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Why (and What) I'm Stockpiling for the Swine Flu Pandemic

Scary Pig Head

I’m writing this post in part because I suspect it to be a little foolish to be stocking up on swine flu pandemic supplies, and in part because I fear it might be wise.

Later may be too late. To be clear, I’m not even close to certain that we will need to ride out an infrastructure-crippling pandemic flu. I’m thinking it’s a bit more likely than a zombie attack, and a lot less likely than a sure thing. I’m not an epidemeologist. I don’t even know one socially. So when I know for sure that there’s a problem, it will be when everyone else knows. And I figure that when that happens, some things — bottled water, canned goods — will disappear quickly. So I figured why not go ahead and put some aside.

If it’s not the swine flu, it may well be something. Tornado, bio weapon attack, zombies — I can’t think of a time when it will be a problem to have some bottled water, canned goods and meds stored up. Anyway, we’re writing down expiration dates and putting reminders on the calendar to use up things we haven’t needed.

In all seriousness, it’s pretty serious. People who lived through the 1957-1958 and 1968 - 1969 pandemics may have incorrect notions about how bad it can be. If anything like the 1918 pandemic hits, there won’t be hospital beds enough in the nation for those who need them — not even close — and people may need to keep their dead at home for days before anyone can pick them up. Our preparedness for a pandemic isn’t any better now than it was in 1918. In fact, it may be worse in a world where we rely on the quick delivery of food from around the globe (rather than from farms outside the cities they serve) to keep grocery stores stocked. And our disaster preparedness plans depend on first responders from unaffected areas, but of course, in the case of pandemic, there are no unaffected areas. So there is precious little in state and local government disaster plans to help against a pandemic.

What we’re buying: See Appendices C and D to this PDFInfluenza Pandemic Preparation and Response: A Citizen’s Guide. The pamphlet also describes how things might be in a 1918-style pandemic flu, and doesn’t really pull any punches. In addition to a section on putting your affairs in order, the “Symptoms/Assessment/Treatment” chart includes assessments like “Death is likely.”

AT and I were talking about how neither of us has ever felt prompted by the threat of emergency to stock up on supplies before, and we both have spent large chunks of our lives living in hurricane hangouts. I think in part it has to do with being a parent. A flu with a 2.5% chance of killing you? If you’re childless, you have to like those odds. But a flu that could incapacitate you when you’re needed to care for a child? Well it makes sense to be prepared, if possible.

Religulous Gives Religion Too Much Credit

This picture doesn’t have much to do with the post, but it struck me as a funny reference to the lolobama from back during the campaign.

I finally got around to watching Religulous, Bill Maher’s feature length polemic against religion in all forms. I enjoyed the first 90 minutes or so in the way you enjoy any documentary that argues what you already believe. It was clear in a lot of the interviews that Maher’s interlocutors didn’t know what they were getting into, and the interviews were fairly heavily edited. The film spent a lot of time on kooky characters who were plainly not up to mounting an intellectually rigorous apology for religion. There were a lot of cheap shots, but they were funny and I was enjoying them in private and saw no harm in it.

The last ten minutes were filled with flashing images of megachurches, terrorists and nuclear explosions (lots of nuclear explosions), mixed with Maher’s closing argument and all layered over music that is probably marketed with slogans like “if you loved Orff’s O Fortuna, then you’re going to love….”

Maher’s point:

Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says, ‘I’m willing Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. … The plain fact is religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people - by irrationalists - by those who would steer the ship of state, not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.

It was kind of jarring — Maher’s conclusions just don’t follow from the premises he established throughout the film. He never even tries to demonstrate that, if it weren’t for religion, the misguided people he interviewed or discussed wouldn’t have fallen prey to some other form of nonsense. It was a bit like watching a 90-minute special on the life and death of someone with HIV/AIDS only to have the narrator conclude that we should focus public health funding to the prevention of pneumonia (which is often deadly for those with compromised immune systems). But is there any reason to think that the outcome would have been different in a world without pneumonia?*

People don’t become susceptible to magical thinking and faith in nonsense because of religion. People are susceptible to religion because of their magical thinking and faith in nonsense. In the dark, in the behavior of others and in the order of the natural world, we see things that aren’t there. That is the kind of ape that we are. All the Bible burning in the world won’t change that.

A world without religion would be different, but not necessarily better. I find it very hard to believe that the specific acts of violence that result directly from religious belief wouldn’t be replaced by other violent acts arising from nationalism or racism (which, let’s face it, would no longer have to compete with religion for the attention of the disenfranchised and mentally ill).

Anyway, religion is fairly well established. ( ← understatement ) And a lot of people draw a lot of comfort from the idea that there is a person out there who loves them and who has a plan for them. Research shows that we quickly begin to react to recurring television characters and talk radio hosts as though they were our personal friends. But what kind of jerk would pursue Twin Peaks fans, reminding them that there is no Agt. Cooper, and that even if there were he wouldn’t give a shit about them? Millions haven’t been slaughtered in the name of Laura Palmer. But if I’m right — if similar millions would have been slaughtered for something else even in a world without religion — then then there are plenty of costs and no benefit to bullying the religion out of people.

I suppose that I view religious folk kind of the way I view Republicans. It tickles my baser nature to make fun of them amongst like-minded friends, but I don’t actually think the world would be any better without them. (I actually think the U.S. would be a better place with two healthy parties, which is why I heartily wish the GOP a speedy recovery from its case of crazyitis.) If I had the chance, I would respond to Bill Maher’s rationalist fundamentalism the same way I would have responded to the left-wing conspiracy theorists who said that George Bush was getting instructions through an earpiece during the 2004 debates:

Dude, you’re making us all look like assholes.

* This analogy only goes so far in a world where drugs have been developed to let people with HIV live long lives. There’s no counterpart to this in the world of religion. Although I have to think there would be money — and maybe a Nobel — in developing a cocktail of drugs that would allow carriers of religion to lead normal lives without becoming symptomatic.

I’ll take this a step farther. If you, gentle reader, are anything like me, the religious folk you know are the sort who put in an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday, turn to God when things get rough and are sympathetic to charities branded with the religion of their choice, but who don’t otherwise spend much time contemplating the divine. They sure aren’t going to pick up an AK-47 to defend their prophet. Even if Bill Maher is right that we’d be better off in a world with no religion, starting with these people doesn’t make any sense. You can only make their lives more difficult than they need to be without doing much to put an end to the horrors Maher is worried about.

Trip to the Graveyard

Oakland Cemetery

We went to historic Oakland Cemetery today. Here’s some pictures.

Sg at the Gardens

Sg, it’s been a busy day with the camera. This afternoon we went to the Botanical gardens with my parents for some pictures. I love that you’ll stand there and have a face-to-face conversation with me while I’m behind the camera. I hope you don’t stop that any time soon.

Sg at the Botanical Gardens

Easter Egg Hunt (8 Days Early)

Easter Egg Hunt

We went to an easter egg hunt. The people there were doing a dance. (See how many Peanuts dances you can find in the image below.)

Easter Egg Dance

SPACE TYPE PICTURE

I was going to type something awesome, but I forgot what. So I gave my head a break from work long enough to make you this picture. In case any Sci-Fi publishers from the 70s time travel to ask you whether you know any good book covers.

SPACE TYPE PICTURE

It’s actually San Diego, Pluto and Mars. Original image here.

Marches Past

Below are a few pictures we’ve taken during the month of March in prior years. In 2008, we celebrated easter at a zoo and at a church. (In a sort of variation on Pascal’s wager, we were hedging our bets. Whether there turns out to be a God, or whether the Gorillas rise up and take over the world, we’ve put a little time in with each.)

a picture from easter
gorilla family
family at the zoo
Sg on the easter bunny lap

In 2007, I went around Atlanta with a friend taking pictures of music venues that he planned to use to decorate his office. Dunno whether he used the pictures or not. We had to give you hits from the inhaler because you had RSV and couldn’t sleep for all of the rattling and hacking. I remember us all being pretty sleepy during that period.

cog
making a baby take an inhaler hit
sleepy mom

In 2006, we went to Disney, and Roger and Cathi got ready to get married. There was a big ugly bat at Disney. And sideways car. And a frying pan that suggested the possibilty of miracles just around the corner. AT and I were enjoying having a puppy. And a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.

guys at the rehearsal
disney sideways car
disney bat
electric palm trees
cooking up miracles
run daisy run

In 2005, I was nearing the end of the vale of tears known as 2L year, was re-discovering the fun of having a digital camera and had just discovered Flickr. So I drove around the area surrounding Mebane, North Carolina taking pictures of Random ShitTM (including Da Game Room & Lounge).

yes it is a refrigerator
Melville Candy Shop
why
da game room and lounge

It kind of seems like maybe we didn’t take any pictures in March 2004 or 2003, though I don’t see how that’s possible. In 2002 we took a trip out to East Prairie, Missouri and Millington, Tennessee to visit family. And that’s probably far enough back, right?

karen and laura
traveling over the Mississippi

Fernbank

We went to the natural history museum.

Fernbank

Why the Internet is Awesome

Here are some things I’ve been meaning to share:

Totally Looks Like…

First up, the uncanny resemblance between Sconeborough’s Fat Jack:

Sconeborough Panel

And our own fat Jack (and note how the cartoon captures him right down to the one-eyed thing):

picture of a fat cat

Safety First

picture of a dog eating a boy

Many children delight in teazing dogs,
and without caution go too near them,
by which they get miserably torn and mangled.

This is from The Book of Accidents (1831). The boys seem to be taking it well. At first I was thinking “why would that one kid continue to teaze the dog while it is attacking his buddy”, but then I thought “well, at that point, why not?”

Uneasy Relationship Between Art and Life

We used to have a dog named Snoopy, you know, a real live dog. I suppose people who love Snoopy won’t like it, but we gave him away. He fought with other dogs, so we traded him in for a load of gravel.

— Charles M. Schulz

[source]

Seems About Right

Robin Hanson (via Kevin Drum):

We disagree because we explain our own conclusions via detailed context (e.g., arguments, analysis, and evidence), and others’ conclusions via coarse stable traits (e.g., demographics, interests, biases). While we know abstractly that we also have stable relevant traits, and they have detailed context, we simply assume we have taken that into account, when we have in fact done no such thing.”

Interlude

picture of flanders

More Accidents

picture of a boy with his eye knocked out

Wicked and malicious boys often throw stones, by which they not only hurt and maim one another, but often knock out an eye and are disfigured for life.

Roger knew that the other boys only teazed him about his gigantic exposed optic nerve because they were jealous, but knowing so didn’t make him feel any less lonely.”

Grand Finale

Crocodile Controlled By A Female Devil
To Give Her Sexual Pleasure

Picture of a Crocodile Controlled By A Female Devil To Give Her Sexual Pleasure

Got any others?

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