swine flu

O Brother

Something wonderful, or terrible, is taking place in Philadelphia. The city's sports fans, whose only consistent love has been for an inanimate object--the statue of Rocky--are becoming warm and fuzzy. Sort of. Kind of. Well, about as nice as they are ever going to get in Philly, where fans have made their national mark with nastiness, boos, and a perverse fondness for losing. But now the city is confronted with a success story greater than any since the signing of the Constitution (which wasn't so pretty, either). It's the Philadelphia Phillies, of course.

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--Nicholas Schmidle on the different dynamics at work in Pakistani society --D.J. Taylor on the economics of book reviewing (Taylor wrote a biography of Orwell, and his piece is an homage to this brilliant Orwell essay) --Joshua Hammer on the latest from Zimbabwe --Stefan Collini on the history of literary journals --And, The Onion asks people on the street about the swine flu vaccine

China has arrived ... again. Beijing is growing confident enough in its own power and position in the world that it is increasingly and actively influencing world events. It can choose--and has chosen, in many cases--to play a helpful role in tackling shared threats. But China has also been standing its ground on disagreements with the United States.

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If you had to conjure up the perfect official to advise President Obama about the swine flu outbreak, it'd probably be somebody who had a strong background in public health--say, somebody who had run the public health department for a vast, densely populated city like New York City. It'd be better, still, if this person had experience in the federal government, as well, perhaps in the Department of Health and Human Servcies.

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Swine Flu Perspective

An estimated 300 Americans have died this week--and hundreds more will likely be dead by the weekend. The death is sure to continue for weeks, months, with no one safe, and no end in sight.   Swine flu, right?  No: highway collisions. Going by average rates, about twice as many people have died on US highways this week as have died from swine flu so far. With the WHO raising its pandemic alert level this afternoon, things could still get a lot worse.

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More from the New York Times, this time via Kevin Sack, who reports about the strain on local and state public health authorities as swine flu spreads.  Public health officials said Congress had missed an opportunity by excising nearly $900 million in proposed financing for pandemic flu preparation from this year’s stimulus bill. It was to be the final installment of former President George W. Bush’s request for $7 billion in federal spending on vaccines, medical equipment and planning.

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The Journal reports that pork futures have plummeted: Some lean-hog-futures prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange fell by the daily exchange-imposed price limit, pressured by concerns that the increasing number of swine-flu cases among humans would result in less pork consumption. The price of the nearby May CME lean-hog contract fell by the three-cent limit to 66 cents a pound, while the most-active June contract slid three cents to 68.65 cents a pound.

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Editor's Note: Howard Markel is a physician and historian at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Center for the History of Medicine. He has written for the New England Journal of Medicine and New York Times, among other publications, and is the author of When Germs Travel, a 2004 history of epidemics in America published by Pantheon. He currently serves as as a consultant to the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The views he expresses below are his and his alone.

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