This week Bernard Darnton has a headache and feels nauseous. . .
Load up the Land Rover with the 12-gauge and three months worth of baked beans. Bird flu is here. No – mad pig disease. Wait – the Y2K09 bug.
One thing there has been a serious outbreak of is word games. The U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is upset that this week’s fashionable worry has been called “swine flu” because of the possible effect on pork sales. Israeli Deputy Health Minister has suggested “Mexican flu” because he finds the reference to pigs offensive. The Mexican ambassador to Israeli got all huffy because he found the reference to Mexicans offensive. If this really is a serious health threat it’s good to see that world’s governments are suitably focused.
Here in New Zealand, all those people who’ve toiled away for years on pandemic preparedness plans are suddenly feeling important and putting on reflective jackets and hanging out in command centres with giant plasma screens, presumably watching CNN on the big plasmas to find out what happens next.
The death toll in Mexico, the “epicenter” of the “pandemic” is claimed to be 160. The population of Mexico City is 28 million. If a disease of the same virulence swept through a city the size of Christchurch the death toll would be two. Surely sad for the families of those two but I wouldn’t go as far as crossing live to a rain-soaked reporter for an exclusive update.
I’m no virologist, or biologist, or anything-else-ologist for that matter. I don’t even have a beard. I’ll leave it to the lab-coated ones to work out what’s actually going on. But my biggest worry isn’t that some previously unknown disease is coming to wipe us out; it’s that a previously well-known parasite will grow and spread because of this.
In its most virulent form this parasite strikes millions of people dead in short periods. In its modern form in the first world it suffocates and strangles. And there’s nothing it likes more than a crisis.
In his thriller State of Fear author Michael Crichton suggested that it wasn’t the emergence of a military-industrial complex that we should worry about but the emergence of a media-political complex.
His story was far-fetched but the point is valid. At no time in history have we been richer or healthier than we are now but we still worry just as much. We worry about aircraft – noise from aircraft, exhaust gases from aircraft, people with stubble and olive skin on aircraft, people sneezing on aircraft – and there’s a whole lot of other stuff starting the letters B through Z to worry about as well.
The media dishes out fear because it captivates audiences. Those audiences then demand that the government “does something” to address the fear.
The government has sweeping emergency powers that might not be out of place during a Black Death outbreak. The real problem is that the law is so vaguely worded that those same powers could be used during an outbreak of obesity, or anything else that some Sue Kedgley-type dreams up as a health risk.
I don’t feel the need to run out and buy a face mask but if anyone has the antidote to big government I’ll take it. If governments around the world don’t take advantage of avian/swine flu to increase their powers, pigs will fly.
* * Bernard Darnton writes every Thursday here at NOT PC * *
PS: Bernard Darnton, otherwise known as NOT PJ, will be in Auckland tonight seeing the guy who really is PJ, i.e., PJ O’Rourke’s gig at Sky City. If you’d like to catch up with us, Bernard and I and Annie Fox will be in the London Bar beforehand from about 5:30 on – and before that in the garden at The Castle. Maybe we’ll catch up with you?
PPS: And thanks to Crusader Rabbit for the cartoon.