Et Tu, Swine Flu?

Thus far, the swine flu outbreak that has killed 103 people in Mexico is described as a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization. That means they fear it could create a worldwide pandemic. It’s already spread to the US and several other countries, and with travel being what it is in the 21st century, it could easily become that pandemic the WHO fears.

Here in the US, the largest number of cases, eight, are in New York City. Some countries have quarantined people who have recently returned from Mexico. Several have also banned pork imports from both Mexico and the US. The danger, however, doesn’t just come from eating tainted pork. The flu can spread from human to human, and in the process become harder to treat or fight off. 

There are few people still alive who remember the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Reading about it, however, sends chills up your spine. It killed more than 100 million people worldwide, double the number killed during all of World War 1. No one is suggesting the current outbreak will equal those numbers, but it certainly is a cause for concern. Symptoms of swine flu include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Apparently the swine flu outbreak is having an unintended consequence. Financial markets are trending lower in early trading around the world. There are fears if the outbreak turns into a pandemic it can cripple efforts at economic recovery. Some economists are estimating a pandemic could cost the planet $3 trillion dollars and result in a 5% drop in world gross domestic product.

There are, believe it or not, precautions people can take to at least minimize the possibility of exposure to swine flu. Some recommend carrying a surgical mask, and using it while exposed to large numbers of people. Frequent, thorough hand washing is also recommended. 

Right now, swine flu is just starting to enter our collective consciousness here in the US. The number of people affected is relatively small, and even the death toll in Mexico might not alarm us. Yet we need to pay attention. Sickness like this almost always sneaks up on people.

Are you paying attention to swine flu yet?
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Admit it…do you watch Jerry Springer?

NB: Boy, did I mess up yesterday. I gave the impression that Obama’s 100th day was today. Actually, it won’t be until next Wednesday. So on top of not keeping track, I can’t even count! Mea Culpa.

So I was thinking the other day about my television viewing habits, and why I watch what I watch. I began this exercise by trying to figure out which stations I watch most frequently. If I’m honest about it, movie channels seem to pop up most often. Not the HBO and Showtime pay variety, but Turner Classic, IFC, and Sundance. TCM shows some really great old stuff, and IFC and Sundance (though they repeat stuff way too many times) also have film fare worth watching. And oh yeah, Sundance is home to my favorite series, Shameless.

I then realized that for someone who follows news closely, I don’t watch a lot of cable news programming. The talk shows and banal and/or infuriating, but even the regular news broadcasts don’t hold my attention. I tend to follow the news arc on computer instead. For some reason it seems faster, even if it’s not.

Then I began to delve into the darker, less logical areas of my TV viewing. What could explain my pathological affection for “The Jerry Springer Show?” Most folks think it’s the dregs of the medium, but I find it wildly hilarious. When I told Jerry on meeting him for the first time I was a fan of his show, he looked at me with pity and said “You have my deepest sympathy.” Then there’s my love/hate relationship with reality television. Most reality shows I won’t watch. From American Idol to Flava of Love to Real Housewives of Wherever, I find most of them to be totally useless.


Yet a closer examination of what I watch makes me out a hypocrite. I actually have watched more than one episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Yeah, I should know better. I also find Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force oddly compelling. After all, those folks are based here in the New York area. And then there’s Cheaters. Trash TV at its worst, yet I’ll still catch it now and then. My wife and daughter, Idol fans both, are quick to point out the contradiction of trying to be high-minded and yet attracted to junk at the same time.

Much as I hate to admit it, they’re right. And never mind sports on the tube. I spend hours on Saturday morning yelling at the footballer on the Fox Soccer Channel, especially if there’s a game on with my favorite team, Arsenal.

Am I the only person whose tv watching doesn’t always match up to my ideals? How about you? Come on, admit it!
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Are you overdosing on Obama's First 100 Days?

Yes, in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s tomorrow!

Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office…that is.

Is it me, or have we been counting these days since, well, January 20th? Certainly the state of the nation’s economy has contributed to the deep scrutiny of this president’s every move. That, and a cable news netherworld which feeds on little else. We’ve learned so much about Barack Obama and his family it’s a wonder we have time for anything else.


Barack’s basketball skills, Michelle’s gardening skills, Malia’s fashion sense, Bo the dog, Michele’s clothes, Barack’s smoking habit…we know so much! It’s all been delivered with the same deadly earnest with which news anchors discuss the economy. Maybe we should have expected this, what with the whole first black president thing. Still, shouldn’t we expect more from the media?

One thing is for sure. When it comes to actual policy, Americans and the cable networks might as well be in two different worlds. The faces of hosts like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity are mingled with Republican retreads like Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney to create a near seamless anti-Obamathon.

This is doubtless where their bread is buttered, but the problem with their collective analysis of Obama’s first 100 days (coming tomorrow to a tv near you) is the idea they speak for America.

After all, if they didn’t have Obama to bash, what in the world would they talk about? Oh yeah, I forgot. Carrie Prejean , the Craigslist killer, and Susan Boyle. Mike Lupica of the Daily News ran a column the other day that made a whole lot of sense. Why not just let Obama do his job? Why the constant examination of all things Barack?

To be sure, not all the analysis of the president’s first 100 days will be trivial , nor should it be all positive. Is it too much to ask that it be measured? Probably. Thoughtful? Nah, doesn’t sell. Accurate? That only matters if someone gets caught playing fast and loose with the facts.

How will you handle the coverage of Barack Obama’s first 100 days? I may be an aging cynic, but it’s getting to the point where I’m scared to watch for fear of throwing something at the television. My one comfort? Almost nobody covers a presidents second hundred days like they do the first.

You tell me. Will you overdose on Obama’s first 100 days?
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