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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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CFR runs all day session on Bird Flu, but ignores evident cure

The Council of Foreign Relations ran a comprehensive update discussion of Avian Flu today (Wed Nov 16), filled with experts on the panels and in the audience in both NYC and in Washington.

Apart from showing that not much has changed since the global panic took hold a month ago, the event was chiefly of interest for the tone of voice and manner in which the review was conducted. That is to say, unhurried and confident, in the inimitable Council style. The topic may be the possibility of the death and illness of millions, and any solutions remote, but voices at the Council are untroubled, manners gracious, and phrasing formal, with no more stress than discussing the budget. Every male visible is wearing a dark suit.

This is typical Council stuff, a pow wow among the highly placed who have time to worry about world problems, one may feel, because their personal concerns are well taken care of. These guys live in offices on the national and international level where millions are small change, and their discussion of what has to be done seems to involve no doubt that anything necessary can be paid for. At times there seems an odd disconnect with the world of Asian poultry breeders whose household income depends on a few chickens. But here the rich are discussing how to save the whole world.

We took a few notes, hoping for major revelations, but if they came, we missed them as our attention wandered during the day. Already by 11 am it seemed clear that, if Tamiflu is ineffective against whatever form it takes, there is really no front line of effective defense against H5N1 once it has evolved into a 1918-type human flu virus, and that society will implode if this ever happens.

For the record, here are the notes:


At 3 pm the reassurances that catastrophe won’t be the case seem thin. The business panel seems to think the virus will jump the species gap to humans any day now. Meanwhile two of three cases have been fatal in China, and China promises to vaccinate all its 5.2 billion farm birds.

At 4pm, in fact, they move on to discussing what it will be like if the pandemic hits. First Laurie Garrett, the resident Council expert on the topic, says, in the wake of newspaper attacks on her and her institution as “Chicken Littles” this week, that she still considers the evolution of H5N1 into a human virus is a “very remote possibility”. But then she immediately points out that H5N1 has been very drastic so far, and promises to be so if it arrives in force. On the one hand, we must remember that if it breaks out in China travel to that region and even Fedex delivery will decline rapidly. On the other hand the virus will have escaped to points faraway by that time.

We take it that, newly sensitive to the charge of alarmism, she is trying to steer a middle course between Chicken Little and reasonable. The bottom line seems to be that Avian Flu is rather like a gamble on the lottery – unlikely but if it hits, huge. Bank failures probably won’t happen, but shares will nosedive, as others “buy the crisis”. The world will deglobalize and this will impact the world economy, which will stagger as it did here after 9/11, but for two years or more this time.

Back in the doomsayer mode, Garrett goes on to say that “A pandemic is not like a hurricane, it won’t come and then go away. We are looking at 18-24 months of waves of virus with different epidemics all over the world like a mosaic. The virus will be transforming itself as it goes. The 1918 virus was mild in its first wave. Maybe we will see hundreds of wavelets and multiple forms of virus. The vaccine against the first wave form may not be effective on the wave that follows 18 months later in the US. There might be trauma after trauma – New York City devastated, then a breathing period, then another trauma.

Plus there will be “an erosion of trust in government which cannot wave a wand to protect families, who will be left on their own to take care of themselves. Delivery systems will fall apart, just at the moment we in the US have moved everything we need to be made to China and then shipped here.” She can see it when she bikes down the West Side of Manhattan and watches huge container ships arrive full and leave empty. This trade will be disrupted for two years. During SARS she was not permitted to drive out of Beijing at the peak of the SARS epidemic, she reports, because the huge city was under quarantine. “Governments will try to act in some way, given they won’t have vaccine for everybody.”

But the US also exports a great, points out David Malpass, chief economist of Bear, Stearns. He is not so worried about an economic downturn. The US is in fact the greatest exporter in the world, he reminds us. So we won’t be left bare shelved. And he agrees this is a very low probability scenario, like nuclear terrorism. But only avian flu is global, Laurie points out. Dr Wong the panel member with a very difficult Chinese accent points out that the US consumer may not stop spending, but on the contrary, eat and drink all the more more merrily while it is still possible. After the Black Death there was a terrific boost to technology and invention he adds, apparently trying to look on the bright side of a terrific dive in population.

Not to be diverted from alarm, Laurie says there is a GIGO problem (garbage in garbage out) since we are all guessing at the science. But Africa might be truly devastated any way you look at it. It may play a very, very different role in the world two years later. Who knows how HIV will interact with H5N1? There will be a higher survival rate for the rich nations. How will Mexico feel about this afterwards, she asks, if we didn’t plan for sharing the assets?

What preparatory steps can we take? Technological exploration. Lot of communication, multilateraterally, the optimistic Dr Wong suggests. Mobilize resources in rich countries and send to poorer countries, with high international cooperation. Fulfil the ten core principles of international cooperation that President Bush signed onto, says Laurie Garrett. “We have to create some rules of the game” for a global community beyond economic cooperation. She is distressed that only 4% of the 2006 $7 billion US budget allocation announced by President Bush is destined for international targets. “You need to improve the surveillance and health infrastructure of all the developing countries of the world.”

A questioner from Washington suggests that poorer nations used to illness will get back to work faster. Yes agrees Garrett, during SARS GNP growth was unaffected in China because the workers were all locked into factories and put on longer schedules. Another problem will be recognizing the flu. High fever, dizziness, muscle fatigue are symptoms of other diseases as well as flu.

Says Garrett, we need a greater sense of comnmunity: “In the US and Canada we have really lost our sense of community, we dont know who in the same apartment building is infirm and need special care. In other parts of the world local community leaders are far more powerful than anyone higher up.” Yes, look at what happened in New Orleans compared with the tsunami, says moderator Sheryl WuDunn, industry and international business editor of the New York Times.

A questioner insists the the certainty of economic decline is 100%. Won’t David admit the economy will suffer badly? David says we are the world’s biggest exporter by far. We will handle the problem of supply fairly well. People are dying all the time of flu arund the world. Yes, half a million annually, Laurie says.

In the end we are all dead anyway, you mean? asks the moderator. Well, David says financial markets are frequently faced with probabilities and outcomes and they do a pretty good job of handling them. On the other hand, Laurie adds, in response to a woman who worries that we should have taken flu more seriously every year. “We should have met the flu vaccine quota instead of letting the production capacity collapse.”

A simple cure?

In other words, scores of points, nothing dramatically new and in the end, a pleasantly reassuring Council discussion glazed as usual with the Senatorial politesse which makes everything feel under control even if completely beyond control. No doubt as Garrett suggested at one point many of the billions to be spent by governments – many more that the $7 billion Bush budget allocation, it is clear – will amount to the same spinning of wheels.

Given this high level floundering Truthseeker believes at this point he should help out by mentioning that there are papers which suggest a possible solution to avian flu : simply to take Vitamin A supplement. At least three papers show that Vitamin A acts to block TNF – Tumor Necrosis Factor – in the lungs. Avian flu hyperinduces TNF in the lungs, which accounts for its high fatality rate.

In other words, the pandemic might reduce to an epidemic of flu like any other if enough Vitamin A is available. If it indeed proves to be the antidote, it will be interesting that it was not mentioned in this day of high level panel sessions – another indication that virtually nobody reads the medical and scientific literature any more, certainly not the advisers to the powerful.

But of course vitamin A is not the path for profits for any drug company, since it is hardly patentable. So probably this news will not be received with much enthusiasm by the kind of elite insider of capitalism that one meets at the Council.

Indeed, the idea that a pill or two of Vitamin A will reduce the greatest threat to physical and economic health heralded in three quarters of a century to mild flu seems likely to rain on a very large parade.

So maybe we won’t mention it after all.

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