An earthquake struck (pretty much any place on the goddamn planet) today, killing (number) and leaving countless others without access to (basic supply or substance necessary to life) and trapped beneath tons of (synonym for rubble). Scientists attribute the quake to (fact about geology or thing God is angry with us for). Donations to victims can be sent to (url for website that is almost certainly a fraud).

Who is the planet furious at now? China, come on down!

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The first rehabilitation camp for Internet Addiction has opened it’s doors in the United States, and situated in Fall City, Washington, it’s just miles from my own home.

For the low, low price of just $14,500, internet junkies can enroll in a six week treatment regimen at Heavensfield Retreat Center that features lessons in conversation techniques, social skills and dating.

If these techniques sound familiar, it’s because  they’re borrowed from the boot camp style Internet addiction treatment centers that have been springing up throughout China, where Internet addiction is seen as a growing problem among Chinese adolescents. Happily, though, the staff of Heavensfield has decided to replace the “brutal beatings” portion of the treatment itinerary with animal therapy. And while feeding goats might not be as stimulating as raiding Karazhan, it’s certainly preferable to being repeatedly shocked for trying to check your blog traffic or getting beaten to death by Chinese guidance counselors after a sex-ed class.

Still, it seems a lot to ask people to spend nearly fifteen large treating a mental illness that is at least poorly understood, if it even exists, which according to the pyschiatric guidebook  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it doesn’t.

Sarah Palin is back on Facebook, and her status is not “chillaxin’ after a hard couple of years kinda governing.”

No, Sarah Barracuda is concerned that this whole health care reform thingy is just one big smokescreen that ends in the creeping red menace kicking down your door and strangling your grandmother and your disabled baby while you watch helplessly because someone already took away your assault rifles. You watch – if they give poor people access to health care, we’re just one step away from being communist  China, where they beat you to death just for liking the Interwebs.

So just why is Sarah Palin concerned that health care reform will result in plutocratic rule a faceless cabal of secular humanists will not only kill every goddamn grandparent they can wrap their greasy, evil mitts around, but also sentence her baby Trig to death for having Down Syndrome?

Is it maybe because she’s trying to perpetuate anxiety in the Republican base over a piece of legislation that HAS NEVER FUCKING EXISTED because it is an easy way to get her name back in the spotlight of the media she loathes oh so much?

If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was jockeying for her own radio show.

It would appear that reports of the demise of the swine flu have been rather greatly exaggerated.

On the heels of the new H1N1 strain being confirmed in mainland China last week, more than 2,000 schools throughout Japan have closed their doors in hopes of stemming the spread of the virus. The worse news is that unlike previous cases found in Japan, this outbreak of flu has no clear connection to international travel, suggesting that the virus has already become self sustaining in the densely populated nation.

So what’s to be worried about? Probably nothing for the moment, as the A/H1N1 virus seems to be remaining highly contagious, but infrequently lethal. But it’s arrival in Asia carries with it the potential of what can only be described as a nightmare scenario.

The continuing spread of A/H1N1 throughout the world, even after the end of the traditional flu season, means that there may simply be very little we can do to prevent the continuing spread of this highly contagious strain, especially when a fresh flu season begins in earnest later this year.

Which isn’t the bad news.

The bad news is that the presence of the virus in Asia, especially in self perpetuation, means that an eventual meeting of the minds between swine flu and avian flu that remains endemic in parts of Asia is more or less a foregone conclusion. When that happens, there’s a chance for the two strains to hybridize, resulting in a new flu that combines the high human to human transmissibility of the swine flu and the staggering (60% +) human fatality rates of avian flu. Just how great that chance is is anyone’s guess. But World Health Organization Director – General Margaret Chan had this to say on the current flu situation, which she described as “the calm before the storm.”

“For the first time in humanity, we are seeing, or we may be seeing, pandemic influenza evolving in front of our eyes.”

 Now whether we can do anything effectively to prevent it is another matter.

Creepy crawlers of all sorts have been in the news this week, starting with the emergence of crowds of enormous eastern tarantulas. Known as “birdeating spiders” despite the fact that they don’t typically dine on  avians, the huge arachnids have become troublingly prevalent in the small Australian town of Bowen. Today saw officials attempting to put a happy face on the matter after an initial media freakout at the notion of a city overrun by giant tarantulas effectively shut down tourism in the town. Apparently, the thought of hairy spiders as big as your head that can sicken humans and kill dogs with their venomous bite is bad for business. Local pest controller Audy Geiszler, for one, is doing his part to quell rumors of a ful blown spider invasion by concentrating on the good news – for example, says Geiszler, the town has seen “no cases of them eating children or anything like that.” Which is good news, I guess. But someone should tell Mr. Geiszler that the next time he’s trying to calm a worried public, he might want to pause before he plays the ‘No Children Have Yet Been Consumed By Enormous Spiders’ card. 

Meanwhile, farmers in China’s Xinjiang province are under siege by legions of unidentified worms. The thorny, green, inch long beasties, are going through grassland like a giant organic lawnmower, turning pasture into brown soil acres at a time. Found in densities of up to 3,000 creatures per meter of soil, the creatures have descended on the village in such numbers that 50 families have had to flee their homes, which were also overrun.