Friday, May 29, 2009

The Host

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around the house alone on a Friday night with nothing to do. So, naturally, like everyone else in that situation I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on my South Korean monster movie watching. I’ve been sorely neglecting it lately. Haven’t you? Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who has the time? Right? No?!? Just me again? Cripes, I’m beginning to think I’m the only weirdo left in the world. Well, in order to represent my waning demographic I sat down and watched “The Host.” Critically acclaimed at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2006, The Host is the third feature film directed by Bong Joon-ho, and is a brilliant genre-stretching work that has no fear of testing the long-held traditions of scores of creature-features that came before it. Not knowing what to expect going in, I was pleasantly surprised by The Host which is made up of equal parts drama, slapstick comedy, political melodrama, action, and, of course, monster movie mayhem.

Like so many sci-fi movies before it, the creature in The Host is the product of human carelessness with toxic and hazardous chemicals. The beast is born from the Han River when a mortician at the Yongsan U.S. Army base in Seoul orders his lackey to pour bottles of dirty formaldehyde down the drain. This scene is based in on an actual incident that occurred in 2000. Albert McFarland, an American mortician at Yongsan ordered his staff to pour 50 gallons of formaldehyde down the drain. Although the chemicals passed through two treatment plants before reaching the Han, source of Seoul's drinking water, the scandal sparked an anti-American uproar in South Korea. It is unknown weather or not any giant, amphibious behemoths have mutated from the irresponsible actions of Mr. McFarland. However, just like “Them”, “Tarantula”, “Frankenstein Conquers the World”, and so many more before, Bong Joon-ho’s account shows that the irresponsibility of mans’ actions do carry consequences. When will we ever learn? Check out the TopTen Movie Monsters of All Time here.

The action in the movie revolves around the uber-dysfunctional Park family. The elderly father owns and operates a snack bar on the banks of the Han. His son, Gang-du, who works at the stand is apparently so incompetent and lazy that he is unaffected by removal of part of his brain later in the film. His younger brother is a hopeless drunk, and their sister is (improbably) a nationally acclaimed archery medalist. Gang-du has a young daughter, Hyun-seo, who is the apple of everyone’s eye and perpetually disappointed in her idiotic father. As the movie opens Gang-du joins a crowd of onlookers that have noticed something hanging from the underside of the Han River Bridge. In a shocking turn of events the onlookers become a terrified screaming horde as the monster drops from the bridge then dexterously leaps out of the water onto land and tears a swath through the crowd in one of the best fleeing in horror scenes of any monster movie that I can recall. As the creature reenters the water it grabs sweet little Hyun-seo and carries her off to its lair, setting in motion a series of events leading to an international political incident.

Here is where Bong Joon-ho breaks with tradition. In most creature features the monster is kept out of sight as long as possible as the suspense builds in the audience and the imagination of moviegoers takes hold. Speilberg does this in “Jaws” brilliantly.Additionally , a second reason for keeping the monster out of sight until the film’s climax is because, honestly, most movie monsters look like crap. They are either appear to be poorly made Muppets spun up on crystal meth or are obviously computer generated and seem to have been cut out with scissors and glued into each frame of the film. This is not the case with the creature in The Host. The state-of-the-art special effects courtesy of a creative partnership between Weta Workshop (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) and The Orphanage (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sin City) create a living, breathing animal that is as real as the scrambling mass of people that it consumes. It makes the dinosaurs in Jurassic park look like the claymation dinosaur family on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Besides the fact that the creature looks like a massive salamander/catfish/frog hybrid with gloriously hideous a vagina denta mouth, the beast is made creepier not by only its speed and agility, but also by its sometimes awkwardness of movement and perfect scale which make it seem even more realistic. By shifting the audience’s distraction at guessing what the monster will look like since Bong places the monster right in front of them, this frees the director up to focus attention on the characters and storytelling instead of the train wreck that monster movies usually become. So, in a break from tradition The Host brings the creature front and center immediately and does so flawlessly.

Sticking true to the genre, as part of an American-backed disinformation campaign the South Korean government announces that the beast apparently is the host of an unidentified virus so anyone that came into contact with it must be quarantined. Some my say this political subplot is just a distraction, but I challenge anyone to find a monster movie that doesn’t have a political understory. Having feared the worst, Gang-du receives a phone call from his daughter who is frightened, but very much alive in the monster's lair. Gang-du makes plans to infiltrate the quarantined area with the rest of the Park family to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the horrifying Host. Along the way the Parks are drawn closer together as they battle not only the amphibious, mutant beast, but also scores incompetent government conspirators and, in the end, an American chemical weapon called "Agent Yellow."

The Host is a surprising treasure in a genre that is as old as film itself. It swings sometimes violently from being an action film to a comedy to a tear-jerking drama, but it does so in a memorable fashion that doesn’t seem forced or constrained by the label of “creature feature.” Without being a spoiler I will say that the ending is very gloomy, surprising, and depressing. Definitely not your typical Hollywood ending, which I count as another star on the lapel for director Bong Joon-ho. All in all, The Host was an unexpectedly well-done gem that is worth the watch if you don’t mind somewhat obscure, South Korean monster movies with subtitles or voice-overs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Light Fingers

Imagine someone suggests that you keep a thin-walled glass vessel that holds enough toxic material to pollute 1000 gallons of water in your house. The substance this vessel contains can produce central nervous system damage; may cause muscle tremors, personality and behavior changes, memory loss, metallic taste in your mouth, loosening of the teeth, digestive disorders, skin rashes, brain damage and kidney damage; can cause skin allergies and accumulate in the body; can cause the skin to turn gray in color and; may damage a developing fetus and decrease fertility in both males and females. What would you say if I told you that if the vessel breaks the clean-up process is very involved, and it is illegal to throw anything that came into contact with it into the trash? Oh, and you will need to keep about 40 of these little bundles of joy in your house. By the way, when you put electricity through them they will emit UV radiation that is about ½ as powerful as being in direct sunlight (at sea level, of course). Are you up for it? No? The fact of the matter is that you probably have a bunch of these suckers in your house already, and if I told you that someone was giving them away free I would probably be trampled like a teenager at a Who concert as you rushed out the door of grab up some more.

Of course I’m talking about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), and the poison inside them is mercury. Even so, CFLs have been touted as the bulbs that will light our path towards the green, tree-hugging, hippie-loving future. The nasty, old incandescent bulb has been made the villain, and it is being muscled out of popular culture just like pet rocks and slapping your wife around. The incandescent bulb has been around for over 100 years, and the technology has basically remained unchanged. However, it is now the least efficient bulb available with over 90% of the energy that it consumes being given off as heat and less than 10% as light. So they are not so much “light” bulbs as they are “heat” bulbs. If the average American homeowner turned on every light in their house, they would be pumping almost 2200W of heat into the building. CFLs are 75% more efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. If every American home were to replace just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, we would save enough energy to light over 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in energy costs, and prevent the greenhouse gas emission equivalent of over 800,000 cars. In fact, in 2007 enough people switched to CFLs in the US that we essentially removed as much greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere as planting 2.85 million acres of trees would have.

O.K., CFLs are potentially good, but let’s get back to that mercury issue. Without the mercury vapor the bulbs wouldn’t produce any UV radiation, and thus no light. Is it really as bad as everyone makes it out to be? Each CFL contains about 5mg of mercury. It doesn’t seem like much, but mercury vapor is considered to be immediately dangerous to life and health when levels reach 10mg per cubic meter. Here’s what the EPA recommends that you do if you break a CFL:

1. Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room
  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
2. Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
3. Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug:
  • Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
4. Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding, etc.:
  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
5. Disposal of Clean-up Materials
  • Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
6. Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming
  • The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
  • Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.
Got all that? Yeah, right. I can see Zeke from Moosedick busting out his Tyvek suit to clean up the bulb he broke when he tried to throw an empty beer bottle out the window of his double-wide. It’s just not a reasonable suggestion for all consumers. The disposal issue is an issue that absolutely must be addressed. Right now, only 2% (that’s right, 2%) of fluorescent bulbs are being recycled which means that the mercury inside them ends up in the landfill. It is illegal in California (with other states pending) to chuck a fluorescent bulb in the trash. They must be taken to a hazardous waste drop-off area. Honestly, I find it hard to believe that every consumer is going to hop into their car (or bus) and buzz off to the local hazmat facility every time a bulb burns out or breaks. It just isn’t going to happen.

Proponents of the new bulbs are quick to point out that by far the largest emitters of mercury pollution are coal-fired power plants. The EPA states that a coal fired power plant produces 16.5 mg of mercury emissions to light one 60W incandescent bulb, but only produces 3.3mg for the equivalent CFL. So, even with the added 5mg inside the bulb CFLs beat the Edison bulbs hands down. Or do they? Here’s my problem with the EPA numbers. What if you get your energy from sources other than burning coal? First of all they assume that 100% of the power in the US comes from coal. It quite obviously doesn’t. Also, this 5mg number that is being quoted for the quantity of mercury in each bulb isn’t a requirement. It is more like a target number, and the bulbs aren’t tested to determine the actual quantities of mercury they contain. Another little tidbit that the EPA conveniently leaves out of its numbers is that CFLs are made in China. China has notoriously lax environmental regulations, and most of their power is generated by horrendously dirty coal plants. Then the bulbs have to be shipped thousands of miles by cargo ships which burn the dirtiest fuel oil before they arrive on American shores. It is estimated that as much mercury is lost into the environment in China during the manufacture of the bulbs as is actually contained within the bulbs themselves. Most incandescent bulbs are made in the USA, by the way. Here's what Rep. Ted Poe has to say about CFLs. But if you ignore all of that, CFLs do consume less energy when they are in use, so they must be good.

The reality of the situation is that we have been dealing with this mercury issue for a very long time. Current tube-style fluorescents have much more mercury than the compact bulbs. Older thermostats contain about 1000 times more than CFLs. CRTs also contain it. And we all remember the old style mercury filled thermometers that used to break and leach filth all over Hell’s creation. Shit, my dad used to have a 5lb jar of mercury that he kept around as a novelty item. Probably not the best idea, but we’ve made it this far, right? So, although the issue of introducing 40 more sources of a lethal compound into your home probably isn’t the best idea, when handled safely CFLs have the potential to be better than incandescent bulbs. However, it seems like there must be a better solution out there that doesn’t carry so much need for responsibility and stewardship on the part of the consumer.

As it turns out there is an up-and-coming contender in the lighting market that seems to fit the bill – LED bulbs. The lighting efficiency of the new high-power LED light bulbs is more than eight times that of incandescent lights, and twice as high as compact fluorescent lights. One LED bulb will last as long as 30 incandescent bulbs or 6 CFLs. LED bulbs also emit a much higher percentage of light in the desired direction. They require no warn-up time, contain no mercury, produce no UV radiation, are not shock sensitive (so they are not fragile), and operate at low temperature so they won’t burn your house down like halogens or incandescents tend to. Another big plus (for me especially) is that LED is much easier to spell than either incandescent or fluorescent. All I can say is thank god for spell-check.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Statistics of an Insomniac

Here at The Missing Piece I tend to use a statistics to clarify issues that are sometimes purposefully masked or spun by the Powers That Be to push their agenda by using their own view of the same statistics. The application of statistics to a certain problem can be both helpful and hurtful depending upon how information is presented to the reader. At the very least it can be very confusing. Game shows and other games of chance use statistics to determine outcomes all of the time. Why do I bring this up? Well, last night as I lay in bed I think I finally was able to wrap my brain around a classical statistical problem that’s been bothering me since a friend mentioned a similar situation a couple of weeks ago.

Suppose you are given a selection of three closed doors: A, B and C. Behind one of the doors is something of value to you: $1,000,000, a new car, Gillian Anderson’s phone #. Behind the other two is the booby prize: a goat, firing squad, nude pictures of your grandmother, etc. You make your initial selection based on years of test-taking knowledge and guess the good stuff is behind door C. After you make your selection one of the other doors is opened up revealing George W. Bush’s autobiography, a steaming pile of guano, or some other nonsense. Let’s say that’s door B. Then you are given the opportunity to change your selection from your initial choice (C) to the remaining door, in this case door A. Here’s the question: statistically speaking, should you switch or should you stay? Does it matter?

This is classically known as the three-doors problem. To those of you old enough to remember Let’s Make a Deal, it is also known as the Monty Hall problem, but if you’re that old then I have serious doubts that you know how to use a computer well enough to navigate to Daniel P.’s blog in this dark corner of the interweb. The statistics of the problem seem simple enough: initially each door had a 1/3 probability of hiding the raked-out chopper of your dreams. So, it makes no difference if you stay with your original choice. However, it may come as a surprise that if you are given the chance to switch selections after one is opened you should take it every time. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.

Assume that door A is the winner, and the other two are hiding rabid, sex-starved sliverback gorillas that have had too much to drink. There are three distinct possibilities in this scenario:

1. You choose door A. You are shown the booby prize behind one of the other doors then given the chance to switch. If you switch you get your arms pulled off, if you stay you win.
2. You choose door B, and are then shown the loser behind door C. If you switch you win, if you stay - not so much.
3. You choose door C, and are then shown your nightmare behind door B. If you switch you win, if you stay you’ll wish you hadn’t.

In only one of the above scenarios sticking with your initial selection gives you the desired outcome. In two of them switching makes you the winner. So, as I said earlier, it always makes sense to change your mind on this one. Confused? Look at it this way. Your initial selection carries a 33% chance that it is the winner. This means that the other two doors together have a 66% chance of hiding the winner. When one of those two are shown to be a loser there is still a 66% chance that the pair contains the winner, so logically this means that the remaining unopened door of the pair has a 66% percent chance of hiding early retirement. Meanwhile you’re still sitting on a measly 33% with your original selection. The same statistical reason applies for larger numbers of selections as well.

Still not convinced? Try it for yourself with a friend. Only I wouldn’t suggest the gorillas as the losers. Maybe something a little less lethal to start out with is a better idea. Then once you’ve convinced yourself that I’m right the world will be at peace again. And, yes, this is the kind of crap that keeps me awake at night. Par for the course in the Daniel P. Daniel household.

Friday, May 8, 2009

When Pigs Fly

I’ve been meaning to write an article about influenza for a while now, and with the new Swine Flu pandemic it seems like as good of a time as any to do a little research into the subject. First, I should tell you that I don’t believe that I have ever contracted the flu, and as far as I know the only time I have ever been immunized was when my son was born. The reason I did it was to avoid accidentally passing on a sickness to the little guy, and as a new dad I was just about as freaked out and paranoid as I could be without lining my walls with aluminum foil and setting bear traps in the front entryway. So, I dutifully rolled up my sleeve, got my shot, and vowed at that time to look into the stats of flu, since so much time and effort seem to go into worrying about it and reporting statistics about the illness. Of course throughout history there have been several influenza pandemics, and the flu has tended to cull a bunch of people from the heard when things went south in the past. But how about now? How many people buy the farm every year after getting sneezed on by the guy behind them in line at Kinko’s? Should we really be worried?

First, here’s a little information about the flu itself. Influenza is a retrovirus, which means that it is not composed of DNA, rather it is an RNA (DNA precursor) virus. It only affects birds and mammals, so you don’t have to worry about getting your pet tarantula sick, and you won’t contract it from kissing your hippie roommate’s iguana. The flu infests a host where it then hijacks cells’ machinery in order to continually replicate itself. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the immune system kicks in and generally attacks the body making the host genuinely feel like cold poop. In severe cases when people have other conditions that tend to weaken their immune systems the flu can lead to pneumonia, which can then lead to death. The flu retrovirus transmits itself through the bodily fluids that tend to leak profusely out of the poor saps that contract the virus. There are three types of seasonal influenza – A, B and C. Type A influenza viruses are further grouped into subtypes according to different kinds and combinations of virus surface proteins. Among the many subtypes of influenza A viruses, currently influenza A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) subtypes are circulating among humans in every part of the world. Type C influenza cases occur much less frequently than A and B, which is why only influenza A and B viruses are included in seasonal influenza vaccines. Swine Flu and the Spanish Flu of 1918 are variants of the H1N1 or type A flu.

So what’s the big deal? You get the flu because some scumbag wiped his nose on the seat in the cab you just hopped into, and then you generally feel like garbage for a week or so. It’s at least a decent excuse to avoid work, right? You’re not going to die from it…or are you? Surprisingly, the statistics behind influenza transmission and mortality are a bit hand-wavy. After trolling the web for multiple sources, the consensus “feeling” is that in the U.S. an estimated 25-50 million cases of the flu are reported each year leading to 150,000 hospitalizations and 20,000-40,000 deaths. 25-50 million is a pretty big range, don’t you think? If these figures were extrapolated to incorporate the rest of the world, there would be an average of approximately 1 billion cases of flu, around 3-5 million cases of severe illness, and 300,000–500,000 deaths annually. Also, if we take these numbers at face value 40,000 deaths in the U.S. is almost identical to the number of people killed in automobile accidents every year. That seems surprisingly high to me considering there have only been two deaths in the U.S. so far from the scary new uber Swine Flu, and I never hear about regular flu deaths on the news like I do for automobile fatalities.

As far as the Swine Flu goes, as of May 5th there have been 403 cases of Swine Flu in the U.S., leading to two deaths. It is important to realize here that these are confirmed cases (hospitalizations). There is no way to know other than an educated guess what the number of people who have this type of flu is that just don’t go to the doctor. Mexico, the presumed origination point of this new strain, has reported 822 laboratory-confirmed human cases of infection, which includes 29 deaths. Still only a blip compared to the regular, old, run-of-the-mill, kill-half-million-people-every-year strain of the flu. Twenty-two countries have officially reported 1516 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection so far. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. However, further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia as well as avian genes and human genes. It’s a bit of a mosaic bug. You may (or may not) be surprised to know that there was another Swine Flu scare in 1976. Check out this propaganda film released at the time. Bloody brilliant! However, despite the same government scare tactics one person died from the Swine Flu itself in 1976. But you’ll be glad to know that hundreds of Americans were killed or seriously injured by the inoculation the government gave them to stave off the virus. Nice.

The reason for the scare surrounding this strain (and the Bird Flu, SARS, the ’76 Swine Flu, and…etc.) is based on the great flu pandemic of 1918. In 1918 the Spanish Flu killed from 20-100 million people worldwide in a two-year reign of snot-filled terror. This was at a time when the worldwide population was only around 1 billion people, so the Spanish Flu had a significant impact on culling the herd. However, I think it is important to put the 1918 outbreak into perspective. Life in 1918 was very different than life in a modern society. Jonas Salk, the man who would go on to pioneer vaccines (thus, arguably saving more lives than any other human in history), was only 4 years old. There were no national radio stations, and television was not invented yet. The New York Times had just begun their home delivery service. Henry Ford created his assembly line just 4 years prior, so vehicles were not yet ubiquitous. Standards for hygiene were not the best. Worst of all the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) was voted on and passed by the idiots in the U.S. Congress. Not to mention the Red Sox were the top team, so there must have been some kind of tear in the fabric of reality. God was obviously punishing mankind. Modern communication, personal hygiene practices and advances in medicine all will work to minimize deaths caused by influenza outbreaks in the world today. If we start talking about other viruses like Marburg , Ebola, or some other unknown bug that sneaks out of a Department of Defense laboratory then that will be quite another story altogether.

O.K. I’ve thrown some large numbers out there, but I want to briefly mention some of the problems that I have with this data. I’ve searched all over Hell’s creation in order to get a good cross-section of flu statistics, and what I’ve found is that many sources aren’t really comparing apples to phlegm-covered apples. There are numerous statistics reported in articles and on the internet, and determining the actual study or survey on which an estimate is based is often difficult, even for statistics reported by health authorities or government agencies. Some flu-prevalence numbers use estimates of people diagnosed, others try to include estimated numbers of undiagnosed people, and it is often difficult to tell which is which. Global data has been collected from numerous sources, and the reputability and accuracy of each source cannot reasonably be completely confirmed. Some data comes from government agencies. Some comes from patient phone surveys. Other data is from various methods of estimation, and so on. Many estimates are computed from a small sample and then extrapolated to a larger population group, and this method has various inherent limitations to its accuracy especially when we’re talking about people that are just sick and not quite dead yet. Actual death data is a little more solid, but even that is up for debate as I will get to next.

Here’s a shocking bit of info that somehow has seemed to go unnoticed or has purposefully been ignored in the whole influenza discussion that has the potential to put the entire topic on its ear. As I was mining the plethora of information on the CDC website I found the National Vital Statistics Report on causes of death for the year of 2006. So, I did a search for influenza to see how it compares to the various bits of info that are floating around the internets. The category of “Influenza and Pneumonia” is listed as the eighth-leading cause of death in the U.S., just below Alzheimer’s and just above kidney disease. Looking a couple of pages further down the document the actual numbers of deaths is shown for the category. The category is split up between the number of deaths from pneumonia and the number for the flu. Number of deaths from pneumonia = 55,477. Pretty, friggin’ bad. Number of deaths from influenza = 849. What the? 849?!? Where did all of that “20,000-40,000 deaths” nonsense come from that we mentioned earlier? Well, this is where the real hand-waving starts when people talk about flu deaths. The flu virus can cause pneumonia, which then kills a lot of people. However, there are no fewer than 200 other medical conditions that can also cause pneumonia. Exactly determining the cases that are directly attributed to influenza is a dicey proposition at best. At worst, it is wildly misleading. In order to match the numbers of deaths that are widely reported (that 20,000-40,000 number) would mean that anywhere from 36% to 72% of all deaths from pneumonia are caused exclusively by the flu virus. Again, that is just a little too large of a span to lend any credence to the stat.

This leads one to ask if there is a reason for a statistical reporting bias towards large numbers of deaths from the flu. Although most reputable organizations use official independent statistics, some organizations may tend to quote higher numbers because either they see the condition every day and blindly assume it is highly prevalent, or to make the conditions they monitor seem more important in order to justify funding levels or even seek donations. Of course there are always the vaccine manufacturers and drug companies to point a finger at as well. At least from where I’m sitting the big, bad influenza bug isn’t as bad as the powers that be are making it out to be. Does it kill people? Of course it does. Do we need to be shutting down schools and businesses, wearing inappropriate face masks, and duct-taping our doors shut? Absolutely not. So, go ahead. Wipe your nose on your boss and feel free to hack up a lung on your next international flight. If you have the flu, your odds of dying from it are about the same as the odds of being wrongly declared dead by a social security data entry mistake. But you might just get your ass beat if you sneeze on me. So, you’ve got to weigh your options carefully.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Daniel P.'s Metal Art

In keeping with the artwork theme from last week I thought I'd share some of the projects that I have been working on in the past year. I think the images below are a pretty good representative sample. What you see below are photo-renderings of metal and acrylic pieces that I first design and draw using my favorite CAD software then have waterjet cut and polished into the final product. Many of you will notice that much of what is shown below is directly related to the Left Hand Brewery in Longmont, CO. Some of my pieces are on display there. I first started making these pieces as a gift to the brewery for their continual hospitality and brilliantly crafted brews, but it has since morphed into a new time-sucking hobby of mine. Since these are cut out of metal and left in their raw metal form, I generally only have two colors to deal with (the metal is either there or not there), and the idea of presence and absence pervades each piece. I've designed items as simple as house numbers to pieces as complicated as the rugby scenes below. I think my favorite part of the process is the drawing phase where decisions are made that determine the organic nature of the entire project. This is also the most difficult and tedious part, but we should suffer for our art. Shouldn't we? Anyway, I thought that I'd share a bit of what I've been up to. Let me know what you think.