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One flu over the cuckoo's nest

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It seems that the only thing spreading faster than H1N1 - a.k.a. the Swine(less) Flu - is hysteria.

I blame the government, for once, as opposed to the media. The media, it seems to me, has done its level best to deal with the onslaught of 'updates' issued on a regular basis from Health Canada, the WHO, and, here in Quebec, the Ministry (whose web site it, it must be conceded, very useful and informative).

While the government has issued several statements regarding the relative mildness of this strain of flu, they have responded to the initial global panic, which started in late spring (remember? That was when anyone who had been to Mexico for Spring Break was shunned and people started wearing face masks on planes), by rushing to release the H1N1 vaccine in vast quantities.

This is where the story becomes the stuff of disaster movies. The release of the vaccine is a complete fiasco. Initially, the public was told that there was a strict priority list - but then any public official who spoke on the subject assured us that no one would be turned away from a vaccination centre, even if they were not pregnant, chronically ill, or otherwise immuno-compromised. As a result, everyone showed up on Day One, those who should have been top priority were turned away, on-hand supplies of the vaccine were depleted in record time, and people kept tripping over the headless chickens.

So now the public officials are saying that the priority list is being strictly enforced, so anyone who's not 'high risk' should stay away from the vaccination centres.

The problem, however, is with the vaccination centres themselves. Whose bright idea was this anyway?

Here's what should be done: the vaccine should be given to all school children in school, the way the Hepatitis and Gardasil shots are distributed. Boom - all the school age kids whose parents want their kids vaccinated are done. The same could be done at all Cegeps and universities - at least once every semester, the same campuses host Hema-Quebec (the provincial equivalent of the Red Cross) for the blood drive, so surely an on-campus vaccination centre is feasible. In the same vein (ha ha), vaccination centres could be set up on-site at any business with, say, more than 500 employees.

On-site centres, like the blood drive model, could be set up quickly, run for one day, and the be dismantled and sent on to the next site. We could hire nursing and med students (and give them a chance to practice with needles and crowd control) to staff the travelling centres.

If we set up this kind of distribution plan, we would have a significant segment of the population vaccinated within two weeks, rather than two months. The remaining members of the population could easily be vaccinated at smaller, local centres, like our several CLSC walk-in clinics.

I have two kids - one of them is high-risk, because he has asthma and a number of allergies. The other one is home from school for the second day because he has the flu!

There is no way that I am going to venture into the three-ring vaccination circus at this point. My younger son will either get the flu from his brother, or not. At the first sign of respiratory distress, I'll bring him to the emergency room. It seems to me that the overcrowded ER, and the long wait we'll no doubt have to endure, will be a walk in the park compared to the vaccination centres - not to mention that despite his "high-risk" designation, my son is not eligible for the vaccination for another ten days. Too bad he's not a hockey player in Calgary.

The fact is - as the media, to their credit, have been trying to tell us - H1N1 is a flu, and like most strains, is mostly harmless. Yes, there have been deaths, but there have been far fewer than with more common strains of the flu - yet the vaccination panic makes it seem like H1N1 is the Black Death revisited.

At the same time, I've heard otherwise-rational colleagues warning people not to get the vaccine because it's full of mercury (it's not) or it's untested (it has been tested).

Bottom line? Get informed, and don't give in to panic. If you think you might have the flu, don't rush to the ER - start here.

Don't think I am not taking the H1N1 issue seriously - I am. It's in my home, and my son is very much on my mind. We are being vigilant. We're just also trying to be rational.

Be healthy, in body and mind.

Pardon me, you're standing on my cape

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I have come to the conclusion that I make a lousy supermom.

I'm in the midst of a full-on panic right now. I have a full-time teaching load, which means teaching three courses, with just over 100 students, 75 of whom handed in essays this week, which I have promised to return next week.

I am also working on accumulating sources for my next literature review, which in turn sets me up for the first couple of chapters of my research paper for my M.Ed.

And then there's the distance learning course I'm developing.

Oh, and I seem to have accidentally been targeted as the next chairperson for the Governing Board of the boys' school.

The distance learning course is the one that is really freaking me out at the moment. I signed on for this course almost a year ago - after a few months of cajoling from the project manager - and at the time it seemed like a perfect opportunity. The proposed schedule looked like it dovetailed nicely with my teaching at Vanier, particularly since, at the time, I wasn't sure what my workload would be for the winter semester. As it turned out, I had a full-time load last winter, albeit at the last minute, but it didn't matter since the distance learning people met delay after delay, and I didn't have much work to do. I did a little (really little) bit over the summer, but there was not much demand at all for my time.

At my first meeting with them after the summer, I was introduced to my new project manager. It seems that one person had left the company, so everyone was shifting around, and my new PM was completely new, to the company as well as the project. This meant more delays, which means that now - just as I'm getting into week six of my semester at my actual job - this PM is expecting me to spend, in her words, "two full days, on average," every week, on the distance learning course.

I sent her a letter today, with a copy for my former PM, who is now her supervisor, explaining that I was more than a little concerned with the new schedule (and the pressure from the new PM), given that the delays were not mine, and that the revised schedule still expected delivery before next summer, which means no more dovetailing with my full-time teaching schedule.

I'm not sure what to expect from this - my guess is that there will be some attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable timetable. I'm a little worried that I'll cave - I really do want to do this course, and I have already invested a lot of time and thought - but I have no time left. There's also the issue of the money. This is a nice contract, which essentially pays for the upstairs bathroom renovation. But, as I said to a friend yesterday, having a beautiful new bathroom is pointless if I've worked myself to death before it's finished.

OK, back to the essays.

And how was your day?

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It has been, I’m afraid, one of those days. In fact, it has been so one-of-those-days-ish that I am reluctant to blog about it, lest I jinx the apparent calm of the end of one of those days. I would not be at all surprised were the laptop to burst into flames, for instance.

The morning started with the usual panic involved in getting the boys out the door and to the bus – despite the fact that I tried to explain to all involved that this morning, of all mornings, I needed to concentrate on getting me ready, because I had a meeting at 9:15, followed by substitute teaching at 10, followed by a presentation to another class at noon.

Despite the panic, I managed to get myself out the door and into the car – which was parked around the corner, since there’s no parking on our street on Monday mornings – by 8:45, leaving myself loads of time to travel to school.

Except the car wouldn’t start.

Reasons I'm glad I didn't go into advertising

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I occasionally wonder if advertisers are secretly conspiring against their own clients. Maybe these ad firms are really a consortium of anti-consumer granola types whose real mission is to make potential consumers associate negative thoughts and feelings with the hapless producers.

For instance...

Bell Mobility has completely turned me off not only their cellular phone service, but also Stephen Hawking. The recent radio ad campaign features three different versions of the CG voice - one female and two male - engaged in various discussions, arguments, and even romantic banter.

Similarly, Ikea insists on continuing its radio ads featuring a really, really poor facsimile of what I assume someone thinks is a Swedish accent, delivered in a monotone. This particular campaign has been assaulting listeners long enough that Ikea has received complaints - their response to which was to air ads with the same voice, saying things like "some people think my voice is annoying" and then trying out different bad accents, such as Jamaican.

Oh, and thanks to the radio ads for Pharmacie Jean Coutu, Mozart's Eine Klein Nachtmusik is forever ruined. "You, and you, should go to Jean Coutu." Yeesh.

And last but not least, it may have been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time since I rock and rolled, but I'm still too young for an Oldsmobile, thank you very much.

It's official

I'm tired of winter.

The fluffy white snow, the glistening icicles, the lightly dusted fir trees - it's all getting a little old.

I took my car through a car wash yesterday morning - of course, then I spent an hour and a half on the autoroute cursing every truck or car that splashed salty, muddy, dirty slush all over my beautiful, shiny, waxed car. Sigh. It was clean for approximately two minutes.

This morning, I awoke to a blizzard. Lots of big, fluffy flakes, which are awe-inspiring when you can lie in the snow, looking up into a night sky - it's like the starscape screensaver, but real. On the other hand, when it's morning, and you have to get the stuff off your car before driving along half-heartedly plowed roads riddled with potholes, it's more augh-inspiring.

So, yes, it's official - winter can end anytime now. I'm ready to move on. The novelty has worn off. Let's see some daffodils and robins, please.

Spam, spam, spam, spam...

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In the last two days, I have received five email offers to order Tylenol 3 with codeine online. One of these messages says, "why suffer the embarrassment of asking your local doctor?"

Am I missing something? Why would I be embarrassed to ask my personal doctor for Tylenol? The only reason I can come up with is excessive use - which leads me to ask:

Are these people crazy??

For all intents and purposes, they are blatantly promoting unsafe drug use. Now, it's one thing for Americans to do their crossborder drug shopping on-line - that's a case of availability, cost and health insurance. But to actively solicit, with the not-so-subtle implication that this is a recreational drug, is beyond the pale.

Frankly, the whole thing - the message, coupled with the inundation - is giving me a headache...

Now that's a marketing strategy.

Unelected Officialdom

Canada has bid a farewell, fond or otherwise, to Jean Chretien, after more than a decade at the helm. His successor, Paul Martin, is currently experiencing the pendulum swing of media favour. During the federal election campaign in 2000, rumours were rife that Chretien was planning to retire practically as soon as he was sworn in - and that Martin was the presumed heir to the Liberal throne. In other words, a vote for Chretien was a vote for Martin - and the votes were cast.

Now, however, there seems to be a growing sentiment of "well, we didn't vote for you, buddy." Particularly in light of the most recent little oopsie: in February 2003, the government reported that it had paid about $137,000 to a shipping company owned by Paul Martin. The numbers, as it turns out, were a little off.

By a factor of 1,175.

New figures released this month show that in fact, the government gave the shipping company contracts worth $161 million.

Martin's response? He said he knew immediately upon hearing it that the $137,000 figure was wrong.

"I was appalled when I saw what the original answer had been," he said.

So, about a year ago, he saw the number, knew it had to be wrong, and didn't say a word???

Well, I didn't vote for you, buddy.

Meanwhile, away down south, Senator John McCain is putting the blame for Iraq on - wait for it - Bill Clinton. According to McCain, it was Clinton who was snowed by faulty intelligence, and since Clinton signed the Iraqi Regime Change Act in 1998, the Bush league cannot be held accountable.

That's right - the Democrats did it.

Bah

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Just what is the point?

Yesterday I got the distinct impression that one of my colleagues was having a bad day - my naturally keen senses picked up on the subtle signs, which included slamming doors and saying things like "I'm fed up."

So, in an effort to make this person's morning a little brighter, I took a few minutes at the end of the work day to take care of a couple of little things that otherwise would have been up to this person. I figured that at least today would have a slightly brighter start than yesterday.

Reaction? Nothing. Nada. No thank yous, no sighs of relief, zilch. In fact, I got the feeling that this person was not entirely impressed with the way in which I did these little things - all of which are things I've done before, the same way, to rounds of applause and gushing gratitude.

End result: now both of us are grumbly. Hmph.

Of course, the moral of the story is f--- the rest of the world, they don't appreciate you anyway.

Grumble.

Call me a cynic, but...

Sharon's right-hand man, Ehud Olmert, says that killing Arafat is definitely an option. This follows Israel's threat to force Arafat into exile. It also follows widespread demonstrations, in reaction to the exile idea, from Palestinians and others in support of Arafat.

Prior to the initial threat of exile, many Palestinians would have been nonchalant about the voluntary resignation of Arafat, and would likely have rallied behind a new leader in the hopes of finally resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 'Let's get back to the so-called road map' was the prevailing sentiment.

Not surprisingly, at the first hint of an imposed exile, Arafat is newly popular, a beloved leader that Palestinians are 100% behind.

Imagine what their reaction would be if Israel makes good on the assasination threat.

First of all, removing Arafat is a useless gesture that will only serve to ascerbate the situation and create a martyr around whom the anti-Israeli movement can rally. In the introduction to her newest edition of The Demon Lover, Robin Morgan makes the point that removing the leader from a terrorist organization will no more end terrorism that would Bill Gates' having a heart attack end capitalism - nor, as a friend commented, would it end Microsoft.

Secondly, many would argue that the only difference between Arafat and the hawkish Sharon is international recognition - and that the only difference between the Palestinian war effort and that of Israel is tanks and uniforms. Can the Palestinians reply that sure, they'll dump Arafat, provided the Knesset ousts Sharon? We'll depose our leader if you depose yours? How can the Israelis legitimately call for a clean slate on one side without putting forth some of their own representatives who are a little more flexible and a lot less retaliatory?

It all makes me wonder if the Israeli leaders are even remotely interested in the famous road map. Maybe what they're really looking for is an excuse to eradicate the problem - if we can provoke a big enough Palestinian revolt, we'll have no choice but to go in there, guns blazing, and just get rid of the problem once and for all. After all, if there are no Palestinians, there can be no Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But it's not about the money

Private Jessica Lynch, now honorably discharged for medical reasons, has signed a book deal. For one million dollars, she will tell us all about growing up in America - for this, it seems, is the premise of the book, not her Iraqi adventures.

The book is to be titled I am a Soldier, Too.

Is that in the sense of "I may be a photogenic blonde willing to compromise the truth for a photo op and a good story, but I'm a soldier, too?"

Apparently, she's not a writer, too - the book will be co-written with Rick Bragg. Bragg is the Pulitzer-winning journalist who resigned from the NY Times last spring "after the newspaper suspended him over a story that carried his byline but was reported largely by a freelancer."

None of the articles I've seen disclose who will be on the committee to review the book for conformity to the official version of events.

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