Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hey, Marge just called me upstairs to check out the young female wild turkey on our front lawn. She (the turkey, not Marge) scratched around, then hunkered down to nest a bit by our front garden.

Which brings to mind --

Did You Survive the Bird Flu TV Movie???

OhmyGawd did you?? I've missed all the reports of hysteria, dread and death somehow.

This was my fave numbskull news item of the week thus far (hey, the week is young):

  • Experts fear bird flu movie may spur panic
  • By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A film about a fictional bird flu pandemic that will air on television on Tuesday has experts worried it will panic some people and convince others that legitimate warnings are mere hype.

    But the same experts are taking advantage of publicity surrounding the made-for-television movie to stress what they see as the need for individuals, businesses and local officials to do what they can to prepare.

    The Health and Human Services Department issued "talking points" to staff who may get questions about the movie, Pennsylvania is rolling out a new Web site and telephone line to coincide with the release, and the Trust for America's Health held a briefing to try to sort fact from fiction.

    Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America features scenes with actors wearing spacesuit-like protective gear, a terrified populace and an ending scene in which most residents of an African village lie dead.

    "I am not happy," said Mike Osterholm, a University of Minnesota public health expert who has been warning about and consulting on the threat of an influenza pandemic. "I worry that this could very well be portrayed by many as ultimate example of sensationalism," Osterholm told reporters in a telephone briefing on Monday.

    The H5N1 avian flu virus has been found in birds in more than 48 countries. It has killed 115 people out of 207 sick enough to be treated at hospitals.

    Bird flu only rarely infects people now, but scientists agree it could evolve into a form that transmits directly from person to person. If it did, it could infect hundreds of million of people within a few weeks or months.

    Note, with that last sentence, how the story turns, fanning the very flames it is claiming to be "concerned" about fanning. This shift in content and tenor continues:


    Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has been holding meetings in the 50 states and territories to convince businesses, educators and individuals to prepare for a pandemic that could throw 40 percent of the workforce out of action for weeks on end.

    "While the movie does serve to raise awareness about avian and pandemic flu, we hope it will inspire preparation -- not panic," the HHS talking points read.

    Yes, and The Day After brought the threat of nuclear war to an end, and Rene Cardona Jr.'s Survive warned us all about the dangers of crashing in the Andes, saving countless lives since 1976.

    Hey, did Rene direct Fatal Contact? Oh, no, wait, that was Beaks, with Chris Atkins. Where's Rene when Rumsfeld needs him?


    Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Calvin Johnson and state Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff announced the launch of
  • their Web site
  • to coincide with the TV film.

    OK, you know what to do! Quick -- "Put The Mask on now... put The Mask on now..."

    Oh, sorry. Continuing:

    "It is our hope that this movie will draw people to more reliable sources for information such as the Department of Health's 1-877-PA-HEALTH line and the Web site we've launched today," Johnson said in a statement.

    The entertainment industry does not have a pristine record on medical matters. A Mayo Clinic neurologist reported on Monday that motion pictures inaccurately represent the coma.

    Hmmm, what are they saying?

    You mean I shouldn't accept Warning Sign, Outbreak or The Ebola Syndrome as documentaries? Y'mean, Fatal Contact is (palm slap to the skull) fiction??

    Gee, President Bush seemed pretty taken with The Crazies, judging from one of his press conferences a few months ago.

    Oh, sorry, Mayo clinic neurologist, didn't mean to interrupt you --

    "Generally, there is a pattern of inaccuracy. It's an enormous caricature," Dr. Eelco Wijdicks said in a statement. Most films great exaggerate how often patients recover completely from extended comas, Wijdicks said.

    Then again, most films haven't the cajones to name a character Dr. Eelco or Dr. Wijdicks, either.

    A film based on Richard Preston's novel The Hot Zone similarly exaggerated the effects and spread of the Ebola virus.

    Wasn't that the film that caused, like, nationwide panic, including mass hysteria, traffic jams and accidents and a reported attempted suicide?

    Oh, wait, no, that was the 1938 Halloween War of the Worlds radio broadcast. That's right. Sorry.

    What the fuck?

    Coincidentally, Steve Perry just sent this along to me as an email forward.

    It urges the recipient to "PASS THIS ON SO IT CAN BE KNOWN" (caps from the letter, followed by, uh, seven exclamation marks -- must be a comicbook writer was the source).

    Do you know that 'bird flu' was discovered in Vietnam 9 years ago?

    Do you know that barely 100 people have died from it throughout the whole world in all that time?

    Do you know that it was the Americans who alerted us to the efficacy of the human antiviral TAMIFLU as a preventative?

    Do you know that TAMIFLU barely alleviates some symptoms of the 'common' flu?

    Do you know that its efficacy against the common flu is questioned by a very large part of the scientific community?

    Do you know that against a SUPPOSED mutant virus such as H5N1, TAMIFLU barely alleviates the illness?

    Do you know that to date Avian Flu affects birds only?

    Do you know who markets TAMIFLU?


    Do you know who sold the marketing rights for TAMIFLU to ROCHE LABORATORIES in 1996?


    Do you know who was the then president of GILEAD SCIENCES INC. and remains a major shareholder?

    DONALD RUMSFELD, the present Secretary of Defense of the USA!

    Do you know that the base of TAMIFLU is crushed aniseed?

    Do you know who controls 90% of the world's production of this tree?

    Do you know that sales of TAMIFLU were over $254 million in 2004 and more than $1000 million in 2005?

    Do you know how many more millions ROCHE and GILEAD can earn in the coming months if this business of "Bird Flu" fear and panic continues?

    So the summary of the story is as follows:

    Bush's friends decide that the medicine TAMIFLU is the solution for a pandemic that has not yet occurred and that has caused a hundred deaths worldwide in 9 years.

    This medicine doesn't so much as cure the common flu.

    In normal conditions the virus does not affect humans.

    Rumsfeld sells the marketing rights for TAMIFLU to ROCHE for which they pay him a fortune.

    Roche acquires 90% of the global production of crushed aniseed, the base for the antivirus.

    The governments of the entire world are threatened by a "possible" pandemic and then buy industrial quantities of the product from Roche.

    So we end up paying for medicine while Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush continue to spread pandemic fear in order to do their business...along with their other big one...oil.


    Hmmm, they forgot the TV movie in their chronology.

    Nice to know Rummy and his cronies might be channeling either William Castle's ghost or at least Aaron Spelling's residual energies amid their Tamiflu conspiracy circle. If you can't rally the populace into a good lather pushing that well-worn fear button, nothing like the equivalent of an ABC Movie of the Week to do it for you.

    Anyhoot, exploitation and TV movie buff that I am, I'd welcome a comment here from anyone who saw the film -- or better yet, a videocassette or DVD recording of Fatal Contact just to check it out.

    In the meantime, where did I put that old video of Beaks...?


    Blogger Marky Mark said...


    snopes is usually a pretty good antidote for hysteria, you flame-fanner

    18 days, Bissette! 18 days til you have to face me like a man!!!

    Blogger SRBissette said...

    Hey, some link! WIth dial-up only, the "Urban Legends Reference Pages" just keeps socking pop-up windows, which slows it down plenty on dial-up only -- still:

    "Claim:   U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld owns stock in the company that makes Tamiflu.
    Status:   True.

    Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

    -- they run the email I'd been sent and quoted in my post -- then:

    Origins:   This particular e-mail first came to us in April 2006. As to its claims, rather than take them in order, we'll examine them in two parts: whether the U.S. Secretary of Defense owns stock in the company that produces Tamiflu, and whether Tamiflu is effective against influenza.

    As to the first, it is true Donald Rumsfeld does indeed have stock holdings in Gilead Sciences, Inc., the California biotech company that developed Tamiflu (a product now manufactured and sold by the pharmaceutical giant Roche), and so he benefits financially from increases in that company's stock price. (Gilead receives a royalty from Roche equal to about 10% of sales.) Rumsfeld was a member of Gilead's board of directors between 1988 and 2001, and he was its chairman from 1997 until he joined President George W. Bush's cabinet as Secretary of Defense in 2001. According to federal financial disclosures filed by Rumsfeld, he has Gilead stock holdings valued at between $5 million and $25 million.

    OK, that's pretty impressive evidence. Continuing:

    The Secretary of Defense is not the only politically-connected person to have ties to Gilead. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who is on Gilead's board, has sold more than $7 million worth of Gilead stock since the beginning of 2005. Another Gilead board member is the wife of former California governor Pete Wilson.

    Rumsfeld is in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position because of his stock holdings, even though he apparently has no say in what Gilead does (he's no longer on its board) and has removed himself from being part of governmental decisions that affect it (he's recused himself). In a statement to The Independent in March 2006, the Pentagon said: "Secretary Rumsfeld has no relationship with Gilead Sciences, Inc. beyond his investments in the company. When he became Secretary of Defense in January 2001, divestiture of his investment in Gilead was not required by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Office of Government Ethics or the Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office. Upon taking office, he recused himself from participating in any particular matter when the matter would directly and predictably affect his financial interest in Gilead Sciences."

    If Rumsfeld holds onto his stock and its share price rises (which one would expect it to do if an avian flu pandemic becomes a reality, or if concerns about such a pandemic continue to grow), he will be seen to be profiting mightily from sales of a product the U.S. government has been buying in large quantities. If he sells his stock and so divests himself of further interest in Tamiflu sales, he will be accused of locking up profits from the rise in share price that has already occurred. (In 2001, shares of Gilead Sciences, Inc. traded in a range between $6.64 and $17.93. Between January and April 2006, its price range has been $53.00 to $65.62.)

    Still, that doesn't change the inherent conflict of interest, does it?


    As to the second aspect of the e-mail, whether Tamiflu is effective against influenza (especially the specific H5N1 strain now referred to as avian or bird flu), the e-mail's dismissive "This medicine doesn't so much as cure the common flu" is misleading in that Tamiflu isn't meant to be a flu cure. Positioning the drug as a medicine that flopped obscures that fact.

    Tamiflu does not cure the flu, but if taken soon after symptoms appear, Tamiflu can reduce the flu's severity. As to how well it's going to match up against bird flu, that is not yet known and indeed it may well not be knowable until the time comes. However, it is anticipated Tamiflu will have at least some effect against bird flu, and with that in mind, more than 60 countries (including the U.S.) have so far ordered large stocks of it. Such stockpiling is likely going to appear highly prudent if the bird flu pandemic, a worldwide medical disaster the United Nations estimates could kill 150 million people, does materialize.

    Actually, as I've addressed in prior posts here (citing the most outspoken medical authority posting about this issue online), the two key points are (a) reducing symptoms of the flu may in fact contribute to spreading the disease inadvertantly and (b) the avian flu strain that might make a jump from bird to human is a mutation, and impossible to innoculate against, and the use of tamiflu may in fact result in a more virulent strain -- if, that is, the tamiflu does anything at all.

    In any case, it's the MOVIE I was commenting on here, with the circulating email as a sort of timely tie-in. It all promotes the film; the hysteria; and the sales of tamiflu, which is my point, sardonically made.

    Thanks for the link, Mark!

    Now, facing you like a man -- is that face first, or ass first?


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