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More Dogs on Main Street

By Tom Clyde

Daylight saving time ends this weekend. Be sure to do something with your clocks. I can never remember exactly what we’re supposed to do with them — forward or backward — so I usually wait until Monday and casually ask somebody, "Hey, what time is it?" before making any adjustments. Last time I tried to change the clock in my old VW bus, the button broke off, so the time in the bus is constantly rolling forward. But if you are driving a VW bus, you don’t care what time it is anyway. There’s a timer built into the thermostat in the house. It takes a Japanese engineer to change it, so it’s always 18:88 o’clock as far as the furnace is concerned.

I like daylight-saving time. Before we had it, we never put any daylight in the bank, and by January, it was just dark all the time. The sun never rose until April. But by carefully saving daylight and budgeting it through the winter, we are able to eke out a few hours of sunlight every day. Congress has recently enacted a new law that will extend daylight-saving time for another month or so. We’ll be able to save enough daylight to be tanned and warm in February under the new plan. I wish they could manage the federal budget that well.

My grandfather hated daylight-saving time. He was in the poultry business, and said that the change was very upsetting to the hens. Changing the clocks around caused great anxiety. If there is anything you don’t want around a farm, it’s anxious chickens and milk cows. Mess with the clocks, and the hens quit laying and the cows dry up. I suggested that he take the clocks out of the chicken coops and turn off the radio so they wouldn’t find out about it, but he said that wouldn’t work. I never really understood it, because he had a switch in the house that would turn the lights on in the coops hours before the sun was up to fool them into thinking it was time to start laying eggs. Apparently you can fool the chickens some of the time, but messing around with the clocks — well they don’t go for that.

Speaking of chickens, have you got your plans made for the big bird flu pandemic? There are still a few choice lots available out in the west desert where no human has ever been before. Public health officials all over the world are on red alert because we are all going to catch the bird flu and die. This is supposed to happen either next month, or 50 years from now. Plan accordingly. So far, 60 people have died from it. Sixty. Why that’s terrible. Let’s see, 60 people, over several years, out of a total population of 10 billion. Hmmm, those seem to be odds I can live with. Especially when all of the 60 departed lived in wretched apartments filled with chickens and chicken dung. Among people not living in chicken coops, the incidence of bird flu is quite low. Like zero.

But the public health folks are on it. They are salivating over a great pandemic, similar to the great Spanish flu of 1918. Just for good measure, they dug up somebody who had died from the Spanish flu, and managed to recreate that virus. No kidding. It’s not enough that we have some new bug lurking about the hen houses, waiting to hitch a ride on the next plane out of China. They are cooking up new batches of a virus that has been dead and gone for 87 years, and posting the recipe on the Internet.

I guess I understand their excitement. Their whole training is in dealing with pandemics, the sort of major health crisis that ricochets around the globe in a matter of days. But pandemics are few and far between. Whole careers are spent waiting for one, and health officials end up retiring, never having dealt with anything more urgent than an outbreak of pink eye at the local elementary school. They spend a couple of years in graduate school studying the 1918 Spanish flu, tracing the outbreak and the movement around the world. This was at a time when it took weeks to cross the Atlantic by ship. Now, a sneeze in Laos can drop somebody like a sack of cement in Los Angeles in a matter of hours. Emergency responders need an occasional emergency to keep the job interesting. There’s only so many times you can wash the fire truck before the thrill is gone.

The big debate is whether the bird flu virus will mutate so that it spreads. So far, it seems to move only from chickens to the people who sleep among them. The chicken-coop-dwellers have not yet started spreading it among other people. KFC presents no risks other than clogged arteries. But if that nasty little virus gets a wild hare and starts jumping from person to person, leaving the chickens behind, well, then it’s 1918 all over again.

The whole situation seems quite manageable. Only 60 people dead would be an improvement in Iraq, for example. No human-to-human transmission; reasonably effective vaccine becoming available. It all sounds like one more thing to not worry about. No need to panic.

That was until I heard that George Bush is on the case. The president is taking proactive measures to protect us from bird flu. W’s got a plan, or is working on a plan, or planning to have a plan for working on a plan to make a plan. He’s personally taking charge of the issue. Once I heard that, my attitude changed. If George Bush is going to develop the response plan to a deadly pandemic, we’re all going to be extra-crispy.


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