Monday, September 14, 2009

Another retirement-by-suicide and other forms of hysteria

Today another employee of France Télécom tried to kill herself, right in the office, by taking an overdose of barbiturates. Apparently she had been moved around the country and had been given very few real things to do, and she had just been told that she was being retroactively demoted and moved to yet another location.

Obviously FT has some very serious management problems, but it's not the only French company to be poorly managed, not by a long shot.

Speaking of hysterical overreactions, it has been revealed recently that the government (specifically the Ministry of Justice) has an extreme plan for suspending civil liberties in order to protect against the apparently hellish prospect of a swine flu epidemic. The list of measures under consideration is long and frightening—far from the type of thing you'd expect to see in a nominal democracy. The mere existence of such a plan is worrisome, and it's even more worrisome that anything so extreme would be considered for a public-health situation that is very tame by comparison. Swine flu infections tend to produce milder symptoms than ordinary strains of the flu, and only 13 people have died of the swine flu in France (which is nothing when you consider the number of people who catch the flu). How the government got from something so non-threatening to a plan that effectively imposes martial law is a bit of a mystery. As it is, schools are being closed every day due to hysteria over the swine flu, even though all the kids who catch the disease seem to be recovering just fine after three or four days.

A French doctor in a televised discussion has suggested that vaccinating everyone might not be such a good idea, either, because the vaccine has been prepared so hastily and so carelessly that it presents more of a danger to public health than the flu itself. He speculated that the vaccine, if universally administered, might kill perhaps three times as many people as the flu would kill, making it a bit foolish to insist on immunizing everyone. He suggests that the pursuit of money, not public health, is behind the push for vaccination. Given the sorry history of France with respect to public health crises in the past (such as the affair of HIV contaminated blood transfusions some years back), this would not surprise me. Indeed, it's odd that such hysteria surrounds a disease that has killed only 13 people, whereas a heat wave that killed 15,000 in 2003 elicited virtually no action or suggestions at all on the part of the government, apart from suggestions to drink more water!

Anyway … the weather is quite cool at the moment, although it is very humid. The leak in my kitchen continues to worsen, and I still have no money to fix it (and I still wonder why I'm expected to fix it at my expense). I have to turn the water off a lot to slow it down, and I'm not even sure if that is working.

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