Some of you may be wondering what I think of today’s momentous developments. But because I wrote this column last night, I don’t know what they are – or even if there were any. In the meantime:


I hope to write at more length about this, but for now, I commend to you an HBO movie called ‘Warm Springs‘ that at least some HBO subscribers can see this coming Monday at 4pm – check ‘your local listings’ to see whether you get it. It’s about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Eleanor, and it is wonderful. It is a story, ultimately, that calls us to (stealing a line from the movie) ‘come together as a family and do what we do best: lift each other up.’ Coming from a man stricken by polio at the age of 39 – who would be unable to walk for the rest of his life, yet go on to be four times elected President to lead us through the Depression and World War II – it carries particular poignancy.

Seriously: try to tape it. Failing that (or in addition) read an interview with the author.

Don’t get HBO? Have no TiVo? Well, I admire your frugality (and by sharing it in my early years am able to afford HBO and a TiVo). Go find some old guy with HBO and TiVo and have him invite you over to watch it.


Lorraine: ‘What is Plan B? Did I miss a column? It sounds very important.’

☞ Sorry, I meant to include the link. It’s a pill to prevent pregnancy after sex that would help to make abortion rare. It’s currently sold by prescription. The FDA staff recommended making it available over-the-counter (because it’s not always easy to get a prescription at 2am on a Saturday night). But then forces from the right flexed their muscles and the Administration blocked it.


Jeffrey Davis: ‘Tamiflu may be ineffective against H5N1.’

☞ So I guess we may have been wise – or lucky – not to order enough.

Monday, I linked to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story about bird flu so scary that I was advised by my advertisers not to excerpt more than a few lines. They want you in a happy, shopping mood this holiday season. But then I realized, wait, I have no advertisers. These must be the voices of my imaginary advertisers, and they must have somehow gotten past my imaginary secretary. So at the risk of turning you into an obsessive handwasher this winter, here’s a good chunk of the article, reminding us yet again to have in the stock market only cash we won’t actually need (for things like rent and food) for several years – not because the market will go down sharply, but because it might. (A joke follows.)

“We are betting the nation that this may not happen soon,” said Dr. Tara O’Toole, chief executive officer and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Biosecurity. “There is still no strategy; there is still no one in charge.”

The imminent release of the HHS pandemic flu plan will do little to change that perception, the experts said, pointing out that a version leaked to The New York Times two weeks ago is short on practical details. . . .

Whether and how to prepare for a flu pandemic is not a new discussion. The federal government developed its first plan in 1978 and began revising it in 1993. HHS released a 50-page draft in August 2004. Academics and government workers who have been part of the process say rewriting – particularly of the plan’s quarantine provisions – continued through last week.

The long process has put the United States behind other industrialized nations such as Britain and Canada that published their plans months or years ago. The lag has provoked impatience: The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office called for a final plan six times in the past five years. The Trust for America’s Health warned in June that the delay left the country vulnerable to wide social and economic disruption if a flu pandemic strikes.

Health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, predict that a pandemic will occur at some near-future point. There have been 10 in the past 300 years; the last was in 1968, and the next is considered overdue. . . .

The economic impact of a pandemic could rival the Depression, according to an August analysis by the Canadian investment house BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Oil prices and commodity markets would crash; transportation would collapse as countries close their borders; and just-in-time supply chains of food, goods, manufacturing components and medical supplies would be cut, the firm said.

Businesses should expect to lose one-fourth of their employees for up to four months, the Trust for America’s Health said in June.

Planners are also concerned that the flu’s impact would fall hardest on institutions and governments that are already struggling. Hospitals and emergency rooms are already overcrowded, and state health care is stressed because of budget cuts.

Some planners are urging states and the federal government to engage the public and the business community in frank conversations about a pandemic’s likely realities.

“We need to assure the food supply, drinking water, heat in northern climates,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, founder of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who has consulted with HHS on the federal plan.

“We need to be make sure we have pharmaceuticals for conditions other than influenza. And we need the capability to process, respectfully and with dignity, the bodies of up to 1.9 million people who might die over the course of a year.”


David Summers: ‘I enjoyed Patty Whack. My favorite of that type is: The great spiritual leader Gandhi walked barefoot most of the time, causing his feet to be quite sore and calloused. His unusual and spare diet made him physically weak and gave him bad breath [at least for the purposes of this riff]. Thus, it is said of Gandhi, that he was a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed with halitosis.’


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