serious

Turn on the news.

Good.

Also good.

I've also been trying to think about this 'flu we're all going to die of. The prevailing view seems to be that we have a disaster looming over us. I wonder whether that's true - or, rather, whether it's particularly truer than it's been every day for the last few decades.

We can, of course, now easily identify particular strains, and so there's a perception that there now are particularly dangerous ones. Some years ago there wasn't such a perception because it wasn't practical to genotype every suspicious-looking outbreak. Does this necessarily mean, though, that there are more such strains than there were?

It's possible that potentially dangerous strains are arising at a higher rate than before, and certainly better communications allow infections to spread faster, but this isn't like a stressed tectonic fault gradually building up tension - there's no reason to think that the next 'flu pandemic will be a lethal as the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, rather than the 1957 Asian Flu or the 1968 Hong Kong Flu pandemics. Indeed, going by that timing they would seem to be one-in-thirtysomething-year events, with no particular reason to fear it in any particular year. After all, the lack of cross-immunity to antigenically-shifted strains would imply great randomness in timing rather than them being affected by post-pandemic declines in herd immunity.

Having said that, the upshot of the situation is that rather than this being a brief scare, we should probably be looking to maintain this level of alertness, given that we're probably on the verge of actually being able to do something about such an outbreak while it's still happening.

Gaa. Whatever.
...probably on the verge of actually being able to do something about such an outbreak

The real question is, should we? Given that the world is massively overpopulated already, this year has been a particularly good one for the planet. Perhaps a weeding, of sorts, is due?

(Not a heartfelt view, I stress, the world *is* overpopulated, but I'm aware that something like a flu pandemic would merely kill off the financially weaker sections of society)
Population's heading into decline already. Global trends will dwarf the likely effects of any individual outbreak, even if it did turn out to be 1918-sized.
Is it? Is the population actually falling, or is it that birth rates have slowed or death rates have speeded up?

Rats, I'll have to find a new excuse to tell my mother why I won't go into MotherCare.
The world's population rise is slowing, and is expected to level and go into decline in the middle of this century on apparent trends. It's not expected to double again.

The rich world is now mostly below replacement numbers, and increasingly will only have stable population levels if there's mass immigration.

Africa, I think, shows little sign of shallowing their growth rate, but it's apparent for the rest of the world, IIRC.
> Africa, I think, shows little sign of shallowing their growth rate, but it's apparent for the rest of the world, IIRC.

That'll be the fault of that nice Mr Bush and his chums, who insist on linking aid to spreading their right wing religious propaganda and telling people that birth control is evil. Oh yes and the charming chap in the Vatican too.
(Anonymous)
The hope is for HIV etc (ie. 'natural' corrections) to help bring things back to sustainable/less damaging levels there.

[hmm. i don't appear to be logged, strange, oh well]

Grendel
Well, for example:

The point of departure for a discussion of long-range assumptions about fertility trends is the medium variant of the 2002 Revision. As table 2 indicates, by 2045-2050 the majority of the 192 countries whose population is projected using the components method had a total fertility level of 1.85 children per women. However, there were still 69 countries with a total fertility above that level and the range of variation of total fertility in 2045-2050 was from 1.85 to 3.85 children per women. That is, by 2050 a few countries were projected to still be far from completing the transition to low fertility. Consequently, in extending the medium variant of the 2002 Revision, the first step is clearly to allow those countries that had not yet reached the floor level of 1.85 children per woman to reach it. In the case of Niger, the country with the highest fertility in 2045-2050, the models of fertility change over time used to proje ct fertility in the 2002 Revision can yield a level of 1.85 children per woman as early as 2080-2085 so that, by 2085, all countries could find themselves with that level of fertility were it to remain constant once it is reached.

That's from this UN report, Proceedings of the Technical Working Group on Long-range Population Projections, (New York, 30 June 2003). It's about a 50-page PDF.
I think it's not more dangerous than it has been for several years and this is all about a news indutry that is coming to depend on constant crisis.

That said, given how bad my lung health is, I'm terrified I'd die if it does turn up.

(My mother's aunt and her 5 siblings all got the 1919 flu at the same time. That can't have been fun for her mum.)
What I truly fail to understand is why Network Rail has been fined for the failures of Railtrack leading to Hatfield. In effect the taxpayer is being compelled to meet the liabilities incurred by a company which at the time was in private hands.

It seems obvious that the Railtrack shareholders should be paying that fine, not Network Rail.
I think they were originally trying to nail the directors of the time too, but had to drop the charges against them.

Directors always get off with it.
"The Railtrack shareholders put my honesty and integrity at the heart of their case and the court has found in my favour," [Mr Byers] said.

All well and good, apart from that bit.

But yes, I'm pleased by this decision. The fundament of the stock market is that you are never guaranteed a return and, although Railtrack is a special case in that it was a private company funded almost entirely from public funds, the same is still applicable. The shareholders should have been grateful they got anything atall.

On a related note, I think all of them should have compensation wthdrawn if they have ever complained about the "state of the railways". After all, they invested in it...
It's more complicated than that. It's not simply greedy investors whining because they didn't get their returns.

Many of the Railtrack shareholders were employees and part of the case that has not been widely reported (I wonder why) was that they were misled about pay deals which included share options.
Okay, I take that on board. However, there was almost certainly a hardcore of private investors looking to get their money back and bolstering their numbers with former employees (who were badly advised in that case - they should perhaps have sued for lost earnings).

That said, there is still a case to say that employees took out share options with the same motivations as other investors - they believed they would make a handsome profit and never stopped to properly question what might happen to Railtrack as a whole. In fact, since they were on the inside (as it were), they might have been even more aware of how the company was making profits at the expense of safety.