Monday, October 31, 2005

The Second Coming of Jesus Christ and Bird Flu
...or, don't believe the hype, it's a sequel

The great thing about a blog site is that you get to make predictions which if you are correct, give you the ability to point everyone to the archived blog saying "told you so".

Here's my prediction. The so called bird flu, the chicken disease that has killed a wopping 59 people in the world, the disease that cannot (and will not) be transmitted from human to human, but is going to sweep the world. The chances of the bird flu becoming an international pandemic killing seqdrillions of us, crippling world economies, causing the closure of international borders and generally creating fear, panic and loathing not seen since the last witch was burnt or since we routinely expelled lepers from our midst, are negligible. This is not to say some variety of "the flu" will emerge, but this is extremely unlikely to have any of the virulence of the bird flu, I'll explain why in a minute.

Given the mass hysteria over this issue one must reasonably infer that the globalised project of dumbing down society to the point where it collectively gobbles up any and all shite that the media thrusts down its throat is all but complete. Makes you wonder if they've put something in the water. We have become as compliant as ewes happily marching off to braindeath by stupidity to the beat of media and authoritarian hype.

I have previously argued that science, rationality and critical thought seem not merely out of fashion but actively discouraged by proxy. In an almost Orwellian sense we favour a pernicious, postmodern, democratic approach to normative bullshit generation, the festering ground is suburbia, the genesis the six o'clock news. P
repare for certain death.

If enough people believe it, or if we read it in the paper it must be true. Never mind the fact that this virus has to first mutate (um, that means "evolve" folks) into a form that can be passed from person to person. One can't help but wonder how many individuals enamoured by "Intelligent Design" as an alternative to Evolutionary Theory have their medicine cupboards chocka with Tamiflu. As if the almighty himself has placed this virus here, just to smote us all down.

The twisted ethics of response to current mass panic about bird flu is equally dubious. A small company in Wellington is now selling survival kits for 500 bucks, cashing in on the bovine stupidity of a percentage of the population with IQ's close to their School Certificate maths marks. How much can a few of cans of baked beans, a box of panadol and some bottles of water cost. Apparently you can get the deluxe kit, it contains gourmet meals and a bottle of Lindaur Special Reserve - at least you'll enjoy the end of the world.

You get a sense of dejavue, I've been dreaming of the US suddenly finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And I must admit, I myself profitted somewhat as a result of the Armageddon that was to follow the New Years Eve party of 1999 although I certainly didn't sell overpriced survival kits. I wonder if I'll be around for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and who I wonder will get the television rights. Flak jackets and fire extinguishers are bound to be hot commodities given the predicted amount of brimstone and flames.

Of course the whole scenario has replaced Iraq as the topic of choice for front page US newsprint. Interesting given Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence was a previous Chairman of Gilead Sciences, company that developed and owns the rights to Tamiflu, the only supposed "cure" for bird flu. Of course Roche who manufacture and market Tamiflu on behalf of Gilead can't supply enough to freaked out risk averse westerners around the globe - ripe for the plucking.

Currently the waiting list for the snake oil, (ah-hem Tamiflu) is about 3 months, of course the pandemic could have already swept through the globe killing trillions by then. If you'd rather be stacking bodies as opposed to being stacked yourself you could try eBay where
Tamiflu is selling for up to NZ$260 a course.

Getting in on the act is the night in shining armour, the Risk Management Society of New Zealand, seemingly obsessed with Bird Flu busily publishing press releases I suppose they've found their mission, yet they've never heard of Peak Oil a real and tangible threat to our society and economy. A bunch of concerned middle class men in suits, accountants, lawyers and project managers are now telling us how we ought to combat a nonexistent pandemic. (reminds me of the "corporate" board of directors of Seatoun School who intelligently banned a lunch time chrisitian kids club, to a wannabe academic like myself the worrying words ring in my ears "I work in the real world mate, I know better" )

I want to finish with some rational comments on the evolution of Bird Flu. We must keep in mind that currently there is no (or very little) evidence to suggest that Bird Flu can move between human hosts, furthermore the virulence of the virus amongst bird (chicken) hosts is extremely high, that is it quickly immobilises (hospitalises) then kills it's host. The correlation between transmittability and virulence is important. For bird flu to become a pandemic amongst humans it first must mutate to a form that is easily transmittable, the host needs to remain mobile so the virus can spread around for a pandemic to emerge. It should be noted that a highly virulent virus (such as the current bird flu which of course cannot be transmitted between humans) kills it's host faster thereby accelerating it's own demise and reducing the time available for transmission.

A successful virus is one that is highly infectious but allows it's host to live as long as possible. Viruses that are highly virulent often quickly burn themselves out when hosts die. Thus less virulent forms of the virus will be selected for after initial localised outbreaks. My guess is that the correlation between transmissability and virulence will be negative. That is, the bird flu if ever it mutates into a form that can be transmitted from human to human host and thus emerges with pandemic characteristics there will be a significant reduction in the virulence of the virus. Very sick people will become immobilised, hospitalised and isolated. Lesser forms of the virus, which don't immobilise and hospitalise patients will quickly move through the population, those catching it will survive and develop antibody immunity.

There are more important things to worry about than bird flu. Hopefully in a few weeks or months I'll point those that need pointing, to this archived blog entry and say, told you so.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Death, Tamiflu, Donald Rumsfeld, Bird Flu and other Nonsense!

After writing about my skepticism of "bird flu" I was pointed to the link between Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence and a company called Gilead Sciences.

Interestingly, Gilead is the company that owns and markets the Tamiflu drug (well, not exactly but it makes good copy). Gilead owns the rights to Tamiflu, Roche however makes and markets it. Nevertheless Gilead collects a handsome royalty on Tamiflu sales and at around 100 bucks a dose, you can only guess that the cronies that look after the coffers are smiling with unbridled glee at the moment. What is really interesting is that Donald Rumsfeld used to be the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gilead Sciences. He owns considerable stocks in the company.

Tamiflu is a neuraminidase inhibitor for the treatment and prevention of all common strains of influenza. Widely touted as the supposed silver bullet for the "bird flu". In actual fact the drug only decreases the amount of days you might be sick, it might (MIGHT) prevent you expiring if you by some bizzare freak of nature catch avian flu.

Contributing to the madness, Christchurch microbiologist Ben Harris says the H5N1 bird flu that has infected 115 people world-wide (ah-hem, you mean hospitalised Ben, there is no way of knowing how many people have been infected - it could be millions, it's well known avian flu immunity is high amongst bird factory workers in Asia) , killing 59, has all the hallmarks of a classic pandemic-strain influenza. Yeah right, it can't transmit between humans, sure this must be a hallmark of a pandemic. In fact it has no more characteristics of a human pandemic strain than any other avian, pig or animal flu has. And, given there are 6 and a half billion people on the planet your chance of being one of those 59 killed was 0.00000001% (Scary thought)

So, your actual chances of contracting avian flu in New Zealand are zero. You are more likely to die in a plane crash on the way to Asia than you are of actually catching avian flu in Asia. The irrationality of current frenzied panic about the supposed imminent pandemic are ludicrous. There is no pandemic and there is absolutely NO sign whatsoever that there is going to be a pandemic. If there is a pandemic it won't be avian flu, that strain doesn't transmit from human to human. Furthermore the science tells us that any mutation to a form that is easily transmittable from human to human will have the effect of reducing the virility of the virus. It may just turn out to be another flu virus. The kind that people catch every year. What chance is there of a pandemic - no one knows. Take a guess, buy a lotto ticket.

59 people have died of avian flu. Yet over 1 million die every year worldwide from malaria. AIDS kills almost 3 million people a year. Almost 500 people a year die on New Zealand roads. You have to question the whys and whats of this frenzy.

Being a natural skeptic I shun conspiracy theories. And this isn't one. I'd call it a fortuitous coincidence. But, it was certainly in Rumsfelds interest to encourage the bulk purchasing of a billion dollars worth of Tamiflu for the US Government. It's certainly in Gilead Science's interest to ensure the production and distribution of Tamiflu to god fearing folk around the world spooked by the new black death.

You have to ask yourself is the current media hype about avian flu a clever marketing exercise by Gilead? You can be damn sure they are making a killing. Governments all over the world have ordered billions of dollars worth of Tamiflu.

Rumsfeld must be laughing all the way to the bank. And you can too, as you can see from the yahoo quote page Gilead stocks are on the rise. Might be time to sell your Kentucky Fried Chicken shares. I can see you looking at the family budgie sideways...

For another perspective see Wendy Orent's discussion in the Washington Post.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bird Flu and Peak Oil
and the not so rare condition of myopic red herringism

The Ministry of Dodgy Advice, a-hem I meant Economic Development are currently very busy stirring the entire country into a hysterical panic driven frenzy over a "possible" bird flu pandemic. (from

A bird flu pandemic could strike 1.6 million New Zealanders, killing 33,000 and decimating the country's workforce

and this scenario...

Food and petrol are in short supply, and New Zealanders overseas are stranded because international travel is at a standstill.

But wait, bird flu has killed a couple of dozen people worldwide. Certainly less than recent earthquakes or hurricanes. Furthermore, bird flu currently cannot (as far as we are aware) be transmitted from person to person. Is there any evidence that the bird flu virus will mutate into a form that can be transmitted from person to person. Um, well no one knows. Probably, maybe no one is prepared to put a percentage on it. We are dealing with possibles, maybe's perhaps...

Here we have what is verging on mass panic and hysteria (in a similar tone to Y2K) over something the may or may not happen.

One thing that is DEFINATELY going to happen, and be sure it's coming to a town near you very soon is Peak Oil. The carrying capacity of the planet has been greatly exaggerated by the abundance of cheap oil. With the dawn and consequent burgeoning of the industrial era we have become accustomed to rapid technological advancement. People live decades longer than they did a hundred or so years ago, medical science has advanced in parallel with our ability to extract oil and use it to power the global industrial and financial monster.

The population of the world has literally exploded six-fold as we learnt to use oil to turn hand tended gardens into a global agricultural industry. We have all but eliminated famine as globalisation and mass transportation feeds the world.

However as western financial systems teeter on the brink of insolvency (the Euro zone, UK, the US and New Zealand are all running frightening trade decificts - the western world is living well beyond it's means as we cash in the fiat capital in our over priced houses to buy everything from Hummers to Fijian holidays) we will be faced within a few short years with an overall global decline in oil, followed shortly by gas. Although seemingly benign the decline of about 3% per year of oil will effectively mean that the oil economy based up on endless economic growth will be in permanent decline.

Borrowing and lending will quickly dry up, a massive surplus consumer goods will result. Followed quickly by recession turning into depression. One that we will never emerge from, until their a balance is restored. That balance will eventually see the deaths of a few billion people world wide.

If we can't continue ploughing billions of barrels of oil into the globalised agricultural industry we can't feed the world anymore. The current population of the world is an artifact of cheap oil. In fact the life expectancy of the industrial civilisation according to Richard Duncan in geological terms is horridly short. Duncan argues in his Olduvai Theory, that the peak point was 1990. It seems we have been very lucky to have lived in the best of all possible times.

Industrial civilisation will not have a cycle. Once we move beyond the maximally harvestable amount of fossil fuel, the exponetial rise of this great age will have a corresponding equal and opposite exponetial decline. Simply unsustainable, a one shot affair as Duncan describes it.

For those seriously concerned about the bird flu. It's Friday, get yourself a bottle of wine tonight and relax. Then tomorrow read Dr Richard Duncan's Olduvai Theory - panic then.

Have a happy weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On regime change, ministers of energy and vespas...

Yes indeed we have a new Government, or should we say a menagerie. I guess I was hoping for some inspired leadership as we enter this new era, one which will be defined by energy (mark my words). Inspired leadership however is eroded within indecisive democracies as much as it is by multi party representation (Germany seems to be suffering the same palsy). And so, I suppose for the moment at least it's back to the future.

A backward step is clearly evident in the Confidence and Supply Agreement between United Future and Labour. Peter Dunne so rabidly dogmatic about building more roads (Transmission Gully) that he has to include it in the agreement. I suspect this road, which if built would be about as smart as building a nightclub on the Titanic, after it hit the iceberg, will actually never be built. By the time all the moaning, groaning, bitching and finger twiddling is over peak oil will be well upon us. We'll be entering an economic recession, the real estate bubble will have burst like a New Orleans levee.

Actually Jim Kunstler's line was sexier...

the mortgage industry is going to implode like the death star under the weight of these non-performing loans and drag every tradable instrument known to man into the quantum vacuum of finance that it creates.

Nice stuff Jim. I considered just cutting and pasting this line but I'll leave the plagiarism to the Maxim Institute.

And so, I decided to send the new Energy Minister, David Parker a warning (here's hoping aye).

Dear David,

I'd suggest given that Energy=Work, and clearly if we are unable to grow energy supply we will simply be unable to grow economically, you have arguably the most important job in the new Government as Energy Minister.

I notice Business Week Online today cites increased demand, low spare production capacity, lack of refining capacity and increasing worries about adequate long term supply of oil as critical factors in the increased price of oil. I'd add, these factors loom large as contributors to recent cost cutting news from Air New Zealand, as well as the reasons cited for failures of several large US airline companies. I amongst others have suggested that the Airline companies would be the canaries in the economic coal mine in regard to oil price and supply. We are in for one helluva shock in regard to oil supply, availability and the consequent price rises associated with increased scarcity over the next term of Govt.

I wonder if you have read the Hirsch report (attached) commissioned by the US Dept of Energy and delivered earlier this year. Dr Robert Hirsch suggests deal with peak oil production (both at a national and international level) requires a decade of expensive intensive attention.

David, I seriously recommend you clue up on Peak Oil. In fact I'd suggest the assembly of a task force or committee of some sort to address this issue and report back to yourself as soon as possible - mitigation being the primary focus. During this term of Government New Zealand will learn some extremely sobering lessons in regard to our dependance upon oil and it's by products. The social and economic repercussions will be the most severe of the modern era.

If you wish to have further discussions on this topic I would be more than happy to meet with you.

Kind Regards
Steve McKinlay

I'll let you know if I get a reply. In the meantime it's now costing me about 12 bucks a week scooting on the now like hens teeth Vespa PX200. I tried spitting on a black Hummer parked in a car yard on Customhouse Quay (but I forgot I was wearing a full face helmet), it didn't have a price tag on it. No doubt the clueless egotistical plonker that will eventually buy it leveraging himself to the hilt on his over valued house will have voted United Future or ACT in the hope that he has kilometres of fresh asphalt to burn up.

Talking about spitting, someone similar to the Hummers future owner (in a Ford Explorer - yes, black with tinted windows from memory) foaming at the mouth, ranting and swearing at me the other day because I'd split a couple of kilometres of traffic on the Vespa to sit, first in line at the traffic lights. I just turned and laughed at him. It's amusing how angry people get sitting in traffic. It's equally amazing just how much pleasure I get from spending a fraction on petrol and - no traffic jams. Hehe.

love, peace and cheap energy.

related ref's
Air New Zealand expect larger slide in earnings - citing energy costs
Air New Zealand aims to sack 600 workers (Sydney Morning Herald)
Labour to focus on the economy (NZ Herald)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I've been on holiday

So, haven't had a chance to write - however James Kunstler sums up the current situation quite well. I leiu of any words of wisdom from moi, check out Jim's latest offerings.

For the moment, it's back to business-as-usual for Easy-motoring Nation.