevelt’s words, spoken in the depths of the Dirty Thirties, could use some iteration again, to-day.

There is no fear of economic catastrophe facing us to-day, but there is the “war on terror”- equally amorphous and seemingly as without remedy. And equally capable of causing some similar psychotic reactions.

Take for instance last weeks ‘terror toon’ attack in Boston.

Some illuminated signs placed alongside roads, to ‘drum up' interest in a new adult cartoon series , had something akin to a neon ‘sponge bob’ flashing his middle digit at passing motorists.

These ‘mooninite’ graphic displays had been set-up at numerous sites in Boston, and other cities, as long as three weeks before they were discovered. They automatically illuminated in the dark, but it was the daytime appearance that caused the ‘panic’. Somebody thought they were bombs, and reacting authorities treated them as such, detonating at least two of them. When news of these incidents got out, including the report that the initial ‘concerned citizen’ call was part of the ruse as well, the network involved, the ad company and others contacted authorities with information on the scheme.

Result - a million bucks spent, destruction of all ‘moonite’ signs, charges and jail for the art student who came up with the idea, and threatened lawsuits to recover costs for emergency personnel activities. Why? Because somebody did a 'chicken-little' about a non-story and everybody else ‘lost it’.

How embarrassing! The authorities don’t want to have people thinking about how much they have to fear from a bunch of panicked security people running around their city - certainly a lot more than what those 'signs' represented. They’re embarrassed now, and somebody’s going to pay for that, 'cause there ain't nothing funny about it!

This doesn’t look good on National Security - doubtless they’ve prevented a lot of catastrophes we’ll never know about - but the ones they have prevented in public, have turned out to be pretty lame. Their intolerance of the least bit of levity, and their inability to 'laugh at themselves' could pass as symptoms of mental illness in an individual.

It does look good for the network - unless they do some public-spirit stuff and 'pull' the series. But I'd bet not. It is America - home of the adage about 'bad publicity is better than no publicity'. All America will be tuning-in. A million bucks, fine and costs? No problem!

Somebody should go over to learn from the Brits. How many ‘real’ scares have they coped with? The latest being a threat to bring the worst of Baghdad to jolly England, with some kidnappings and religiously-inspired beheadings. And how? Quiet, efficient work, and news paper headlines after the ‘perps’ are safely jailed and court dates set.

The bored 'Brits' must be wishing they had some Keystone Kops' comedy hi-jinks over there - I’m sure there are some who could be spared.

Thank God! It wasn’t our Mounties.