Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Iceman Cometh

Not that this weather has a thing to do with the Eugene O'Neill other than the title seems most appropriate. I live north of Cincinnati and we received 3 inches of snow Monday night. Last night we received a thick coating of ice on top of the snow. Then this morning the snow started falling in earnest again. The trees and overhead lines are heavily laden with snow and ice. I haven't seen any branches snap (yet) and so far the power lines have remained in tact.

The weather predictions indicate snow for the rest of today. We get a break tomorrow morning but more snow is predicted tomorrow night. The photo is from my front yard and pretty much sums up what is going on outside as I write this.

I read the other day Al Gore's was considering postponing his speech because of the weather (he is now set to brave the weather to deliver his speech). Seems his supporters didn't think it would look right to have it snowing behind Al as he plead the case for global warming. I'm bothered by this for two reasons. First, if Al Gore's arguments are persuasive than a little snow in the background shouldn't detract from the message. The leads me to the other problem, manipulation of the setting. The snow did not fit into the script, which makes any public event (not just this one) suspect.

The Belmont Club had a piece last week about cloaking device, yes just like the stuff of Star Trek. It seems technology has advance to the point where scientists are going to be able to produce materials that bend light around the surface. The effect, in principle, will be invisibility. If the material can bend light, then you will only see what the operator wants you to see. While the technology is the stuff of sci-fi, the principles are no different than rescheduling Al Gore's speech. They only want us to see what they want us to see.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Critical Thinking

I’ve been working on revamping the curriculum for my program for the last year. In talking with various law enforcement and other public sector agencies, the resounding request is for new employees to have a thorough grounding in critical thinking skills. My informal survey of agencies, colleagues and friends found that across many sectors there is shortage of people with the ability to make decisions. Employees sometimes can’t recognize the causation of the situation in front of them, much less determine an appropriate course of action.

You’ve seen new workers struggle with seemingly simple tasks. What seems to be increasing though is the inability of these employees to be able to analyze the problem and develop a solution. In part, this may be do to the preponderance of electronic devices that provide immediate feedback whenever the user commits an error. Employees accustomed to such immediate feedback loops may be at a loss in situations where those loops don’t exist.

Community colleges are especially interested in addressing this problem as most associate degree programs are geared towards producing qualified entry-level workers. Community colleges are very engaged with local employers to insure students are receiving the appropriate course work and skills training. Insuring critical thinking skills are developed through the program is challenging.

There are basically two types of faculty at the community college level; academics and practitioners. Academics usually have masters or doctorates in education and tend to pepper their conversations with words like “pedagogy” or “taxonomy”. Practitioners also possess masters or doctorates but their majors tend in a specific field of expertise. Practitioners tend to use words such as “certification” or “credentialing”. A meeting between these two different types of faculty ends up being a mind-numbing argument as to who has a better grasp on the problem.

Academics, at the community college level, see critical thinking skills as more abstract and need to be taught separately from other courses. Practitioners on the other hand see critical thinking as byproduct of immersion in hard sciences and analytical course work. I agree with the later which is why I’m considered more of a practitioner than an academic (a badge I wear with honor).

Having a student take a “critical thinking” course does not develop a thorough grounding in how to analyze a problem and develop a solution. For my program, fitting a full year of chemistry, accounting or statistical analysis is challenging due to the number of pre-requisite courses required for many of these higher level courses.

I’m going to try a unique approach, have students in my program take courses in geographic information systems (GIS). Often GIS courses are associated with computer aided design (CAD). The courses I’ve developed with a GIS expert instead immerse the student in applications of data modeling in a public policy way. What does an increase in the homicide rate look like on a map? What data points fed the information being displayed and what factors might shift those numbers?
By using GIS, I feel the students will get practical skills in understanding this very powerful tool. It will help them understand problems and convey those problems to others using easy to under maps. Students will at the same time understand how to analyze data and make forecasts based on that data. I believe this can be achieved in a two year degree program without a heavy pre-requisite workload.

The other day I ran into a GIS expert who had an intriguing idea, train mid-level and senior leaders in the public sector about Six Sigma concepts. Six Sigma seeks to identify and remove the causes of defects and errors in manufacturing and business processes. At first glance, it doesn’t appear Six Sigma, which was created in the private sector, would have much application in the public sector. However, we think we can demonstrate how public sector leaders could use a combination of GIS data and Six Sigma problems to address public policy issues. But this isn’t something that can be taught in a few workshops. Entry level workers need to have a good grounding in analytical thinking. They need to have an appreciation for GIS and other relational databases. Mid-level and senior leaders need to understand not only the power of relational databases but how to use the information with Six Sigma principals to effectively address public policy issues.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Veterans-only Court

There is discussion about creating a veterans-only court in Hamilton County.

A veterans court would:

Free up beds at the jail that could be used for inmates charged with more violent crimes.

In the first six months of 2008, Hamilton County took in 23,009 inmates. Of those, 1,125 - or 4.9 percent - were veterans and more than half of them had substance abuse or mental health issues or both.

The issue is particularly timely as Hamilton County just closed one of its jails and lost 800 beds.

Create a process to get jailed veterans the federally funded benefits due them.

Many of the people who first enlisted in 2001-02 are coming off of their second enlistment and perhaps their fourth or fifth rotation to Iraq. All of this means more veterans will be joining the civilian population, many with physical as well as mental health problems.

The veterans-only court not only is a service to the veteran but also to the community. Too often veterans find their way into correctional institutions when what they really need is help. The proposal makes sense both from a safety and security point of view as well as the debt society owes these men and women who served their country.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of jails and the Patriot Act

The L.A. Times ran a piece about airline passengers being charged with terrorism for decidedly non-terrorist actions. The cover story was about Tamera Jo Freeman who was charged and sent to jail for spanking her children. She was not charged with child abuse but rather for swearing at the flight attendant and throwing tomato juice on the floor. The flight attendants filed a complaint and Ms. Freeman’s actions were found to be in violation of the US Patriot Act. Read the article here.

The Patriot Act has always troubled me. I think it is too broad in scope and can be interpreted to cover such things as the above incident. Supporters seem too eager to sacrifice individual rights for the sake of “security”. I am perhaps in a minority that believes there were enough mechanisms in place on Sep 10th, 2001 to have prevented 9-11 had various agencies acted swiftly on the information. The Patriot Act was a knee-jerk reaction to the emotions prevailing the national conscience on those days immediately following 9-11. What is most disconcerting though is that since that time, there hasn’t been a serious re-evaluation of the Patriot Act. The Bush Administration has not evaluated the effectiveness of the Patriot Act. Do we even need the Patriot Act at all? The CIA and FBI have always had some of the most sophisticated networks and databases to detect terrorist groups. The Patriot Act has given nothing new, merely allowed more prosecution of those suspect of terrorist activity. I submit prosecution of a terrorist isn’t nearly as important as preventing them from executing their mission. I remain unconvinced that any benefits of the Patriot Act outweigh the potential abuses and loss of individual rights.

Locally the economy has adversely impacted a number of many county and city agencies resulting in, amongst other things, the closing of Queensgate Jail. The decision to close the jail resulted in the typical denials and counter-accusations but no one seems willing to ask a far more interesting question, why do we need Queensgate in the first place? The county sheriff believes without more jails Cincinnati will be filled with criminals run amok.

County jails house any number of county or city malefactors who have run afoul of local jurisprudence. These offenses range from the serious to the sublime. One would be hard-pressed to argue that murderers, rapists and other violent criminals should not be locked-up to protect others. Yet these same institutions also house inmates who committed nothing more violent that failing to pay their parking fines.

The Queensgate and Patriot Act both illustrate a unwillingness by legislators to reassess legislation once it is passed, especially in tough economic times. Legislators get elected by pledging to get tougher on crime (think mandatory sentencing) yet these laws tend to get past without regard to the budgetary impact on the public agencies charged with carrying out these new, tougher laws.

The Patriot Act adds additional stress to the increasingly unattractive air travel experience. Traveling by airliners was once glamorous with many perks in coach as well as first class. Soaring fuel costs and increased security concerns have all but obliterated the glamour. Traveling now in coach is a tedious and grueling experience. Fewer flights means a delay can cause a missed flight or even being stranded overnight. Passengers and flight crews alike are stressed, add the cramped spaces of most aircraft and the environment is ripe for emotions to boil over. The Patriot Act does not consider its negative impact on air travel, only with preserving security. A Muslim family was recently singled out on a domestic flight for wondering out loud where the safest area was on the airplane. Racial profiling in most police investigations is grounds for lawsuits and involvement by the NAACP. The Patriot Act has thus far been exempt from such measures, even when a family seems to have been targeted specifically because they were Muslim. The airline later apologize but not until after the family had already been humiliated and the rest of the passengers inconvenienced.

The Department of Homeland Security and the US Attorney General need to get handle on this. There have been so many advances in the detection of terrorist activity one wonders if the whole Patriot Act can’t be eliminated than at least major portions could be revised. Our economy is in bad enough shape, we don’t need the airline industry to join the bailout line.

Similarly, local elected officials, prosecutors and law enforcement officers need to come together and realize there just isn’t the money to incarcerated every single dope smoker out on the street. The priority needs to be keeping the most violent offenders off of the street and looking at other ways of punishing non-violent offenders. The times are different now, there isn’t enough tax revenue coming in. More citizens are losing their jobs meaning even less taxes and more demand for public assistance. The times call for real leadership, get rid of the mindset that existed when there was an abundance of tax revenue. Rewrite legislation that is reflective of the economic times and answers the needs of the community.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Community College

Today the Cincinnati Enquirer ran an article about students focusing more on job skills, increasing interest in programs offered at community colleges such as Cincinnati State. Students are interested in getting the skills they need for jobs and not additional spending time on coursework that does not relate to the job.

Students in today’s market may not be able to spend the time or finances to earn a four-degree program. Or students may already possess a bachelor’s degree are a looking to only to complete the necessary coursework to meet the qualifications to enter a new career field.

For the current academic year, Cincinnati State charges $80 per credit hour, which means a typical two-year degree would cost around $9,000. According the article, a student at UC spends approximately $3,100 per term on the main campus that equates to around $36,000 for a bachelor’s degree. It is surprising how few people realize the cost savings by taking the first two years of classes at a community college. English, chemistry, physics, biology, math and language courses taken at a community college are transferable to a university.

As a faculty member at a community college, the interest in improving job skills is good news. Community colleges are more flexible in their course catalogs and can offer certificates as well as degree programs tailored to meet the local job market. Some certificate programs can be completed in as little as six months, while others take 9-12 months to complete. Employers benefit from this quick turnaround with large pool of qualified employees. Employers can use these programs to improve the skills of their current employees. They can also benefit by having their experts teach as adjunct faculty.

The down side is two years does not afford as much diversity in subject matter as in bachelor’s program. Students focusing only on courses related to their future job may be expedient but it can also be miss some of the essentials. For instance, a common lament I hear amongst my fellow faculty is the need for critical thinking skills. These skills, in my opinion, aren’t taught in a single course but learned through duration of earning a degree. Chemistry, math, and philosophy all balance the student’s ability to analyze information understanding not only where it came from but also its implications for the future.

The high cost of completing a bachelor’s degree is one reason for this. The other is the diminished value perceived by some students. Many of today’s jobless have advance degrees but still found themselves unemployed when the economy forced elimination of their positions. I’m concerned that some students may take away from this that earning their bachelor’s or master’s is unnecessary. They may miss the importance of earning these degrees are not so much in the completion as it is in the journey.

I have never directly used either my bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, I have always used the experience gained in achieving these degrees. Having some additional letter behind my name has also helped in getting my resume past the HR staff and into the hands of those who understand my skills.

The real future I see for community colleges is to take those unemployed workers with bachelors and master’s degrees and giving them new skills or certifications to be hired. The journey can’t be taken alone by the community colleges; employers need to be involved as well. Most degree programs have representatives from the field sitting on their advisory councils. The advisory councils establish the needed communication between the academic world and the field.

Community colleges are simply about technical training. They offer students a cost-effective way of earning job skills as well as a college degree. Community colleges also provide local employers with a pool of qualified applicants with relevant skills to fill their jobs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

42,500 Security Personnel

Are working to protect the President -elect before, during and after his inaugural speech.  I can't imagine the amount of manpower required for this event.  Uniformed police officers will provide everything from traffic control to counter-sniper surveillance.  Undercover officers will be in the crowds trying to spot and prevent trouble-makers from getting out of hand.  Hundreds of officers will be manning surveillance cameras looking for threats.  Others will have the less glamorous assignment of manning the temporary jails that will house those who try to disrupt the proceedings.  Intelligence analysts from federal law enforcement agencies across the country will be monitoring networks and communications from fusions centers looking for telltale signs of trouble.  

The number above doesn't include the various Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard units performing perimeter defense and surveillance missions.  On Jan 20th, Washington DC will become the most heavenly defended no-fly zone in the world.  USAF and Air National Guard fighters will be conducting combat air patrols directed by AWACS and other radar sensors.  As Army air defenders are given to say, "If it flies, it dies".  Navy and Coast Guard ships will be patrolling all of the waterways.  Marines and Army personnel will be both visible (show of force) as well as invisible.

Reports estimate the cost for all of this protection at $150 million (which may be a conservative figure).  The cost of the inauguration has turned into a political football between the Republicans and Democrats.  What both sides are unwilling to admit is this; as the first African American to become President of the United States nothing can be take for granted.  None of the hundreds of agencies involved in protecting the President wants to be the one that let President-elect Obama to be hurt or killed.  The inauguration may be the first event of his administration but the watch will continue for the next four or eight years.  A successful attack against a President hasn't happened since President Reagan was shot.  Such a record is a testament to the hard work being performed every day by the men and women assigned to protect the President.  Now more than ever, they can't take any threat for granted.  

Terrorist groups, racist groups, anti-American groups, and those with mental disorders all have reasons to target the next President.  Times are especially bad with a failing economy and more people losing jobs everyday.  People are uncertain about the future and may resort to violence as a way of expressing their fear and anger.  Rather than complain about how much the security for the inauguration costs, we should all hope and pray for the safety of President Obama and his family.  It is in all of our interests as Americans that nothing happens to the next President.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Case of Emergency

When I started Losantiville, my intent was to focus on safety and disaster preparedness from a local perspective. Over time, the blog has evolved to reflect my opions on a number of subjects that interest me (fire/EMS, safety, emergency management, defense, and local Cincinnati topics). John Solomon has created a blog similar to Losantiville's original focus. I salute John's efforts! You can find his blog here

Reinstating the Draft

According to The Hill, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) likely will introduce his controversial legislation to reinstate the draft again this year, but he will wait until after the economic stimulus package is passed.

Congressman Rangel feels the all volunteer service is filled primarily with members from low-income (read minority) homes. When he tried to bring the bill forward in 2004, his intent was not about the need for a draft but to argue “the burden of fighting wars falls disproportionately on low-income people and that cost should be borne more broadly.”

I don’t understand where the Congressman comes up with this notion. In 22 years of military service (to include Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom), the men and women I encountered came from all walks of life. My experience was just the opposite of the Congressman’s supposition; the military represents one of the most diverse institutions in the United States. Enlisted personnel represent all ethnic groups and genders (and many enlisted already possessing a college degree). Officers have to have a degree in order to enter the service. I served with officers who came from colleges and universities across the nation. Some worked their way through college, some went on scholarships, and some came from affluent families. Like enlisted personnel, the officers I knew represented all ethnic groups and genders.

The Congressman’s rationale, “If a draft had been in place in 2002 when members were making the decision on whether to support the war in Iraq, Congress never would have approved the war resolution, because the pressure from constituents would have been too great” implies if more military members were from affluent backgrounds then the war would not have happened. I disagree for two reasons.

First, even with an all volunteer military there were many people who were against the war. Cindy Sheehan became the face of the anti-war movement after her son was killed in the war. Ms. Sheehan was not from a low-income family and yet made headlines for her stance against the war. Code Pink consists of women from all strata of economic groups and yet they have mounted an effective campaign to get their anti-war message across.

Second, the draft did not stop the United States from entering three unpopular wars. The United States was not going to enter WWII until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even then, many of the veterans from WWI were against another long and destructive campaign. The draft did not stop forces from being sent into Korean even though the end of WWII wasn’t even five years ago. The draft did not stop troops from being sent to Southeast Asia. The protests against Vietnam did not come from those with family members already in as much as it came from those who did not want to get sent to the war.

What is puzzling to me though is it appears the draft Congressman Rangel is proposing is for males only. If my understanding is correct, it seems to be at best self-defeating (limiting those constituents affected by the draft) and at worst discriminatory (required only males to register). Illinois Director of Veteran’s Affairs, Tammy Duckworth, should be especially miffed by this oversight. MAJ (ret) Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs when a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) downed her helicopter in Iraq. She represents the many women who have served with distinction in combat units during Iraqi Freedom.

President-elect Obama will takes office next week. He will be inheriting one of the worst economic situations in recent memory. He needs to focus in creating economic growth and jobs. He will also have to face the legacy of the Iraqi war in dealing with Hamas and Iran. Alternative solutions to foreign has to remain a top priority both for security reasons as well as economic prosperity for US citizens. The President-elect does not the added distraction of this bill that does not accomplish what its author thinks it does.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dien Bien Phu

I found this on front page of Wikipedia:

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was the climactic battle of the First Indochina War between French Union forces and Viet Minh communist revolutionary forces. The battle occurred between March and May 1954, and culminated in a massive French defeat that effectively ended the war. The French undertook to create an air-supplied base at Dien Bien Phu, deep in the hills of Vietnam, in order to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into the neighboring French protectorate of Laos. The Viet Minh, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, surrounded and besieged the French, who were unaware of the Viet Minh's possession of heavy artillery. The Viet Minh occupied the highlands around Dien Bien Phu, and were able to fire down accurately onto French positions. Tenacious fighting on the ground ensued, reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War I. The French repeatedly repulsed Viet Minh assaults on their positions. Supplies and reinforcements were delivered by air, although as the French positions were overrun and the anti-aircraft fire took its toll, fewer and fewer of those supplies reached them. After a two month siege, the garrison was overrun and most French surrendered. Shortly after the battle, the war ended with the 1954 Geneva accords, under which France agreed to withdraw from its former Indochinese colonies.

What many people don’t realize, even some military enthusiasts, is the French made some of the very same mistakes during the 1950s the US military would make during the 1960s and the 1970s in Vietnam. The French and American military both underestimated their opponents. Both the French and Americans assumed military superiority would crush popular support; both were wrong. The Viet Minh victory in 1954 was forgotten or ignored by American military planners; it wasn’t by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong persistence and knowledge that they had out lasted every single invading force to their lands gave them ability to outlast the American military. High tech weapons and military tactics had limited effect against the very low tech guerilla tactics of the Viet Cong. The argument that it was American policies limited military effectiveness misses the point the Viet Cong exploited those weaknesses. The Viet Cong, like the Viet Minh a decade earlier, ultimately outlasted a superior military force.

The parallel is eerily similar to the war on terror. The United States response to an attack led by a handful of operatives was to launch two full-fledge military operations. The costs of those operations, both in lives lost and money, prevent them from being maintained indefinitely. Terrorists groups understand this. They are limited by not having unlimited funds and operatives, attacks have to be well planned and flawlessly executed to insure maximum effectiveness. One successful terrorist attack will lead to months or even years of response actions costing the victim state millions of dollars. The problem with waging a major military operation against terrorists is violates a tenant of military decision-making. The victory is usually whoever is able to form and execute their decisions before the other guy (getting within their decision making circle). A simple example illustrates this point; think of two fighter jets in combat maneuvering to get on their opponents tail for the kill. If one jet is able to turn more tightly than the other, usually that jet (given equally abilities of the pilots) will win. Decisions made be large, cumbersome bureaucracies can’t outturn those made by a small handful of terrorists focused on single purpose; attack.

As the poet and philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Sunday, January 11, 2009


A duet by two amazing musicians; Kotaro Oshio on guitar and Ikuko Kawai on violin doing their interpretation of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fantasy". Of note, Ms. Kawai is playing a Stradivarius. Sometimes you just don't need to say anything else.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Demise of the Daily Newspaper

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is being sold by the Hearst Corporation after the paper lost $14 million last year. If no one buys the paper in the next 60 days, Hearst will stop publishing the paper and may turn it into an Internet only newspaper. Such a move most likely means huge staff cuts.

The Cincinnati Post went through this last year. The only remaining paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer cut a large portion of its staff late last year. It also reduced the size of the newspaper due to dwindling advertising revenue. The Dayton Daily News reduce its size and content a few years ago to where it more resembles a local neighborhood paper instead of a daily newspaper.

The Internet seems to be taking the place with more news outlets choosing to amp-up their websites. Websites a cheaper to maintain versus publishing a daily newspaper. They require less staff and virtually no logistical support.

I read several different news sites and blogs each day, as well as running my own. My own observations lead to believe that as we lose daily newspapers, we also lose local perspectives. To some extent, this is being picked-up by bloggers but only to a point. A blog is a reflection of that individuals views with no editor to keep the author on point. Newspapers, the New York Times not withstanding, tried to provide some oversight and accountability of their writers. A blogger chooses which topics he or she wants to write about. A journalist would be assigned a topic and then have to go out and write about it. The journalist would have to write pieces that sold copy. A blogger wrties for themselves.

Issues regarding the safety and well being of the community would be covered in the local sections of the daily newspaper. As more newspapers turn to the Internet, I wonder if some of this won’t be lost in the interest of pursuing more viewers who aren’t local? Crime will always be a big seller but what about the more mundane issues like public utilities? Local politicians, not just state and federal, are beginning to run their own blogs to get the word out. While hearing the thoughts of an elected official are good, the problem is balance. All sides of the issue need to be heard, not just the ones with blogs or websites.

I started reflecting on this lack of balance over the nomination by President-elect Obama for Leon Panetta to run the CIA. Diane Feinstein thinks Panetta lacks the intelligence experience to run the CIA (although she has softened her tone recently). The Internet news site were having a field day that Feinstein, a Democrat like the President-elect, would be so publicly against his nomination. Now as Feinstein’s opposition to Panetta has softened, now the Internet sites are beginning to changes their opinion about the Panetta nomination. What I’ve not seen in all of this is much analysis of what role the CIA needs to play in the future.

Eight years ago, it was pointed out that the CIA had failed to pick up on the plans for the attack on 9-11. Calls were for the agency to re-establish its neglected human intelligence network (spies) to better prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former USAF intelligence analyst, I can tell you overhead sensors can only do so much. You still need people to alert you as the intentions of your enemy.

Certainly Mr. Panetta lacks experience in clandestine agencies, which causes one to conclude he may lack an appreciation for what the CIA can do. He is an outsider and may lack the ability to win over the trust of his staff (who by nature are secretive and suspicious of everyone who isn’t a professional “spook”). President George H. Bush was selected to run the agency with an equal lack of intelligence experience. By most accounts, the elder Bush was quite effective as CIA Director. Back then, the Soviet Union still existed and was the number one reason for the CIA’s existence. Now there isn’t a unilateral threat and the role of the CIA is less defined.

All of this points to some decided gaps in information out there about what the President-elect is thinking. Some assumptions can be made from other appoints, such as Governor Napolitano to DHS, but assumptions can get you into trouble. Internet articles tend to repeat what another site has already reported. A lack of in-depth reporting makes it difficult to know if Mr. Panetta’s selection is based on future role for the CIA or, as it appears, merely a political appointment that at least initially did not appear controversial.

If something as important as the nomination of CIA Director only receives the typical Internet syndrome of repeated headlines, what chance does a local issue have? I submit it is arrogant to think “everyone” has access to the Internet. As newspapers continue to convert to electronic format, some readers will be left out. If newspapers can’t sell in larger markets, imagine what happens in smaller towns. Newspapers are published only two or three times a week. If those papers become Internet only, will they serve the same readers?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bird flu in China

A woman in China died from the H5N1 virus (bird flu). She had been butchering poultry and came into contact with a bird infected with the virus. Chinese officials were quick to point out they found no further incidence of infection. The death was first caused by infection from the virus in China in over a year. The woman had been butchering a duck, which tends to have a higher incidence of infection. The fact this story received little coverage isn’t surprising. Bird flu has been covered and predicted for several years but with only isolated cases of death (usually in Southeastern Asia) occurring people have developed a fatigue over the whole issue. The collapsing economy is far more concerning and is having an immediate impact on all of us.

Now comes a study from the University of Colorado showing the increased resistance of the H5N1 virus to prophylaxis that had previously proven to be effective. Through a genetic-swapping process known as re-assortment, the virus is able to sustain itself by gradually exchanging proteins that are affected by the vaccine with those that are not. The virus has not show the ability to infect human to human and certainly would need to be able to sustain such an infection in order to become a pandemic. According to the researchers, the virus has not shown an increased resistance to Tamiflu.

“If we use drugs that may be effective for humans prematurely on non-humans, it could undermine our responses to a future flu pandemic,” said Andrews Hill, the lead researcher, referencing evidence linking viral resistance to Chinese farmers adding adamantanes (used in treating Influenza A) to chicken feed as a flu preventative.

“If Tamiflu is ever used in the manner of adamantanes, we could conceivably see a similar resistance developing through positive selection.”

An outbreak in the next few years would be devastating. The economy is already on the verge of collapsing and the additional loss of 40 percent of the remaining workforce could be a lethal one-two combination.

The doomsday scenario of a possible pandemic influenza pales in comparison to today’s economic outlook. ALCOA furloughed 13 percent of their workforce. Considering how many different corporations use aluminum in their manufacturing process, the full impact of the economic situation becomes apparent when ALCOA (the nation’s largest aluminum producer) has to lay off so many workers. But it is because of the economic situation that we need to be prepared. Private sector and public sector agencies are being forced to reduce their workforce and services. It will fall on private citizens to be vigilant and prepared for the eventuality of a pandemic flu.

In preparing your family and home, I suggest ordering a copy of the Home Emergency Guide from Informed Guide (a link to their website appears on the left). I had ordered several different guides to use at the college. The Home Emergency Guide is easy to follow but very comprehensive in the subjects covered. The publisher, Informed, was started by a paramedic out in Oregon. Other medical professionals joined the company and have partnered to produce some excellent field guides for fire, EMS, homeland security, HAZMAT and home emergency. If you haven’t really sat down to develop your own home emergency plan, this field guide is a great tool to help you get started.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Year of the Ox

Something about this time of year causes people to look back with melancholy at what happened or what could have been.

Chinese soothsayers are predicting the year 2009 to be more stable compared to 2008, however they also predict a long road to economic recovery. Quite a few leaders are associated with the yin energy of soil, which tends to make them more charitable and charming. "People belonging to the yin soil tend to be more charming and charitable. They love peace rather than war. They are usually the ones who contribute to science and humanity," said Raymond Lo, Hong Kong feng shui expert in an interview with the Associated Press.

However, the feng shui master said he did not expect Obama or other state leaders to be able to turn around the global economic situation in 2009 because the element of fire -- which stands for the force that motivates financial activities -- is missing for most of next year.

"It is a year for Obama to lay the foundation for his administration, rather than achieve anything.

"The financial markets will go up a little in the first couple of months but this will be short-lived. Investors are bound to be disappointed in the end," he said.

The prediction is similar to the forecasts of many financial analysts.

Damn, still not great news but better than what we’ve just gone throw.

Mak Ling-ling, a celebrity astrologist and feng shui master, said the financial markets would be very quiet next year and economic problems would be particularly acute in the west.

"Businesses will be even worse than now. Social order will be disturbed, with the number of fraud cases will rise," she said, but added that the situation would improve after next year.

Of course what are predictions but someone’s best guess about the future? We all would do well to remember to focus on what we can positively change and rejoice the health and well being of our family and friends. If you have a job, focus on your health and keeping your family safe. If you don’t have a job, look to 2009 to provide new opportunities to find one. Most reading this blog are old enough to remember the stock market failure in the late ‘80s. We survived that as most of us will the current economic depression (oops, I said it again!). People will be more on edge so keeping an awareness of your surroundings will be more important than ever. More homes will be abandoned creating the potential for more residential fires. Clinical depression and other stress related illnesses will be on the rise so keep an eye on elderly family members and friends. Most of all though, keep a positive outlook for the news is surely to get worse before it gets better.