Communion Of Dreams

Out of the mouth of . . .
April 30, 2009, 9:29 am
Filed under: Emergency, Flu, Government, Health, Pandemic, Politics, Predictions, Preparedness, Society, Survival

. . . well, certainly not a babe (in either sense of the term):

Biden says avoid planes, subways; puts out clarifying statement

Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not recommend taking any commercial flight or riding in a subway car “at this point” because swine flu virus can spread “in confined places.” A little more than one hour later, Biden rushed out a statement backing off.

“I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show.. “It’s not that it’s going to Mexico. It’s [that] you’re in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. …

“So, from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you’re out in the middle of a field when someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”

Biden has a small problem – he says what he is thinking. Which is dangerous for a pol, and it never ceases to amaze me that he has managed to get as far in politics as he has.

Anyway, it is revealing what he said, even if the White House made him backpeddle. And I think that it is probably fairly good advice at this point. I know that I would have serious second thoughts about doing much traveling on public conveyance at this point. But semi-hermit that I am, that’s pretty easy for me to say (and do).

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

“What’s next?”


I chuckled. “Yeah.”

“But I thought you already had like 40,000 rounds of ammo,” said my friend.

“You exaggerate.”

“Yeah, but not by much.” He laughed. “So, what were you foraging for?”

“Oh, just decided to top off some of the usual supplies we have at home. You know how it is.”

He did. He too lives in the Midwest, where a winter storm or spring flood or summer tornado can leave you isolated without power or the ability to get out for upwards of a week. “So, you really think this is the start of a pandemic?”

“Probably not, but it is too soon to say. But even if it isn’t, there could be a panic, which could be almost as bad.”

“Yeah, good point.”

* * * * * * *

WHO says swine flu moving closer to pandemic

BERLIN – The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the swine flu outbreak is moving closer to becoming a pandemic, as the United States reported the first swine flu death outside of Mexico, and Germany and Austria became latest European nations hit by the disease.

In Geneva, WHO flu chief Dr. Keiji Fukuda told reporters that there was no evidence the virus was slowing down, moving the agency closer to raising its pandemic alert to phase 5, indicating widespread human-to-human transmission.

* * * * * * *

“You know, this is all your fault,” said a different friend.

“What is?”

“The swine flu.”

“How do you figure?”

“I read your book. I know the backstory. This is how it starts, isn’t it?”

“Well, something like this, anyway.”

“So, what’s next?”


He laughed.

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Tell me about this.
April 28, 2009, 7:12 am
Filed under: Amazon, Emergency, Flu, Government, Health, Pharyngula, Predictions, Preparedness, PZ Myers

I need to run out foraging this morning, now that the WHO has gone to DefCon 4 but I have a question that I hope someone can help me with.

I was doing my usual poking around online this morning, hitting my usual haunts, and saw a comment over at PZ’s that caught my attention. It referenced the “Black Swan Theory” of Nassim Taleb.

Hmm. That rang a bell somewhere deep in my memory. I did some poking around, and found that it was from a book that came out in 2007. Well, I think I heard about it, but I never did get around to reading much of Taleb’s work. What I found looks intriguing – but is it worth my time to get a copy and actually read it?

Jim Downey

Panic much?
April 26, 2009, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Emergency, Flu, Government, Health, Pandemic, Preparedness

Just curious – how are people here responding to this news?

US declares public health emergency for swine flu

WASHINGTON – The U.S. declared a public health emergency Sunday to deal with the emerging new swine flu, much like the government does to prepare for approaching hurricanes.

* * *

At a White House news conference, Besser and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sought to assure Americans that health officials are taking all appropriate steps to minimize the impact of the outbreak.

Top among those is declaring the public health emergency. As part of that, Napolitano said roughly 12 million doses of the drug Tamiflu will be moved from a federal stockpile to places where states can quickly get their share if they decide they need it. Priority will be given to the five states with known cases so far: California, Texas, New York, Ohio and Kansas.

I posted an item about it here yesterday, and for the most part I see this simply a prudent step in preparation. But I find it very interesting that the US government is moving *very* quickly over this – perhaps this was a factor:

Swine flu confirmed in NYC high school students

NEW YORK – New York City was dealing with a growing public health threat Sunday after tests confirmed that eight students at a private Catholic high school had contracted swine flu. Some of the school’s students had visited Mexico on a spring break trip two weeks ago.

New York officials previously had characterized the cases as probable, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that it was swine flu, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

About 100 students at St. Francis Preparatory School complained of flu-like symptoms; further tests will determine how many of those cases are swine flu.

Bloomberg stressed that the New York cases were mild and many are recovering, but said that parents of the students also had flu symptoms, “suggesting it is spreading person to person.”

Thoughts? Do you have the basic preparations for coping with a generalized emergency? I think I’m in pretty good shape, though I might pop out and stock up on my usual scotch . . .

Jim Downey

(Slightly different version cross posted to UTI.)

And so it begins.*
April 25, 2009, 7:34 am
Filed under: Babylon 5, Emergency, Flu, Health, Iraq, NPR, Pandemic, Predictions, Preparedness, Science Fiction, Society

I’ve often written about the prospect of a pandemic flu, and how it relates to what I did with the backstory for Communion of Dreams. And I can’t help but think when I see/hear something like this that this is exactly how the first reports of such an evident would come:

Fear, anger and fatalism over swine flu in Mexico

MEXICO CITY – The schools and museums are closed. Sold-out games between Mexico’s most popular soccer teams are being played in empty stadiums. Health workers are ordering sickly passengers off subways and buses. And while bars and nightclubs filled up as usual, even some teenagers were dancing with surgical masks on.

Across this overcrowded capital of 20 million people, Mexicans are reacting with fatalism and confusion, anger and mounting fear at the idea that their city may be ground zero for a global epidemic of a new kind of flu — a strange mix of human, pig and bird viruses that has epidemiologists deeply concerned.

* * *

Scientists have warned for years about the potential for a pandemic from viruses that mix genetic material from humans and animals. This outbreak is particularly worrisome because deaths have happened in at least four different regions of Mexico, and because the victims have not been vulnerable infants and elderly.

NPR and other news outlets have picked up on it this morning, as well, with the story still lost in the ongoing economic collapse, renewed violence in Iraq, and political struggles of several stripes. Just one more story. But, finally, the big one?

We’ll see.

Jim Downey

* Kosh, from Chrysalis.

A small glimpse . . .
April 24, 2009, 8:14 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, RKBA, Science

…into what had me busy last week(end): The big list. Shooting the damned derringers was brutal. But you hafta be ready for the Zombie apocalypse.

Jim Downey

Got them low-down, no-good, post-ballistics-tests blues.

Man, I still feel like someone beat me with a bag of nickels.

I wonder if this is just an effect of having subjected myself to a lot of blast shock over a four day period? Shooting a lot of the ‘real world’ guns (we test something on the order of 40 with all the different ammos available from the previous tests) wasn’t such a big deal. But some of them – particularly the Bond derringers in the larger calibers – were just brutal to shoot 20 – 30 times in a row. And the blast from the short barrels of the chop tests could knock your teeth loose.

Anyway, I ache everywhere. And I’ve been fighting a mild depression for the last couple of days. At first it was just masked by being tired (the tests were hard, and I got too little sleep). Also, I figured that the emotional energy it took to be in close proximity to several other people constantly over five days time was a component – don’t get me wrong, I like everyone involved in the testing a lot, but I am just not used to being with people that much. But I have now had some time to recover, and I should be past the worst of that.

So, a little post-project blues. Or maybe the blast shock, repeated several thousand times, has something to do with it. I dunno. I’ll write more tomorrow, in the meantime take a few minutes to enjoy these great images of the Saturn system from the Cassini spacecraft, courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Big Picture series.

Jim Downey

(Via Phil Plait.)

April 22, 2009, 9:17 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, NPR, Psychic abilities

So, I was listening to NPR yesterday afternoon, and heard their ‘letters’ bit about the show on Monday (which I missed, due to being out shooting). They had evidently done a segment speculating what would happen were marijuana legalized, and were reading some of the letters that they got in response. Most were about what you would expect – thoughtful observations and critiques of the show. Then there was the last one:

Finally, one of the few letters we received against legalization. It comes from Rose Rosetree in Virginia. She emailed to tell us she reads auras, professionally. She writes: “From my perspective, pot is very dangerous. It is a slow poison that has very specific consequences for all long-term users, as well as individual and heart breaking consequences for each user.” Ms. Rosetree goes on to say: ” Until all NPR listeners can read auras, invaluable for all forms of holistic healing, as well as many other practical uses, with all respect, non-aura-readers will only perceive the surface problems with marijuana and other recreational drugs.”

Hmm. Methinks Ms. Rosetree has books to sell. Surprise, surprise.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

New round of testing completed.
April 21, 2009, 10:41 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, Science

As I mentioned the other day, this last weekend was the next round of testing for the Bbti project. We finished up in good form yesterday, after completing the ‘chop tests’ of three new calibers (.327 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and 10mm) as well as revisiting many of the previously tested ammos with a bunch (like over 40) of new ‘real world’ guns. There are some very interesting results already evident in the raw data, some of which I will be discussing informally on my Bbti blog in the coming weeks until we get everything crunched and posted formally on the main Bbti website.

But not for a day or two. As I told a friend this morning: “My hands feel like they have been pounded with hammers for the last week.” Just doing this much typing is very painful.

So, until later . . .

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to Bbti Blog.)

It’s no big deal.
April 16, 2009, 8:18 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Government, NYT, Privacy, Society, tech

N.S.A.’s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.

Hey, it’s no big deal. Just a small bout of ‘overcollection’. Like having a few too many Tupperware containers, right? Or like being a bit ‘overdrawn’ at the bank. You know, to the tune of $1.3 Trillion or something. Easy mistake for anyone to make.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)