Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Cholera kills 300 in Haiti. So where’s the vaccine?

October 27, 2010

The cholera epidemic in Haiti continues to spread. So far, over 3,000 cases have been reported, and almost 300 people have died from the disease.

Health officials say they have stepped up disease prevention measures and are “racing against time”, with medics “administering intravenous drips to patients” etc.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Just this: While the health authorities are supposedly “doing everything possible” to fight this outbreak, there has been no mention at all of what would appear to be the most obvious and simple solution: make the cholera vaccine available to those most at risk.

There are several cholera vaccines, including Dukoral (which can be taken orally).

So why hasn’t the vaccine been made available? Why allow all these people to die if there is a vaccine that can give them instant immunity from the disease?

The vaccine isn’t being made available for the same reason vaccinations are never made available during the early stages of epidemics: they don’t work, and it would quickly become apparent that they don’t work, because the number of cases would continue to rise.

No vaccination program has ever stopped a viral or bacterial epidemic in its tracks (cholera is caused by a bacterium), and the cholera vaccine is no exception.

So here we see yet another epidemic running its deadly course and causing hundreds of deaths while the purported antidote isn’t being made available. We recently saw the same thing with the swine flu vaccine, whose distribution was mysteriously delayed until the disease had already lost its potency.

What is the vaccine supposed to be for, if not to prevent the disease from spreading? What’s the point of spending billions of dollars researching and developing vaccines if they are not going to be used when they are most needed? When hundreds of people are dying from the disease that the vaccination is supposedly able to prevent?

The health authorities know perfectly well that vaccination doesn’t work, and would have no effect on the course of this outbreak. As always, the vaccine will be made available (if at all) when the disease has run its natural course and people are no longer dying from it. Then the health authorities will point to the disappearance of the disease as evidence of the effectiveness of vaccination – as they have with every other infectious disease.

The risk of a cholera outbreak in Haiti has been known for some time, following the earthquake. Back in January Pier Luigi Testa, emergency co-ordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), warned that an outbreak of cholera was to be expected. The authorities had more than enough time to organise a mass vaccination program. In fact this could have been done in just a few days, given that the vaccine can be administered orally, in a drink or on a sugar cube, making it far easier to distribute and administer than vaccines which have to be injected by trained medical personnel.

If the cholera vaccine works, as the manufacturers claim, why hasn’t it been made available to the people of Haiti, or at least to those who are most at risk of contracting this wretched disease?

Update 20 November

It is over a month since the start of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, and the death toll has now reached 1,200 – and still there is no mention of the vaccine. Why not, if, as we are told, it gives protection against the disease? If the vaccine works, why were these people allowed to die?
According to the BBC website today, the outbreak has now spread to Haiti’s largest jail, the national prison in Port-au-Prince, which houses around 2,000 prisoners. Thirty prisoners are infected with the disease, and thirteen have already died. This is a relatively small, isolated group of people. It would take less than a day to vaccinate all the prisoners (the cholera vaccination can be administered orally). Why hasn’t this happened?
The disease has also now spread into neighbouring Dominican Republic.
Again, the medical authorities – including the World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control – have endorsed the cholera vaccine, as, of course, have the various companies that manufacture it.
The truth is, vaccines are only ever made available when there is no immediate threat from the disease against which they are supposed to offer protection. They are never made available when they would supposedly save hundreds or thousands of lives – ie, while epidemics are ongoing. That’s because they don’t work; and the fact that they don’t work would be apparent if vaccinated populations continued to become infected.

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The social network spy

July 3, 2010

Anna Chapman - Spymistress?

Anna Chapman, one of ten people accused of being part of a Russian spy ring, is being portrayed in the media as a kind of “Mata Hari” figure; a glamorous femme fatale who used her “womanly charms” to insinuate her way into the lives and the homes (and, it is insinuated in the media, the beds) of rich and influential members of American and British high society.

I was particularly interested in her because, like me, she ran – and, as far as I can see, continues to run – a successful real estate portal. Her website – which markets Russian property – is at: www.domdot.ru

I wondered if she had a facebook page (doesn’t everyone, these days?), and, sure enough, it only took me a minute to find her profile here.

Chapman gives her favourite quotation as “Trust no one”, while her “Likes and Interests” are listed as: “Corrections officer, Federal Bureau of Investigation”.
Under “Books” she has “Agatha Christie Novels”, and under “Movies” she’s written “Spy Games”.
For “University” she’s written “Jail”.

Quite the wit for a person in her predicament, facing, we are told, the possibility of life in prison. You’d think she’d be too busy getting water-boarded by the CIA and rehearsing her story with her defense lawyers to take the time to add jokey comments to her facebook page.

Could it be because she knows perfectly well that she isn’t going to spend more than a wet day in jail and is looking forward to a stellar career as a highly-paid TV talk-show guest (or even host)? I’ll give you odds of 100-1 that this savvy spy will be back in Moscow in time for Christmas, where she will be feted as a heroine and a sex symbol.

But hold the fone, Joe! Isn’t Chapman charged with being a dangerous spy? An enemy of the state? In which case how come she’s still at liberty to access the Internet to update her social network profile? Not to mention run a business in Russia? Surely she could be sending all kinds of information and secret messages to all kinds of people in the Kremlin?

Given the high level of security that has prevailed in the US in recent years – in which people have been locked up in solitary confinement just for “looking foreign” or taking part in peaceful public protests – isn’t it a bit odd that Ms. Chapman – or, to use her real name, Anya Kuschenko – is being allowed so much freedom of movement?

And why doesn’t the US president have anything to say about this whole business? So far he has made no comment other than to express the hope that the uproar would not damage the friendship and trust that has developed between the US and Russia.

Friendship and trust, eh?

If Obama bends any further backwards to appease Vladimir Putin, he’ll qualify for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records in the Limbo Dancing category.

It seems to me that there’s something decidedly fishy going on when the FBI catches a network of Russian spies operating in the United States, and it is the Russian president who expresses his outrage!

The (commie?) plot thickens…

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The Internet sure does bring out the best in people!

July 3, 2010

Who knew, before the Internet arrived, that there were so many generous and helpful people in the world?
Just today I received an email from a girl called Natalia, who lives in Russia, asking if she could be my special friend and “tend to all my needs”. Wow! (I hope that means she’s going to clean my kitchen!) And she doesn’t even know how great I am. Apparently she’s arriving next week, and she wants to meet me. I can’t wait!
Not ten minutes later I received an email notifying me that I have won a UN cash grant for €20m. Holy Moley! What a stroke of luck! Though now that I think of it, my horoscope did say that I was in for an unexpected windfall – but I never expected anything like this.
I thought that would be the end of my run of luck, but the good news and offers of help kept coming.
A guy in Canada heard about my erectile dysfunction problem (hah!) and wants to send me some free Viagra samples. I’m going to have to decline, obviously; but, still, wasn’t that thoughtful of him?
And as if that wasn’t enough, a couple of hours later I received an email from the lawyer of a woman in Kentucky who has died and left me her 5 billion dollar estate. All I have to do is give this guy my bank details and I’ll be able to pick up the cash next week! (Reminder to myself: ring a truck hire company tomorrow and arrange for them to make a pickup from my bank.)
Oh, and the ex wife of the Sultan of Oman needs my help to transfer 10 million dollars out of the country. In return for my help, she’s prepared to give me 10% of the money. (Hmm… That’s only a measly million. I think I might pass on that one…)
On top of all this incredible good fortune, it would appear that I have now just won the Internet lotto. Yes! Can you believe it!? I don’t remember buying a ticket, but I guess I must have if I’ve won!
Oh, happy days.
The only thing that’s worrying me is – will there be enough room in my house to store all that cash?
Heck, maybe I can talk Natalia into holding onto some of it for me, for safekeeping…

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Where did global warming go?

January 20, 2010

According to a report on the BBC website today:

Climate body admits glacier error
A top UN panel gave the wrong date for Himalayan glacier melt, but says it does not change the picture of man-made climate change.

Wasn’t the original claim that these glaciers were melting as a result of global warming? “Climate change” is a different animal altogether, and can include a whole range of factors (radioactive particles in the air, deforestation, oceanic pollution etc.) that have nothing at all to do with the global temperature rising as a result of human-produced CO2 emissions.

In recent months, the term “global warming” seems to have fallen into disuse by most MMGW adherents – and by the media – and the much more ambiguous term “climate change” is increasingly being used instead.

“Climate change”, of course, covers just about every contingency. If the earth warms up, that would be climate change. If a new ice age arrives, that would be climate change too.

As the climate has been changing periodically since the beginning of the earth’s history, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will continue to change in the future. Predicting “climate change” is a bit like backing every horse in a race.

So what happened to global warming? Does the abandonment of this term by MMGW adherents signal a private acceptance on their part that the much-heralded warming might not actually happen? After a decade in which global temperatures have gone steadily down and global ice is still at normal levels; and particularly after one of the coldest winters on record – not to mention the revelation that senior members of the IPCC manipulated data and resorted to blackmail and threats to prevent MMGW sceptics from publishing their views – claims of an impending rise in the temperature are beginning to strain people’s credibility.

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it looks to me as if the goalposts in this game are on the move, and that pretty soon they’ll be telling us that “it’s not just warming that’s the problem”, and accusing sceptics of putting too much emphasis on “one particular aspect of climate change”.

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Five days later, and still no air-drops to Haiti

January 18, 2010

Still no help for Haiti's earthquake victims

Five days after the Haiti earthquake struck, victims are still waiting for international help to arrive. People who were rescued from collapsed buildings are now dying from infections that could be easily treated with the antibiotic drugs stacked in crates just a hundred miles away.
The US military and air force have so far been unable to reach the earthquake zone to deliver these desperately needed medical supplies to the small island in what it likes to call its “own back yard”.
By contrast, the US Army and Air Force has no trouble at all dropping massive bombs and missiles with “surgical precision” on villages in Afghanistan and before that in Iraq – huge countries thousands of miles away from the US.
If only their medical aid delivery system was even half as efficient as their missile delivery system. But, of course, that would mean saving civilian lives instead of killing civilians, at which they’ve had so much more practice.
To make matters worse, the US military, which is in control of Port-au-Prince’s international airport, has been denying landing permission to relief flights from other countries. Brazil and France have lodged an official ­protest with Washington after US military aircraft were given priority, forcing non-US flights to divert to the Dominican Republic. The Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières have also complained about diverted flights.
It appears that the US wants the earthquake relief effort to be seen as a predominantly US initiative – even if this means preventing aid teams from other countries reaching those in need.
The assumption of control by the US military is also fueling suspicions that the US may be taking advantage of the disaster, and the chaos it has caused, to effectively take over Haiti. France’s cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, criticised the US by saying that aid efforts were supposed to be about helping Haiti, not “occupying” it.

Update 19 Jan: Today, seven days after the earthquake struck, the US military finally began airdrops of food and water into Haiti.

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We’re creating a Master Race of mice

August 5, 2009

sarah_outenSo this week Sarah Outen (left) became the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean.
She set off from the west coast of Australia in April and landed on the island of Mauritius on Monday, 3 Aug, after spending a total of 124 days at sea.
Which just goes to prove that Brits will do anything to save on travel expenses.
Sarah, a biologist from Rutland, UK, said it had been “an astonishing experience” and she had seen the elements “in all their states”.
“In the last days I’d have whales surfing past the boat and albatrosses flying overhead,” she told the BBC website.
It’s when you start seeing whales flying overhead that you know you’re in trouble, Sarah.

This week there was great news for epileptic mice – but not much joy for humans with the condition.
“Scientists halt epilepsy in mice,” was the BBC website headline on Monday.
Great. Now they’ll be able to drive trucks and operate heavy machinery.
Has epilepsy been a big problem for mice? Not that I am aware of. I don’t know a single mouse whose life has been ruined by epileptic seizures.
Meanwhile, rodents everywhere have also been celebrating (with cheese and wine parties, presumably) the discovery of a drug – aptly named rapamycin – which has been found to extend life in mice, according to a study published on July 8 in the journal Nature.
The research, conducted as part of the National Institute of Aging Interventions Testing Program, took place at three separate test sites and involved nearly 2,000 genetically similar mice.
Exactly how rapamycin works is “still an open question,” says Randy Strong, a pharmacology professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and one of three lead authors of the study.
And then comes the inevitable disclaimer: “Earlier human trials have shown, however, that rapamycin can have serious side effects”.
In other words the drug will kill you long before it extends your life.

I’m getting a bit tired of reading about medical “breakthroughs” in mice that never seem to translate into cures for people.
At this stage there must be a miracle cure available for every disease known to mousedom. Hardly a day goes by without news of some new medical advance that has been successfully tested on mice.
We’re breeding a master race of rodents – while we humans are still dying from the same old diseases that killed our distant ancestors.
Isn’t it about time the medical boffins came up with a few genuine cures for human diseases – such as cancer and coronary disease?
For all their “breakthroughs” with mice, they have yet to produce a single cure for any of the most common diseases that kill humans.
This is the 21st century. A cure for cancer is long overdue. Yes, I know it’s a complex and difficult disease, but you’d think that after more than a hundred years of intensive medical research – involving tens of thousands of researchers and costing countless millions of dollars – they’d have made a bit more progress towards finding a cure than they have.
In any event their failure to find cures for these common killer diseases might be a bit easier to accept if they didn’t keep reminding us in their smug and arrogant way of how clever they are.
At finding theoretical cures for diseases in mice.
The sad truth is that most of the medical research effort goes into developing (profitable) drugs to “treat” diseases, rather than finding (far less profitable) cures to eradicate them.

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Princess Diana moment

June 30, 2009

Princess Diana
Every year around this time I receive a spate of phone calls and emails from journalists researching articles, radio and TV programmes about my former client (and subsequently good friend) the late Princess Diana. Not from British journalists, I hasten to add, but from journalists in the US, Japan, Australia and so on. In Britain, Diana has been virtually erased from the public consciousness by a clever PR and “perception management” campaign.

Tomorrow, 1 July is Diana’s birthday, and therefore a journalistic opportunity to write “commemorative” articles about her.
Even all these years after her death, Diana’s photo on the front page of a newspaper or magazine guarantees increased sales.

There will be another spate of requests for interviews in August, the anniversary of her death. This year, no doubt, the task for journalists will be to make connections and comparisons between Diana and Michael Jackson (of whom, by the way, Diana was a huge fan). Already, there is press speculation about whether Jackson’s funeral will turn out to be be another “Princess Diana moment”.

It is Diana’s death – and the circumstances in which she died – that journalists are mainly interested in talking and writing about, with the central question being whether it was an accident or she was assassinated.

Most of the journalists I’ve talked to about this are personally convinced that Diana’s death was a tragic accident. Journalists are by and large a conservative bunch who tend to accept official versions of events; but that isn’t going to stop them from writing articles questioning the official version of Diana’s death and outlining what they themselves privately believe to be hair-brained conspiracy theories.

Of course, people don’t buy newspapers to read stories with headings like: “Diana’s death: It was an accident”. But they do buy newspapers to read articles with titles like: “Diana’s death: Was it really an accident?” or: “Startling new information reveals that Princess Diana may have been assassinated”.

Or even “psychic claims princess was murdered”.
Hence the requests for an interview. Any new hook will do to hang an old story on.

When Diana was alive I received a constant stream of offers from British newspapers – and not only from the tabloids – to “spill the beans” about the princess.

However, I’m a big believer in client confidentiality (even if the client is no longer alive), and the only time I ever spoke about Diana to journalists was at her own request, to help her to get certain facts into the public domain. This was information that she wanted people to know about, but which would have been problematic for her to reveal herself (in particular, Prince Charles’ involvement with Camilla Parker Bowles, which I was the first to reveal in a number of press articles).
When the information was published, Diana was asked to comment on it, which gave her the opportunity to confirm it publicly. Or, in some cases, to decline to deny it, which journalists understood to be confirmation.

I was only too happy to help. Diana had been treated shabbily to say the least; and when she first came to me for advice – and I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences when I say this – she was in a desperate state, caught, as she herself put it, “between a rock and a hard place”. I advised her as best I could, though in reality our sessions were mainly an opportunity for her to talk freely about her problems to someone who was “out of the loop”, and would give her objective feedback.

It is one thing to ask for, and receive good advice; but it is quite another thing to act on that advice. Diana was constantly seeking advice, and she did recognize good advice when it was offered; but she was in the grip of powerful political forces, and her options were severely limited. From the moment she became pregnant with Wiliam – the future King of England – her fate was sealed. She became a hostage to the British Establishment, and to the shadowy forces which exist to protect it. She was never going to be allowed to disappear into the sunset with the heir to the throne. Nor, on the other hand, was she ever going to relinquish custody of her children. (Although Diana had joint custody of William and Harry with Prince Charles, her influence on them was far stronger than his.) Above all, she was never going to be allowed to marry and have children – step-siblings to the future king of England – by an Arab, least of all the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, a man who had been a thorn in the side of the British establishment for many years.

The media spotlight was on her 24 hours a day, and every move she made was closely scrutinized. And, even though she was immensely popular, she understood that this could and would change in an instant if she said or did anything that showed her in any other light than that of the adoring young wife of the prince. Diana was expected to play the role of the fairytale princess, and the people would continue to adore her – provided she did not deviate from that role.

What the public did not know was that her marriage had ended in disillusionment after only a few months, when it became apparent to her that her new husband was more interested in another woman.

Diana’s downfall was her sense of loyalty and commitment. Instead of walking away from what was clearly a disastrous situation that could only get worse – and that had always been my advice to her – she decided to fight for her marriage, in the romantic but hopelessly naive and misguided belief that everything would work out fine in the end, and that she, her husband, and their children would all live happily ever after.

It didn’t happen like that, of course. Nor was there ever any chance that it would.

In the end, Diana decided – in fact she felt she had no other option – to go public about the circumstances of her marriage. She knew that she would be criticized for taking this route (even in modern Britain, one doesn’t air one’s dirty laundry in public, least of all if one happens to be the wife of the future King).

However, Diana had reached a point where she felt that she had no other choice but to get it all “out in the open”. She was also, it is not generally realized, afraid for her own personal safety, and she saw “going public” as a kind of insurance policy.

Diana was convinced that, having served her purpose (by providing the Prince with two healthy male heirs) and having become a liability and potential threat to the Royal Family, she would be targeted for assassination by “the powers that be” and the “dark forces of the state”.

At the time, her fears were dismissed by some as paranoia (and are still dismissed as such today by many). But in fact Diana had been warned on at least two separate occasions by secret service agents concerned for her safety, that she would be wise to “keep her head down”, as there was a real possibility that “certain elements” in the British intelligence community might deem it “expedient” to take her “out of the picture”.

Diana had also become aware of a “second level of surveillance”, by which she meant secret service agents – she referred to them as “spooks” – who were not part of the official Royal protection team.

As time passed, and particularly after her divorce from Prince Charles was finalized, Diana became increasingly concerned for her own safety, and for the safety of her children. She knew that it would be she, and not they, who would be targeted, but she feared that they might somehow be caught up in any attempt to assassinate her; and she did not, in any event, want her children to be left without their mother. She understood that the danger level had risen substantially now that she was completely independent and beyond the control of the Royal Family and its many faceless minders.

“I’m convinced they’re going to kill me,” she told me one day. “They can’t poison me or shoot me, so it will have to look like an accident. A car crash would be the easiest thing to arrange, I expect.”

Diana voiced these fears to a number of people, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, who recorded the details of his conversation with Diana in a note whose contents he kept secret until after her death. Sir Paul – whose tone suggests that he was highly sceptical of the Princess’s fears and accusations – dutifully made a note of her belief that “efforts would be made if not to get rid of her (be it by some accident in her car such as pre-prepared brake failure or whatever)… to see that she was so injured or damaged as to be declared ‘unbalanced’.”

That was in 1995. A year later, after her divorce was finalized, the plan, if there was one, to have Diana declared “unbalanced” became redundant. A more permanent solution would be required.

And a more permanent solution was arranged.

I have never had the slightest doubt in my mind that Princess Diana was murdered in a hastily-planned operation by secret service agents who had been closely monitoring her movements for years, gauging her level of threat to certain interests within the British establishment on an ongoing basis, and seizing the opportunity to assassinate her in a foreign country at a time when they deemed her level of threat to have risen too high. (Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, British intelligence agents are immune from prosecution in Britain for criminal offences carried out overseas; but in any event the blame for any apparent lapses in security would automatically be apportioned to Al Fayed.)

The various official investigations into Princess Diana’s death have been nothing but cover-ups, not least the British inquest, in which the presiding judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker, specifically instructed the inquest jury to reject the possibility that the Princess had been deliberately murdered. They were practically ordered to return a verdict of accidental death. Instead, they decided that Diana had been unlawfully killed. The media interpreted this to mean that the jury believed that Diana’s death had resulted from a combination of reckless driving by Henri Paul, who was alleged to have been drunk behind the wheel of the Mercedes, and the posse of paparazzi photographers who were following the car, and this interpretation – rather than the actual verdict – is what most people remember today.

Diana’s fears for her own safety were well-founded. Her instincts were good. The danger was real. She was a threat to the British Establishment, and the agents of that establishment took her out of the picture when the possibility arose that she might become pregnant by a Muslim Arab.