Archive for April, 2009

Thanks for the free publicity, swine flu.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

There it is, right in the headline: “Ottawa recommends against non-essential travel to Mexico.” It seems this is another classic case of overblown fears and media sensationalism. Surely we should be shaking our heads at paranoid government advisories.


It’s hard to say. At the time of writing, some 152 Mexican deaths were being attributed to the new strain of flu (although these numbers aren’t confirmed yet). Some 2,000 seem to be infected. In a country of well over 100 million people spread over 2 million square kilometers, the odds of meeting an infected person seem slim. Further, the virus is only fatal if medical attention isn’t sought early enough. Compare this to the common, seasonal flu, which kills on average 4,000 Mexicans annually. 

Still, there exists a real danger that the virus could mutate further. Some strains seem to be more deadly than others, which might explain where there have been no deaths outside of Mexico (yet). One possible development would involve a strain that survives for longer out of the host, allowing it to transfer between people without close contact. Remember that scene in Outbreak when the camera flies through the air ducts and Dustin Hoffman looks up at you all shocked and breathes: “It’s airborne.” Yeah, like that.

The point, then, is that some of the overblown media hysteria might actually accomplish something. The SARS panic in 2003, as well as the perpetual bird flu fears, have left governments well prepared for this sort of outbreak. Ottawa has enough antivirul medication for full treatment for over 5 million people, a sixth of the country. Ontario has enough for a quarter of the province’s people. Public events are being cancelled in Mexico City, and vacationers are monitoring their symptoms.

So while this isn’t a time for panic or fear, it is a time for diligence. This whole thing will probably disappear slowly and we’ll forget all about it. The cynics will feel vindicated, deriding the governments and news organizations that treated the situation so seriously. What those critics are ignoring, however, is how much worse things could have been if we weren’t on top of it. The fear of a massive pandemic is not irrational – especially if it spurs international cooperation to nip the outbreak in the bud.

The Taliban advances further into Pakistan

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This isn’t good. Here I am a year or so before I plan on walking across the Indian border into Pakistan, and I read this in the news:

Pakistani paramilitary troops rushing to protect government buildings and bridges from encroaching Taliban militants just 100 kilometres from the capital quickly came under fire today by gunmen who killed a police officer, authorities said.

To the uninitiated, this may seem like old news. Pakistan, after all, has been battling Taliban-eque militants for years. Even before the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Pakistani government had relented de facto control of vast regions along the border to local leaders.

But this is different. This isn’t one of those chaotic “tribal regions” governed by warlords and radical clerics.  This is a province only a hundred kilometers away from the capital. It’s as if Cornwall, Ontario was taken over by a French seperatist army. Or if Richmond, Virginia fell to the marching Confederates. Or Northampton had fallen to invading Scots. 

All of this comes, in classic fashion, a few days after the U.S. announced that it would continue sending $1.5 billion in military aid to Pakistan to help combat the militants. Clearly not all of that money is reaching the front lines. Raise your hand if this surprises you. Bueller?

All I can hope is that somehow the tables turn. But as America beefs up its presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban only have one place to go.

Who knows, perhaps when I arrive Afghanistan will be the safer option.

(The map below illustrates what I’m talking about. The purple areas are those “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” whereas the green are administered normally by the Federal government in Islamabad [the capital, highlighted in red]. Some of the areas I was quite excited to visit include Peshawar, Dir, and Chitral [highlighted in yellow]. The red province is Buner, the recently invaded region. You can see my predicament.)

Northwestern Pakistan

Keeping you occupied

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Well, you’re here. Now what?

It’s going to take me some time to get things set up properly and to begin posting regularly with stimulating content, so for now here are a few things you can do to keep yourself busy.

First, read the Who? Where? and Why? pages I’ve used to describe a bit about who I am (in case you forgot), where I’m going, and why I’ve chosen Non-Essential Travel as the name of my site.

Second, take a look at the layout and let me know what you like/don’t like. It’s a pretty standard wordpress template I’m using, with a few personal touches (the banner photo up top is one of mine from Luang Prabang, Laos). But I’m sure there are some improvements I could be making, and some feedback would be helpful.

Lastly, drop a comment or two, so the site doesn’t look so lonely.

Under construction

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Welcome to This site is mostly set up to allow me to document and share the stories/experiences I’ll have on my two year(ish) trip that begins this summer. Right now I’m just in the process of building the site and its features. So for now don’t expect too much in the way of content.

But thanks for coming. I’d love any feedback you might have, especially relating to the look, layout and/or navigation. Everything – other than it’s existence, I’ve already paid for that – is subject to change.

So feel free to comment or email me. My contact info is under “Who?”

In the beginning…

Monday, April 20th, 2009

So I guess we’ve started up here.

This should be an interesting project. More soon.