Monday, November 30, 2009

The Fraud Flu

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned pandemic to bring out the
worst in people.

While our medical community is struggling to keep the vast swine flu
outbreak under control against formidable obstacles, a gaggle of scam
artists, conspiracy theorists and assorted other crazies have emerged
to peddle their wares to a panicked public.

That’s nothing new. But I guess we need a reminder from time to time
that those who seek profit or stature while exploiting other people’s
misery rank somewhere below child molesters, war criminals and
dishonest mechanics in the grand scheme of things.

A quick scan of the Internet on the topic of swine flu reveals an
array of alleged cures including air "sterilizers," photon machines,
supplement pills to boost the immune system, protective shampoos and
face masks. Even fake Tamiflu is being advertised, according to
published reports.

One product that drew a warning letter from the FDA is the Photon
Genie, a gadget that delivers "energy waves." Its Web site claimed it
"helps strengthen the immune system, and a strong immune system is
key to preventing swine flu symptoms and key to treating swine flu."

Of course, sticking your finger in a light socket will provide
“energy waves” as well but I don’t suggest it.

Another was a spray called “Swine Flu...Gone” made with ionic silver.
Simply apply to your hands “and on any surface where these germs may
exist and kill the virus," its web site claimed.

It is made by a company called Secrets of Eden which sells
supplements and oils with a Biblical flair,
said its general manager, Rick Strawcutter, a former pastor in
Adrian, Mich. The staff "got a little carried away" on marketing for
one product and "drew the ire of the FDA," he told the Associated

Carried away? The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry says
silver "may cause harmful health effects," depending on the amount
and type of exposure.

Maybe Rev. Strawcutter should call his product line Nearer My God to

Even mainstream advertisers aren’t immune, so to speak, from jumping
on the pandemic bandwagon. The makers of Dial Soap, Kleenex, Clorox
and other big brands launched a joint promotional campaign costing up
to $1 million, according to the AP. The pitch:

"Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease. According to the
CDC, up to 80 percent of infectious diseases, like the flu, are
spread by your hands. That's why frequent, proper handwashing is so
important in preventing spread of the flu, other viruses and germs.
An antibacterial soap like Dial Complete foaming hand wash kills 99.9
percent of germs."

Thanks for the science lesson. Except you forgot this part: Flu is
caused by a virus, so killing bacteria is of uncertain benefit.

If that’s not bad enough, consider the reaction from the paranoid
community, whose take on the epidemic has been described in some
circles as “The Days of Swine and Neuroses.”

One commentator opines: “U.S. President Barack Obama has now declared
a national emergency over in swine flu infections. The reasoning
behind such a declaration? According to the White House, it’s
designed to “allow hospitals to better handle the surge in patients”
by allowing them to bypass certain federal laws. That’s the public
explanation for this, but the real agenda behind this declaration may
be far more sinister. Declaring a national emergency immediately
gives federal authorities dangerous new powers that can now be
enforced at gunpoint…”

Or consider this one: The "swine flu" is a creation of the
pharmaceutical companies. They know it, they knew it would happen,
and they are criminally profiting from their creation.”

Or this: “Sagging TV News ratings and plummeting ad revenues are
already forcing massive layoffs. Without a huge increase in ratings
TV news could go the way of the newspaper. Using press passes they
got access to government labs with the virus and spread the virus
using their Mexican affiliates.

Wait, it gets worse: “World governments, spooked by the prospect of
radical climate change caused by over-population of the planet, have
assembled a super-secret task force to engineer and distribute a
super virulent strain of influenza designed to "correct" the human
population (and institute global Martial Law).

A variation on this has President Obama using the flu to weed out
political opponents, leaving a country full of Mao-quoting Muslim
vegans who drive hybrids and support gay marriage.

Or my personal favorite: A prophecy that a black man would occupy
the White House “when pigs fly” ties the Obama presidency to the
swine flu.

Man, since he emerged from primordial ooze, has tried to somehow
explain things he fears and can’t control, like pandemics, natural
disasters, BCS college football ratings and hedge funds.

Often, these explanations take on bizarre shapes as we grapple with
problems that seem beyond our grasp.

This is what we do know: U.S. officials reported this week the
addition of another million doses H1N1 swine flu vaccine, bringing
the total so far to 23.2 million doses. The first estimates called
for 40 million.

According to some medical experts, a cumulative 22.4 million doses is
a remarkable success that began in 2004 when the U.S. decided to
ensure a yearlong supply of the hens' eggs in which the vaccine is
made, and which continued this spring when the U.S. signed contracts
to ensure a huge supply of vaccine.

And officials said that every day more vaccine is becoming available,
and they hope to see an end to the shortage over the next several

In addition, the genetic makeup of the H1N1 flu virus hasn't changed
since it first appeared in April, so the vaccine is a good, effective
match, according the medical experts.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, said that the swine flu continues to be "very mild
for most people. But there is no question we are seeing very severe
cases hit in populations normally not susceptible to the flu and
without underlying health conditions in some cases. Young people and
pregnant women have been particular targets of that." That's a
significant difference from run-of-the-mill seasonal flu, which
typically poses a much bigger risk to the elderly.

Common sense advice: When it becomes available, get the swine flu
vaccine and your seasonal flu shot as well.

Drink plenty of liquids and avoid reading Internet rumors.

I wish you and yours safety and sanity.

Santa in September

Let me be the first to remind you that Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other end-of-the-year holiday you choose to celebrate is drawing near.

Except that I won't be the first.

The steady drumbeat of holiday advertising is even now starting to rumble in the distance. It won't be long until the tempo becomes so loud and rapid that the natives will become restless and break into a shopping frenzy.

Or at least that's what retailers hope. As humorist Robert Paul once remarked, "Even before Christmas has said Hello, it's saying `Buy Buy."'

I noticed it last weekend while watching TV. The unmistakable jingle of faux-Christmas music caught my attention just in time to see a commercial courtesy of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is to retailing what the German army was to the Maginot Line. We think we can resist but fighting is futile. Surrender now. If Wal-Mart says it's time to shop, it's time to gas up the SUV, max out the credit cards and hit the stores.

That being said, Wal-Mart has nothing on Kmart. They sent a mailing out to customers about their new site, Christmas Lane, during the summer. It promises "the best deals for Christmas, five months early."

Only a skeptic like me would wonder if they're trying to move last year's leftovers.

The alternative to this madness is to do what a bunch of Brits did recently. A group called the Movement for the Containment of Christmas demonstrated the courage of its convictions with an act of terrorism.

OK, terrorism might be too harsh a word. But the group attacked a storefront run by a charity. When the store put Christmas cards on display in August, the "terrorists" glued the door of the shop closed.

Wait until they see Disney's "Christmas Carol" with Jim Carrey. They may try to burn down Washington again.

The recession, which lingers like a bad hangover, will probably result in even more advertising than we're used to enduring. In tough times, retailers will often spend more ad money to lure shoppers through the doors.

But there may be an upside to a down economy. The Associated Press reports that stores are turning back the clock, conjuring images of hearth and home as they stock their holiday merchandise.

Retailers hope embracing holiday traditions from cozier times will tempt recession-weary consumers to open their wallets in a season expected to show flat sales at best.

Better yet, ostentatious outdoor displays are also getting the boot. Home Shopping Network is moving away from holiday lawn decor to interior decorations, including adding nativity scenes. That means fewer of the big inflatable lawn decorations that have dominated suburban yards in recent years.

This is particularly good news to me. I have a neighbor who adorns his front yard with 20-foot-tall grinning Santa every Christmas which puts out more light than a night game at Dodger Stadium. When it is deflated during the day, it looks like the Hindenburg crashed on his property.

Of course, no matter what the calendar says or which way the stock market indicators point, there are always those tough-to-buy-for folks that make shopping even more of a chore.

So as a public service, I offer these actual gift items, culled from the Internet, for the man, or woman, who has everything:

The Barack Obama Action Figure: "If you think fighting Nazis or inter-galactic robots is tough, you should try fighting Republicans. Those G.O.P.s will use every dirty trick in the book to knock you out of action. It takes sharp wits, quick reflexes, and substantial campaign contributions just to stay alive. But Barack Obama is up to the task..."

The John McCain Action Figure: "He flew bombing raids in North Vietnam. He chaired the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington. And now he can kick Ken and G.I. Joe's butts in your toy box. Sarah Palin action figure not included."

Wall Street Financial Victims Play Set: "Run for your lives. They're coming!!! No, not monsters or vampires or aliens. The Stock Brokers and Investment Bankers are coming!!! Hide your money. Disguise your IRAs and 401(k)s. Spend your kids' college fund before it's swallowed up. Like a swarm of locusts, the denizens of Wall Street are determined to devour every cent you own in order to quench their insatiable greed!"

The 2010 Already Sucks button. "This straight to the point button is the perfect gift for anyone frustrated with politics or current events!"

How to Traumatize Your Children Book: "Most parents don't know what they're doing -- they try their best to screw up their kids, but most still grow up to be normal adults. Well, this indispensable book takes the guesswork out of raising a dysfunctional child. Within these 191 pages, you'll learn how to shatter self-esteem, buy your child's love, and teach your child how to be a bad friend."

If none of these fit the bill, eBay has a selection of Michael Jackson ornaments for sale.