Saturday, May 30, 2009


Winter in the Highveld is not pretty but I love it. It's not snowy and pretty like the European winters in the picture books, instead it's endless amounts of dead grass and harsh blue sky and empty trees. (In fact it's so ugly there is even a song about it.) It's quiet and cold and dead and colourless and its my absolute favourite time of the year. Ever since childhood I have loved it as much as I have hated getting up early during it. Most people I know resonate with the vibrant life and colour of Spring, but me I always look forward to Winter.

Maybe it's because I'm naturally melancholy, maybe it's because I like the quiet, maybe I just enjoy the rich warm food, sleeping deeply under a pile of blankets and being able to wear all my favourite winter things. Maybe its all of that. It doesn't really matter.

Maybe the reason I love Winter so much today is because it reminds me of the beauty and necessity of death. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that in the way emo teens with too much makeup and a propensity for bad poetry mean it. I have been around enough death to know the despair it brings, the incredible and indescribable wrongness of it. To this day, my dreams refuse to let my departed loved ones go. Even now so many years later in dreams (and sometimes even awake) I forget to remember that they are no longer around and for a few bittersweet moments get to live as if they never left. Yet I do not hate death. I have accepted this ancient dance of the seasons, this eons old heartbeat of the universe. Life and Death, Life and Death, Death swallowing Life, Life arising from Death, destruction and creation endlessly making way one for the other.

In the last year I finally had to do as countless others had before me and face my own fragile mortality. It wasn't easy, I didn't enjoy it and I sincerely hope that I do not have to do it again anytime soon. Yet I am not sorry I went through it because it was a necessary experience I think. I have gone through the seasons from death to life and something in me has changed. Physically I am not who I was a year ago. One year ago I had a tumour that was threatening to end my life (thanks to my own stupidity) and today, almost exactly a year since my first surgery, I am completely clean and cancer free. I lack the words to describe the jumping-around-fist-pumping-Beethoven-listening-joy that fills me with. Clearly, I have changed emotionally too. Because of this, even though I disliked the process, I have immense respect for the cycle. I now grasp better than before the need for the seasons, the need for death and life, ending and beginning.

This blog was born in wintertime about a year ago. I think it too has gone through some seasons and I believe the time has come for some Winter. It's not the blog that needs to die though, it's my concern for it. Back when I started it, I didn't expect anyone to read it, much less enjoy it. The fact that it resonated with a small group of really interesting people around the world came as a big surprise to me. Unfortunately this turned the blog into something it wasn't supposed to be. I started it as a way for me to process my thoughts and especially to try and work though my issues regarding my faith. Unfortunately along the way I wandered away from that and started caring instead about being topical, relevant, interesting - a good read basically. I started caring about being Christian enough for the Christians who read it and skeptical enough for the skeptics who read it. Inevitably by trying to be something interesting for someone else I failed to be true to myself. Therefore I think it is this infernal care that needs to face some winter frost.

I believe in change. I wish to be able to live without being labelled but maybe I should aim more for not caring what you think.

If you are reading this, please know that you are very welcome. If my path crosses yours in this vast expanse that is cyberspace it may be because of random chance or it may be because of predestined purpose - we will never know which it is if we don't take the time to find out. If my journey resonates with you at all then please feel free to say something, I enjoy feedback and comments, even if they disagree with me. But as for me, I am going back to writing for the ghosts.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fear, Flu and False Alarms

Normally I am don’t pay much attention to whatever the media may be hyping as the new doom of the day. Seriously, watching the news sometimes feels like watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the Apocalypse seems to be nigh on a weekly basis. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s at least entertaining. My favourite so far had to have been “Africanized bees” scare a while back. Due to the fact that I had been around fully African bees my whole life tended to make me snicker at all the senseless panic. However with the current swine flu scare it’s a little harder to be flippant. For one thing it may actually be a serious threat. For another, every un-skeptical group out there seems to be vying for a piece of the swine flu pie: The religious (It’s ritual Satanic deliverance of the innocents to death, timed to occur with the occult day Cinco de Mayo!), the alternative medicine groups (Big Pharma probably started it to make money, get a chiropractic adjustment to stop it instead!!), the anti-vaccinators (It’s a trap to get you to take their evil vaccinations of evil!!!), the conspiracy theorists (It’s a race specific bioweapon!!!!) and of course those who are all of the above (The Antichrist New World Order engineered this virus because they want to kill 80% of the world through poisonous vaccines!!!!!). Therefore I feel I would be amiss as a skeptic if I don’t write something about swine flu.

There is a very good reason why the current swine flu is such a hotbed for conspiracy theorists, this is not the first time we crossed paths with it and the last time was an absolute fiasco (in fact “fiasco” doesn’t begin to describe it but I’m trying to keep the blog at least nominally child friendly). The 1976 Swine flu outbreak had everything a conspiracy theorist could pray for, Government and the pharmaceutical companies combining their powers resulting in the death and paralysis of citizens and all over a threat that turned out to be a false alarm. As always, a little perspective does a world of good. A sober account of what happened can be found here but for the lazy, the highlights are as follows:

1. Doctors overreacted to a soldier dying of the flu, fearing another outbreak like the Spanish influenza.
2. A government reeling from a lot of negative sentiment following Watergate and Vietnam grabbed hold of this as a chance to redeem themselves to the voting public.
3. Ignoring all warnings by concerned experts the President pushed through an aggressive vaccination campaign using untested and unproven vaccines.
4. There were casualties and instances of Guillain-Barré syndrome amongst those who received the vaccinations and the program was immediately stopped.
5. It turned out that there was no flu danger to begin with and everyone involved (Pres Ford especially) ended up disgraced.

The 1976 disaster serves as the gold standard of how not to handle situations like these. All indications so far are that these are lessons we learned well and I don’t see anyone in power responding with the kind of hysteria they had in ’76. While many fear another disastrous vaccination drive the truth is that neither the WHO nor the CDC are calling for people to get vaccinated and at the moment there is no vaccine for swine flu. Lastly while I don’t deny that it was massively foolish to use untested vaccinations on the populace, it is worth noting that out of around 40 million vaccinations, there were only 3 possible deaths (3 elderly people died after being vaccinated, it was never proven that the vaccine was responsible) and around a 1000 cases of Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome (again not linked definitively to the vaccine). Don’t get me wrong, having a thousand people paralyzed is an unacceptably high number. However this fact, coupled with the fact that the program was almost immediately halted after things started going wrong completely destroys this image the conspiracy theorists have of Government and the pharmaceutical companies gleefully rubbing their hands and doing the Dr Evil laugh while willfully poisoning people. You can blame this fiasco on political ambition, incompetence, misinformation and bad decisions but not on malice.

In the weeks to come we will see how this all plays out. Hopefully it will go the way of Bird flu and SARS and be contained before it can do too much damage. In cases like this there are 3 things everyone should be doing:

1. Don’t panic. Various groups but especially the media profit greatly from fear mongering. Fear and panic causes irrational responses and bad decisions and here we should learn from 1976. Be very careful who you believe and where you get your information from. Don’t make any knee jerk decisions and always double check your facts.

2. Get educated. Shutting out the fearmongers is a good step one but you have to go a step further and get the facts. Don’t listen to the politicians and the media, listen to the experts. By experts I don’t mean the guy the local news got a soundbite from or some guy on Oprah or anyone ever on Alex Jones’ show, I mean the people whose job it is to inform and protect you from threats like these. Go see what the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control are telling you and check it at the source, not second hand.

3. Take it seriously. With all the doom and gloom that the media promises and reality fails to deliver it’s easy to start thinking of all these viral threats as the boy who cried wolf. It’s worth noting how the story of the boy who cried wolf ended though. The flu virus can and has been devastatingly lethal. Especially when we face a new mutation able to kill strong young adults that we have no natural immunity against it is better to err on the side of caution. Every time a new strain jumps species or mutates to a new form it’s like playing Russian roulette. Sure, maybe most of the time you get lucky and get away unharmed but it is never going to be safe to put that gun to your head, ever. We never know what direction a virus like this is going to take so it’s always best to treat it seriously even if it turned out to not be that dangerous the time before (and the time before that). We shouldn’t be consumed by fear and panic but neither should be underestimate the dangers. It can mean the difference between a false alarm and a world wide disaster.

Further reading:

DR. MARC SIEGEL: The Most Powerful Virus Is Fear Not Flu

The last great swine flu epidemic

WHO: Influenza A(H1N1) frequently asked questions

CDC: H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)

The new swine flu: don't panic, but there is a very bad WCS

More videos on the subject by Thunderf00t can also be seen here and here