Swine Flu and the “Everyman’s Approach to Risk”

I read this in the LA Times today and the first thing I thought was “how do they know?”.

“This virus doesn’t have anywhere near the capacity to kill like the 1918 virus,” which claimed an estimated 50 million victims worldwide, said Richard Webby, a leading influenza virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

[From Scientists see this flu strain as relatively mild - Los Angeles Times]

The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic had a mortality rate of 2.5%, profound virulence, and demonstrated a morbidity pattern that affected 20-40 year olds most severely. From early reports the swine flu cases have a 10% mortality rate and a morbidity pattern that favors 20-40 year olds, what is not yet known is the virulence. In other words, what we are seeing as of right now is that the swine flu is statistically far more deadly than the Spanish Flu and affects the same age demographic, what we don’t know is how the statistics skew downward as more cases are reported and more importantly, how fast the virus can spread and infect.

All of this brings me to the observation about how we intuitively deal with risk at a personal level. I was talking about this with my wife last night and what we focused on was that the government seems really behind the curve on this with almost 10 days elapsing from the initial reports from Mexico and Canada before the U.S. government kicked into action and then wildly conflicting reports about what Homeland Security is and is not doing, and now even the Vice President says he would give his own family precautionary advice far more severe than what the government is telling the rest of us to do. While we seem to have a good system in place for dealing with a pandemic, the lurching actions toward aggressive steps to contain this are troubling along with the fact that CDC and DHS seem to have been caught off guard by it.

When it comes to your family and yourself the statistics tend to be meaningless. I think we can all intellectualize the notion that the risks are miniscule but we also understand that if the statistic is you or your family it’s not 1 in a million but rather 100%. This is where statistical models collide with personal real world experience.

Not surprisingly there is a run on face masks and hand sanitizer, it’s human nature to want to take control of your own situation with proactive measures, even if they are ultimately moot because of efficacy or low risk rates. As much as it pains me to do this, I actually agree with VP Biden because it’s premature for any government to project the actual risk with this virus. This flu pandemic may blow over and be a footnote in the annals of infectious diseases but then again it may not… the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic played out over 2 years and the more recent SARS epidemic proved to be very deadly, killing 20% of the people infected with it.

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Blame the Hedge Funds!

On every news story this morning about the pending Chrysler bankruptcy, the narrative included “hedge funds would not agree…” as a central theme. Economic populism still carries the day in Washington.

What you won’t hear in these mainstream news stories is that Treasury was demanding a huge haircut for debt holders (screw the “hedge funds” label, these are private investors who lent Chrysler money) in exchange for 15 cents on the dollar, a slap on the back and a hearty “atta boy”. Labor unions, on the other hand, were being subjected to slight changes in work rules and relieving Chrysler of paying $4b to the UAW for retiree benefits, all in exchange for 55% of the equity in the “good Chrysler” and a long term note. So basically the equation that Treasury was using was the debt holders give up 85% and get nothing, the UAW gives up half of that and gets half of Chrysler’s equity in return and long term note paying back (if I recall correctly) $5 billion by 2025.   

This company is worth more to creditors through bankruptcy than it is under the Treasury plan (creditors are at the top of the waterfall in a bankruptcy case, retiree benefits would resolve below creditors) and anyone who thinks GM could go through a similarly easy restructuring should watch this case under a microscope.

“[The hedge funds'] failure to act in either their own economic interest or the national interest does not diminish the accomplishments made by Chrysler, Fiat and its stakeholders nor will it impede the new opporunity Chrysler now has to restructure and emerge stronger going forward.”

How dare these hedge funds believe that debt covenants have any value under the current administration? After all, Obama himself is telling you that your economic interests have to align with the national ones. As long as they diverge, you can expect to pay 99% of all income as taxes in perpetuity compliments of soon to be implemented legislation out of Barney Frank.

[From Zero Hedge: Chrysler To File Any Minute, Hedge Funds Blamed]

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The Venture Capital Math Problem

I wish I could add something insightful to this post from Fred but when combined with the extensive comments (must read) I don’t think many people could contribute an insight not already covered. In fact, this entire post plus the comment thread is so deep that it could be the basis for a 2nd year MBA class.

We got to talking about the venture capital asset class and it wasn’t long before we got to the “math problem”. The venture capital math problem is pretty basic, maybe something you’d do in high school calculus or even pre-calculus. Here’s how it works.

[From The Venture Capital Math Problem]

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Messaged To Deaf

One of my very good friends is Harriet Meth, co-founder of Core Ideas Communication, a company that works with some of the largest global companies to refine how and what they communicate and manage issues that hit them.

As an Emmy awarding winning TV news and documentary producer, Harriet’s unique art is that of putting truth and facts in the context of a story that touches on human values, emotions, and aspirations, all of which are sorely lacking in how businesses communicate with their various constituencies. She recognizes that trust is granted to a company over a long period of time and taken away in the blink of an eye so in many ways her professional practice, while focused on corporate communications, is really all about helping companies build durable brand value.

I have known Harriet for over 12 years now and trust her implicitly, professionally and personally; it’s hard for me to overstate how much Harriet has influenced me so I was thrilled when she told me she had started a blog (I’m working on getting her on Twitter). Bookmark it, comment on the posts and take advantage of the knowledge she is giving away for free!

And then there’s the ongoing questions about Apple. The blogosphere and press continue to have a field day analyzing whether the company has disclosed the real story about Steve Jobs’ health. Maybe Apple has fully disclosed, maybe they haven’t. But even the specter of doubt can corrode the trust people put in what you say.

There is, however, another factor that can slowly erode the state of your “truthiness”: setting your corporate expectations so high they are unrealistic.

[From Messaged To Deaf]

Links

Is it Live or Is it Memorex?

This is a really interesting discussion about the role that Photoshop now plays in high end photography. After reading this posting and seeing the stark differences between the pre/post Photoshop’ed images, all I can say is that my respect for the great photography of the pre-Photoshop years has gone up substantially. I don’t know where I stand on the question of how much Photoshop is too much Photoshop but it’s an issue that we will surely be asking with some frequency as the creative converges with the digital.

“Photos submitted to Picture of The Year must be a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure. You may post-process the images electronically in accordance with good practice. That is cropping, burning, dodging, converting to black and white as well as normal exposure and color correction, which preserves the image’s original expression. The Judges and exhibition committee reserve the right to see the original raw image files, raw tape, negatives and/or slides. In cases of doubt, the photographer can be pulled out of competition”, the rules now states.

[From Pressefotografforbundet: Too much Photoshop? Judge for yourself]

Craigslist Has a Problem

200904251643.jpg Like everyone I was saddened at the murder of a young woman advertising massage services on Craigslist. I also recognized that the crimes that make the headlines are but a miniscule percentage of the legitimate ads placed on the service. But then I wondered about all the property and violent crimes that occur and don’t make the headlines…

I watched an interview, a rather lengthy one, that Craig Newmark and Craiglist CEO Jim Buckmaster gave to ABC. Newark comes off as typically quirky but otherwise genuine, however the segment featuring Buckmaster is simply put devastating. His demeanor is matter of fact and that combined with emotionless body language creates a cold and unsympathetic persona.

Buckmaster and Newmark should be outraged, visibly outraged, that Craigslist has become a platform for criminals and they should be offended that Craigslist is being painted as a den of vice. Instead both appear to be rather pollyanish about the notion that Craigslist is serious about combatting sex crimes, violence, fraud, and property crimes on the site, both could be described as Inspector Renault in Casablanca… “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in this establishment”.

Craigslist has a real and serious problem and instead of waiting for a community solution to a problem that will only get worse, Newmark and Buckmaster should be taking a leadership position and driving effective change to combat crime taking place on Craigslist.

Glue not Duct Tape

The Glue conference is scheduled for May 12/13 in Denver and I am moderating an exciting (well for me it is!) panel on XMPP. This is the first time this event has been held but it comes from the same folks that put on the excellent Defrag event and in many ways is the other bookend to what Defrag covers.

Glue is the only conference devoted solely to this new problem facing enterprise architects, developers and integrators. At Glue, we’ll explore the new technologies that are forming to solve the web application integration problem-set. Things like:

[From GLUE conference - Home]

I realize that it’s a tough climate to be asking anyone to shell out the money to go to a conference but this has the potential to be a really worthwhile event from a time and money standpoint.

Cuil Remains Cold

I wrote about Cuil when it launched last July with over the top PR coverage… at the time noting that the search results underwhelmed, nobody cares about privacy, and their results presentation was not efficient. Apparently I was not alone in these observations.

After the first flurry of news reports on the launch of Cuil, site traffic soared to more than 2 million unique visitors in July, according to Compete.com. One month later, though, traffic dropped by half. By September, Cuil had 400,000 unique visitors and in March, 140,000 visitors.

[From The sad tale of Cuil is far from cool - MarketWatch]

Considering that just today I posted about how companies overthink the launch process while neglecting to deliver a core feature set that overwhelms users and quickly iterate to flesh out the initial offering… well I could not offer a better example than Cuil.

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Denver online newspaper misses subscription goal

Anyone still want to argue that regional news sites with a subscription revenue model are viable?

With backing from three entrepreneurs, former staffers of the News said they would launch InDenverTimes.com if they could get 50,000 paying subscribers by Thursday — what would have been the News’ 150th anniversary.

But the site attracted only 3,000 paying subscribers.

[From Denver online newspaper misses subscription goal]

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