Archive for March, 2009

A community of alternative thinkers

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

– Blogging has been good very for me.   Not financially but, rather, in the connections I’ve made to people out in the world whom I would have never met otherwise.

– In addition to writing for this Blog, Samadhisoft, I also publish occasional articles over on The Seitch.   I like what they are doing there and I feel honored that they let me use their site to express some of my thoughts.   A number of people contribute to The Seitch and two stand out in particular to me; the Naib, who founded the site and who is its most prolific author, and Keith Farnish, who also writes extensively there.

Keith also runs various Blogs of his own, including The Earth Blog and The Unsuitablog. 

– Recently, Keith published a book entitled, “Time’s Up! an uncivilized solution to a global crisis“.  He announced his new book on The Seitch here.

– His new book can be read on-line, here.   I’m reading it now and enjoying it.  It’s full of keen analysis of the world’s current problems and what we might do about them.   Recommended.

– On another front, I’ve recently become on-line friends with a fellow in Germany named Clinton Callahan who is the driving force behind an intentional community called Possibilica.   He also runs the Callahan Academy and has written a book (which I’ve not yet read) called, Radiant Joy Brilliant Love.

– In a recent E-Mail, Clinton included a list of things people can do if they want to directly and personally address the world and the state it is in.   It is radical and courageous stuff, just as the recommendations in Keith Farnish’s book are.

– These are creative thinkers and people who believe that words must be matched by action if one’s convictions are to be graced with integrity.   In truth, I am still playing “catch up” in this respect.   Thus far, I’m long on words and a good deal shorter on action.   But, as they say, all of the rest of my life still lies before me.

– So, I encourage you to follow and explore the links I’ve scattered here and I also encourage you to have a good look through the list of actions Clinton suggests, below.  

– Not all of us will be able to rearrange our lives so powerfully as he suggests but all of us can benefit, I think, by becoming aware that there are folks out there creating new ways of living – and calling the rest of us to join them.

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By Clinton Callahan

Einstein’s bomb worked, remember, so he may also be right when he said, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. How much longer will you continue believing that the same system that created global warming and financial collapse has the ability to fix it? Here are actions to take:

It seems to me that we are at the go/no-go moment in terms of preventing the methane tipping point from avalanching into unstoppable global warming.

It could be the moment for scientists around the world who trust their own global warming evidence to withdraw from the system that propagates the global warming.

Withdrawal from the system is neither symbolic nor philosophical. Withdrawal is swift, total and drastic. The intention is to proactively collapse the carbon economy to give humanity a chance to change direction.

This would require great personal efforts and sacrifice on the part of the scientists. It would impact our families, teams, companies and organizations with a radical change of plans. It would also require you to take your own work seriously. If you do not trust your evidence enough to take direct personal action, why should someone else?

If our withdrawal could critically disable the carbon economy, its rapid demise would avoid even greater suffering from flood, draught, worldwide famine, and continued resource wars.

Abandoning modern culture proactively as a result of trusting scientific evidence would prove that human intelligence exists. It would be like steering a careening brakeless automobile into the hillside to stop it rather than doing nothing. By intentionally crashing the car someone might survive. Flying off the cliff is suicide for all.

The choice is not actually up to political authorities. The choice is up to the creative powerhouse behind the industrial machine: you, the scientists, engineers, programmers, designers, technicians and researchers keeping things going.

To continue a carbon-hungry consumer lifestyle in the face of recent climate-change knowledge makes us no more intelligent than bacteria, consuming beyond the carrying capacity of our resources and dieing in our own wastes.

Withdrawal is simple and effective. It is nonviolent noncooperation with whatever is nonsustainable. This would include:

  • Quit your job, because almost no organization including corporate,  government, military, and education are sustainable – business assumes it is  possible to externalize true costs.
  • Sell your car, change to bicycle, public transportation, horse, and  walking.
  • Become basically vegetarian.
  • Create community; learn the soft skills of village  weaving.
  • Find your people, create sustainable culture – not money-based but  collaboration-based – collaboration is wealth, power and  satisfaction.
  • Establish local authority and local  autonomy.
  • Move out of your house or off-the-grid, e.g. straw bale passive  solar, etc.
  • With your people grow most of your own food without fertilizers,  pesticides, or tractors.
  • Avoid imported foods such as bananas, pineapples, out of season  fruits, spices, coffee, chocolate, sugar.
  • Avoid fast food chains – they abuse third world labor and  resources, pumping money away from third world economy and your local  economy.
  • Move away from mainstream pharmaceuticals and learn alternative  healing and preventative health care.
  • Home school the children, learning together how to heal yourselves  of TPP (technopenuriaphobia – the  fear of the loss of technology, as explained in the book Radiant Joy Brilliant Love
  • Recognize  the Second Copernican Revolution,  that people  do not own nature. Nature owns people. Nature and people both have more value  than money.
  • Learn to make or grow most everything you need: shaving cream,  soap, toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, etc.
  • Shift from the disposable mentality (throw away things when they  break) to repairable mentality.
  • Stop using petrochemical plastics, packaging, newspapers, mail  order catalogues.
  • Refuse to make any garbage at all, recycle everything (look in your  garbage – it reveals the nonsustainable part of your  lifestyle).
  • Stop air flights, boat trips, exotic vacations – reorient towards  pilgrimage, restoring nature, and local outdoor adventures by  foot.
  • Get rid of most of your stuff, anything you have not touched in the  past year.
  • Avoid TV and canned entertainment – instead get with friends and  create living theater, sing, retell legends, build musical instruments, dance,  make art, engage authentic transformational processes, explore new territories  of experience.
  • Learn new communication skills; expand your abilities to be  physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually  intimate.
  • Avoid the paradigm of money and adopt a local paradigm of creating  abundance through giving to each other.
  • Sell your stocks, securities and investments, and deal openly with  your addiction to gambling.
  • Divest your interests in buildings or land that you do not inhabit  full-time.
  • Direct your time and energy towards befriending and nurturing  children, plants and animals, collaborating with your neighbors and effective  organizations; celebrate together a lot.
  • Change your orientation so that work is about what matters to you  rather than working to pays the bills.
  • Transform your relationship to fear so you can enter states of raw  creation and invention.
  • Implement cultural innovations that develop every person’s  beneficial potential.
  • Shift from increasing having to increasing being. Give presence rather than  presents.
  • Reorient towards personal development rather than personal possessions.  
  • Reorient from consuming  to renewing the natural  environment.
  • Develop your capacity to experience and express  love.

If you already see the perfect storm about to hit humanity and trust your own findings, then immediately and completely extricating yourself from the system that generates the problems is appropriate. Let the system fail. It was not well thought out. Our combined population growth and harmful technological waste products grew so quickly we did not have time to make other plans. By redirecting your incredible creative capacity towards generating sustainable culture then we Homo sapiens could be true to our name.

What do you actually think about this? Does it make sense?
What are you willing to say and do along these lines?
What can you stop now? Next week? Next month?
What do the people you know say and do about this?
Many people criticize the idea of proactively collapsing the carbon economy.
Are you ready to take action even if others won’t?
How much longer will you wait before you replace talk with personal action?

For creative collaboration and support in your choices assemble a Just Stop Team
Thank you for considering this.

Clinton Callahan, originator of Possibility Management and Phoenix Process, author of Radiant Joy Brilliant Love, founder of Callahan Academy, empowers responsible creative leadership through authentic personal development. He has traveled, lived or worked in 36 different countries, and is co-creating a sustainable-culture research ecovillage in Southern Germany called Possibilica.

The Human Brain Is On The Edge Of Chaos

Sunday, March 29th, 2009


I had not seen this and I found it extremely interesting.   A central point that I took away from the first book I ever read in depth on Complexity was the notion that it, complexity, happens right at the boundary where chaos meets the static.  Hence not in ice nor steam but in water.

I think the two big mechanisms that will come forth more and more as core features of our new understandings of how things work will be (1) this notion that complexity arises at the edge of chaos and we will begin to see it everywhere and that (2) nature makes use of quantum effects whenever they make sense.

Regarding the latter, I expect you’ve seen the articles out over the last year explaining that the reason our calculations for how photosynthesis generates energy could never ‘explain’ how the observed molecular mechanisms could actually generate the total energy they’ve been seen to generate – the explanation turned out to be that a sort of quantum computer effect is happening as the electrons cascade through the photosynthetic sieve and they ‘know’, via a quantum computers type solution, where to go to maximize energy output.

Someday, I think we’ll discover that at the deepest level, a lot of the mind’s processes will involve quantum computing along with the currently understood chemical and electrical mechanisms.  Given that the scale of these events hovers on the edge where quantum effects compete with macro-effects, I doubt it could be otherwise.


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Cambridge-based researchers provide new evidence that the human brain lives “on the edge of chaos”, at a critical transition point between randomness and order. The study provides experimental data on an idea previously fraught with theoretical speculation.

Self-organized criticality (where systems spontaneously organize themselves to operate at a critical point between order and randomness), can emerge from complex interactions in many different physical systems, including avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, and heartbeat rhythms.

According to this study, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, and the GlaxoSmithKline Clinical Unit Cambridge, the dynamics of human brain networks have something important in common with some superficially very different systems in nature. Computational networks showing these characteristics have also been shown to have optimal memory (data storage) and information-processing capacity. In particular, critical systems are able to respond very rapidly and extensively to minor changes in their inputs.

“Due to these characteristics, self-organized criticality is intuitively attractive as a model for brain functions such as perception and action, because it would allow us to switch quickly between mental states in order to respond to changing environmental conditions,” says co-author Manfred Kitzbichler.


– research thanks to Alan T.

15 July 86

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Ai, my mortality gives me such an ache sometimes.  This little face, Chris, growing and changing under my hands and my memories talking to me of people and places seen … and gone. Is my awakening only to make me more aware of how mortal and transient we are?

Rose is here … and Lise … and all the books on my shelves.  The moments the authors took serious.  Poppies arising in the fields and perishing in a never ending cycle of seasons. Like the yeast that rises, or the surf that churns against the rocks, we are the froth of the advancing front of life. Our brief moments transfixing us, for a lifetime, with the fate of passing forms.

But it is no less.  No less that I’ve watched the lines come and cross Rose’s face and heart.  That I’ve seen families and wars come and go.  Felt the ache of love, and the pain of heartbreak, and watched my youth pass and my dreams mellow against reality.

Our visions clear of the illusions and, behind, we find ourselves stark naked and dressed in animal skins.  And we see our fates written in the generations rising and perishing around us. There is no exit here.  Save, through our hearts. In the killing fields of life we wait in the sun for the harvest and mistake the joy of our growth for the promise of divinity.

All of it!

Youth, joy, clarity, vision, mortality, growth, love, pain and death merely outline our hearts.  For it is with our hearts that we must face these things.  For it is with our hearts that we experience living and it is through the heart’s deep belief in its spiritual seed-ship that we can pass the gates of this flaming and remorseless reality.

Our mortality can be seen as the profound price of spiritual realization.  That love and pain and our passage from youth to death is the food of Gods seeking birth.

So we must love, must risk, must dream and age and see ever deeper through these illusions.  We must witness fairly and act impeccably as we travel this road.  We must weather away against our experiences and burn for life against implacable death.  We must love each other with compassion and fervor as we melt in these furnaces of time.  And we must walk tall in our belief in our own divinity straight through every storm, every distraction, every illusion, every love and attachment and passion.  Every realization and mood and insanity straight into our deaths.

For, as Gods seeking birth we can do no less until we have loved, known, experienced it all.


Cold fusion experimentally confirmed

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

– This is a tough one to know how I feel about.  On one hand, a real solution of the fusion conundrum, would change the world for the better in an incredible way.  So, for that reason, I’d be very excited about this.  

– But, on the other hand, cold fusion has been a huge disappointment ever since the initial Fleischmann & Pons debacle in 1989.  

– Stories about cold fusion since then have reminded me of those Christian film makers who go off every year and make a film about how they’ve finally ‘found’ Noah’s original ark up on some mountain.  But then some freak event happens and they lose its location or they lose their their film or something.  Darn!

– Well, three separate labs now say they got ‘proof’ of cold fusion.  Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t.  The next year, as others try to replicate their results, will tell the story.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — U.S. Navy researchers claimed to have experimentally confirmed cold fusion in a presentation at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting.

“We have compelling evidence that fusion reactions are occurring” at room temperature, said Pamela Mosier-Boss, a scientist with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (San Diego). The results are “the first scientific report of highly energetic neutrons from low-energy nuclear reactions,” she added.

Cold fusion was first reported in 1989 by researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then with the University of Utah, prompting a global effort to develop the technology. Normal fusion reactions, where hydrogen is fused into helium, occur at millions of degrees inside the Sun. If room temperature fusion reactions could be realized commercially, as Fleishchmann and Pons claimed to have achieved inside an electrolytic cell, it promised to produce abundant nuclear energy from deuterium–heavy hydrogen–extracted from seawater.

Other scientists were unable to duplicate the 1989 results, thereby discrediting the work.

The theoretical underpinnings of cold fusion have yet to be adequately explained. The hypothesis is that when electrolysis is performed on deuteron, molecules are fused into helium, releasing a high-energy neutron. While excess heat has been detected by researchers, no group had yet been able to detect the missing neutrons.

Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task of detecting such small numbers of neutrons. To sense such small quantities, Mosier-Boss used a special plastic detector called CR-39. Using co-deposition with nickel and gold wire electrodes, which were inserted into a mixture of palladium chloride and deutrium, the detector was able to capture and track the high-energy neutrons.


– research thanks to Bruce S. (a way down in New Zealand)

On being able to see the Perfect Storm

Saturday, March 28th, 2009


Well, I know I recently prioritized peak oil ahead of climate change as our most immediate threat, the one that will hit us most acutely when it arrives full force. And I hold by that position. However, I realize that I was not relating my entire position. The bigger picture, of course, is that climate change will ultimately have a larger, more catastrophic affect on not just us, but the whole biosphere as well. And because the tipping points for climate change are so near, if they haven’t arrived already, we need to do all we can immediately to reduce CO2 emissions. What I fear most is that peak oil will create a scenario as bad as Kunstler described in “The Long Emergency“, and that the crisis will be extended and worsened by the damage from climate change. It will be a one-two knockout punch. I think I’ll live long enough to see things really start to fall apart. Hell, I might even be swallowed by turmoil. I’m most bothered, though, by how it will affect my kids. That’s painful to think about, and I try not to dwell on it, especially around them.

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I understand.  When I think about all this stuff, I always try to see it dynamically with all the parts moving together.  The fact is, that’s how it actually works in the physical world regardless of how we humans conceptualize it all.

That’s usBut none of us, myself included, are very good at seeing a lot of parts moving together unless we’ve been thinking about the situation for long time and have converted most of the subject matter from short-term memory (where we have to work hard to manifest the conceptualization) to longer-term memory (where we only need to reflect on the subject for a moment before it all comes full-blown into your cognitive space).

Once you’ve thought long enough about a number of pieces in isolation, then you can begin to keep them all in mind and see the relationships among them easily.  And, if you do that long enough, then pretty soon, keeping the entire assemblage in mind is, itself easy, and then you can begin to add more stuff and relate it all to bigger and bigger pictures.

I know you know all this because I’m sure that something very like it happens to you when you begin working on a large and complicated documentation project.  At the beginning, it’s a huge mass of stuff that you grapple with and near the end, it is something you can move through with great fluidity in you mind’s eye.

A mistake I see humanity make over and over again, involves ignoring the understanding I’ve just laid out here.

We like to deconstruct things and to isolate them so they become small enough that we can easily grasp them.  Then we fit the pieces together in a cause and effect sequence-story and, when we can walk through the entire structure, we think we’ve got the situation mapped and we’re good to go.

But, it seldom works that way.  We take a first cut and, if it seems reasonable, we declare that we ‘understand it’.   But then, after some time passes and the shortfalls between our model of some reality and the facts of that reality begin to crop up, we realize that we have to expand our theory and make our second approximation.   So, we do and once we think it is good, we declare it done and say, again, that we ‘understand’.   But them, typically, the process repeats and the differences between our second approximation and the reality it emulates becomes apparent and then the reevaluation begin again.  This iterative process can run to quite a few repeats.

But, the key point to take away from all of this is that the beginning approximations are built on stick-figure cause and effect deconstructions whereas the later more sophisticated ones tend to be much more dynamic and have many more interacting parts.   “Arithmetic to Algebra to Calculus” is the mantra I use to remind myself of this sequence and I see the failures to understand it all around me as I look at mankind’s attempts to ‘understand’ the world around himself.

What I call “The Perfect Storm” is my attempt to describe a large dynamic that one can see in the world around us, if one simply dwells on all the isolated problems like Global Climate Change, pollution, water shortages, oil shortages and etc. long enough.   At some point, a larger vision appears to you and you see that all of these many individual disasters-in-the-making are moving, all at the same time, and that they are, or they will be, potentiating each other.

Then, in addition, dwell on human nature and how and why human beings make the decisions they do en-masse.   Look at history, look at sociology and, most instructively, look at the relatively new science of environmental psychology.  Consider for a long time what humans say about their thinking and motivations and then consider what their actions say about these same things.   Dwell on all of this until you can hold it all in mind and then mix it together with the “Perfect Storm” hypothesis and let all of those parts freely inter-mix until you can see the dynamic interplay of all of that working together.

And finally, think about the folks you love and where they will be in the future and what these upcoming changes might mean to them and their happiness and their health – in that future.

One has to pay his or her dues to see these visions by thinking long and hard about all of this stuff before the ‘Big Picture’ start to come clear in your mind.  And reality doesn’t care if any of us see the Big Picture.  Reality is simply a set of physical laws that, given certain inputs, are going to operate to produce certain results – regardless of whether we can see it all happening around us or not.

In summary, most people will never spend the time to think long enough about all of this to see it.   And most people have deep vested interests that emotionally will prevent them from allowing themselves to see these things anyway even if they think about it.  And the fact that most people won’t or cannot see these big patterns developing is, itself, one of the biggest reasons why it is all going to happen and why most of humanity is going to be deeply surprised when it does.

Just say uncle

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

MessageMy mother and I went over to visit my uncle and his family once when I was a small tyke of seven or eight years old.   While we were visiting, my uncle snuck outside and jacked my mother’s car up so all four wheels were like an inch off the ground.   Then he comes back in and continued to visit.   When we got ready to go, we  all went outside and everyone said goodbye and my mom put the car in gear and pressed the gas and the engine went, vroooooooom… and nothing, of course happened.   I still recall my uncle standing outside on my mom’s window with such a straight face – asking her what was wrong and her looking so confused.   He asked her, “Did ya put in in gear, Ann?”.   “Yes”, she said, “I think so.”  But, of course by this time, she wasn’t sure of anything.   What a joker that guy was.

Another time, when I was a teenager, I went out to dinner with him and we went to a restaurant with big plate glass windows and a big wide gravel parking lot.   We were in a dune-buggy.  He pulls in the parking lot at about 40 miles an hour and heads straight for the big front windows full bore.  When he’s really close, he stands on the brakes and slides and slides until we bump (hard) into the big log just under the windows and we stop.   He gets out, cool as a cucumber, and walks in while I’m dragging along behind just gaping at him.   I think half the people inside by the window had to get up and go change their underwear.

Life was always fun around my uncle.

Gates Foundation strategy raises key question:

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

– I know a young lady who works at the Gates Foundation and who is the daughter of a friend of mine.  I’ve posed pretty much the same question to her as this excerpt from an article over on the Climate Progress Blog poses.

– The essence of the question is:

“Isn’t helping people in the third-world to have a happy and productive life kind of like arranging the deck furniture on the Titanic?  Given that Global Climate change will ultimately undo and destroy whatever brief good you do?”

– I Applaud their idealism but I decry where they choose to put their efforts at improving the world.

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Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?

Salon has published my article on the biggest flaw in the strategy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I’m going to expand on that article in a two-parter here.

The timing could not be better with the Tom Friedman “Ponzi scheme” discussion. For while the the richest foundation in the world certainly has taken on the noblest and greatest of challenges — to help billions of people who “never even have the chance to live a healthy, productive life” reach that opportunity themselves — its efforts are ultimately doomed to fail if we don’t stop catastrophic warming.

Also, the two men who have donated much of their vast wealth to make it possible, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are Exhibits One and Two of the “very serious people who are perceived as essentially nonpartisan opinion leaders” who must speak out on climate change if we are to avert the worst (see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 7: The harsh lessons of the financial bailout “).

Yet when we saw them together last summer, they were touring the Ponzi Canadian tar sands, as The Calgary Herald reported (see here):

A source said Gates and Buffett, who in recent months said he favours investing in the Canadian oil sands because it offers a secure supply of oil for the United States, visited the booming hub to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind.

The tar sands are an environmental abomination that require huge amounts of natural gas to produce fuel with far higher life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than oil. They have rightly been called by Greenpeace the “biggest global warming crime ever seen.” The Catholic bishop whose diocese extends over the tar sands posted a scathing pastoral letter in January that challenges the “moral legitimacy” of tar sands production.


Ben Bernanke

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Ben BernankeI watched Ben Bernanke do an interview on a recent edition of 60 minutes tonight (we’d recorded it earlier).

There were many interesting things in the interview but there were two main ones I came away with:

(1) of all the things he discussed about how we might avoid another melt down in the future, the only one he mentioned that seemed significant to me was the idea that we need a level of  ‘systemic regulation’.

Indeed, it seems to me that there were very few people who really saw this thing unfolding and, of those, none of them were in a real position of power to do anything about it.  It was a big case of ‘no single raindrop thinks it is responsible for the flood’.

(2) The second thing was what he didn’t say when he was asked about what a recovery might look like.

He talked about the financial system firing up again and banks being able to borrow and lend money.   He talked about the U.S. economy being the strongest in the world and that we will be able to maintain that position.

What he didn’t acknowledge is that firing the economy back up and resuming business as usual just isn’t viable – if business as usual means more growth, more production, more population, more pollution and more consumption.

In a larger context, the current economic problems are a small tempest that may sort itself out in six months or two years, but it probably will.   But, if we resume growth, as we were growing before, even if we have good systemic financial market regulation – we will still be bound for a new disaster far far bigger than this minor bump-in-the-road financial crisis we’re currently in the middle of.

Mr. Bernanke is obviously a very intelligent man.   And I am much encouraged by the fact that he seems to be from neither the Wall Street world or the Beltway world.

But, if his measure of success is to resume an economy whose functioning is deeply dependent on incessant growth in a finite world, then he’s just going to take us from the frying pan into the fire – and I didn’t get that he sees that.

Study Ties Tree Deaths To Change in Climate

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

The death rates of trees in Western U.S. forests have doubled over the past two to three decades, according to a new study spearheaded by the U.S. Geological Survey, driven in large part by higher temperatures and water scarcity linked to climate change.

The findings, being published today in the online journal Science, examined changes in 76 long-term forest plots in three broad regions across the West, and found similar shifts regardless of the areas’ elevations, fire histories, dominant species and tree sizes. It is the largest research project ever done on old-growth forests in North America.

Nathan L. Stephenson, one of the lead authors, said summers are getting longer and hotter in the West, subjecting trees to greater stress from droughts and attacks by insect infestations, factors that contribute to tree die-offs.

“It’s very likely that mortality rates will continue to rise,” said Stephenson, a scientist at the Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, adding that the death of older trees is rapidly exceeding the growth of new ones, akin to a town where the deaths of old people are outpacing the number of babies being born. “If you saw that going on in your home town, you’d be concerned.”


Is China Making Its Bird-Flu Outbreak Worse?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

– Scary stuff.  here’s a quote from within this story:

 Dr. Lo Wing-Lok, an adviser to the Hong Kong government on communicable diseases, said the mainland had not been forthright about the spread of bird flu in poultry. “There’s no doubt of an outbreak of bird flu in China, though the government hasn’t admitted it,” he told Bloomberg.

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One thing is certain about avian influenza: it’s deadly. All three people who contracted the H5N1 strain of the virus in China last year died. In the first six weeks of 2009, eight people have come down with bird flu, and five have died. Another thing is that while the disease has yet to go pandemic, as many doctors fear it could, it remains worrisomely persistent. Every year since 2003, about 100 people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa contract the disease. Last year, in a rare exception, the number dropped below 50.

But bird flu, it seems, is back. Last month’s five deaths — one of the highest tallies of bird-flu deaths China has ever recorded in a month — were in locations as far removed from one another as Beijing in the north, Xinjiang in the west, Guangxi in the south, Hunan in the center and Shandong in the east. “From a disease-control perspective, the increase in cases in China is notable, as is the wide geographic spread,” says Dr. Hans Troedsson, the World Health Organization’s representative in China. There is still no evidence that the virus has mutated to spread easily between humans, he says. But while such a nightmare scenario, which could set off a global flu pandemic that could kill millions, has shown no signs of being an immediate threat, serious concerns remain. “The fact that this is the highest number for a single month in China reminds us that the virus is entrenched and circulating in the environment,” Troedsson says. (See pictures of the resurgence of bird flu.)

On Feb. 10, authorities in the far-Western region of Xinjiang culled more than 13,000 chickens in the city of Hotan after 519 died in a bird-flu outbreak. But until this week, China had reported no widespread outbreaks of the virus among bird populations, prompting concerns among some public-health experts that mainland health and veterinary authorities could be missing — or even concealing — the spread of the disease through poultry and wild birds. Hong Kong, where the first human cases of H5N1 infection were found in 1997, reported finding a dozen birds with the deadly strain of the virus earlier this year — a strong indication that the virus is very likely present in adjacent Guangdong province. But so far, Guangdong has reported no bird cases. Equally unusual is that after such a busy month of infections in China, reports of human cases have gone silent. “It’s a surprise for me, since in January, the human cases, you have so many, but in February it suddenly stops,” says Dr. Guan Yi, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong. (Read “Is Hong Kong’s Bird-Flu Vaccine Failing?”)