Week 2: Theoretical Reflection about the Swine Flu Epidemic in the U.S.A. (by Jackie Wang and Ming Fearon)

Theoretical Reflection: The Social Construction of Disease


In early 2009, panic about a new type of influenza began to widely permeate the media, then infiltrate classrooms and workplaces. Panic about avian bird flu was pretty much dropped once talk of swine flu came about. Many people began to seriously panic when news broke that a little boy from Mexico had died of swine flu while staying in the United States. Continuous news of deaths related to swine flu complications ensued, and a general hypothesis that swine flu would rise to pandemic proportions in the fall was perpetually promoted.

            Due to the panic about avian flu, the U.S. government had a large enough supply of Tamiflu, an existing antiviral medication used to treat the symptoms of influenza, to treat each and every U.S. citizen. Despite these swine flu treatments, rumors that this newest strain of flu was resistant to medication persisted. It seems now that the media took advantage of this hysteria and only promoted it further by splashing death counts and new breakouts across the front pages of newspapers and discussing it extensively on the nightly news. Few U.S. citizens actually know that according to the Center for Disease Control website (cdc.gov), an average of 36,000 people die each year from ordinary influenza-related causes, while 200,000 are hospitalized for the same reasons. According to Dr. Tony Fiore, a medical officer in CDC’s influenza Division, “By definition, we have an epidemic of influenza in this country every year. Every year is bad, and some years are worse.”

            The moment a swine flu vaccine was released, more drama ensued. Some people jumped on the opportunity, while others held debates as to the actual merits of the vaccine. Although the vaccine could prevent the flu, it was rumored that it could also trigger side effects, however rare they are.

It’s interesting to see all the measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of swine flu and germs in general. At our residence hall in New York, hand sanitizer dispensers appeared in front of each elevator on every floor, and at the height of the swine flu hysteria bottles of hand sanitizer were distributed to each student. Upon our arrival to Hong Kong, we saw multitudes of people wearing face masks, and we were given bleach to disinfect our rooms with upon moving into the residence halls. Everywhere we went there were signs about precautions one should take to promote cleanliness and sterility. Pretty much every single elevator we’ve encountered have signs above the buttons informing us that they are disinfected every hour.

After witnessing all of this, the question we’d like to raise is this: how much of these preventative measures have any actual effect, and how much of it is simply feeding into the hysteria and the hype?



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Should Google quit China? (Week 2_Karen, Janice, Vanessa, Yannie)

China, a nation which deems orders and stability as the most critical components to safeguard, Google’s statement to quit China because of the internet censorship absolutely arouses controversial discussion among the public and various communities. In terms of social, economic and political reasons, it is not a wise decision for Google to quit China as it would definitely be disadvantageous to both Google and China. In addition, it is doubted if Google’s consideration to leave China does relate to its failure of its growth and profits in the Chinese media market. As Google dares to bring in a challenge to China, one of the most explosively growing media market, it is wondering what the real reason and motivation behind Google’s such a risk-taking action.

Being one of the few top search engines in the world, Google provides lots of information and knowledge to people in China. Google, therefore, brings in global, including but not only western, values to Chinese and broadens their horizon. If Google quits China, citizens in China will likely lose a great channel to search and attain useful contents and be forced to withdraw from the world. People in China have been already disconnected from the world in some ways. For instance, while people all over the world are using instant messenger like MSN to communicate with others locally and globally, most of the Chinese are using QQ only to connect with others locally. They cannot communicate with people in other countries with QQ because others don’t use QQ. As Facebook, Youtube and a vast number of other websites are blocked, Chinese have limited platforms to attain information outside or even within the country. Consequently, they will be further disconnected from the world as they may not be easily updated about the news happened all over the world. For instance, Chinese students, as known as the future of China, cannot get further global information and knowledge via Google, the world’s most popular search engines. In other words, they will likely be restrained and isolated from the world. Likewise, the working class would not access to useful information related to their careers.

After the cyber-attack in China, Google announced the possibility to leave China if China does not relax internet censorship. If Google does pull out of China, it may arouse social instability and conflicts. For those who get used to use Google’s services, including the search engine, Gmail, blog and etc, don’t want Google leaves. Some of them left flowers and messages outside the Google’s offices in Beijing and mounted a candlelight vigil. They may even ascribe the withdrawal to Chinese Government’s faults. They might even start to be anti-Government or even anti-Communist Party.

Yet, noise aroused in this news is not totally in favor of Google. Some Chinese netizens see Google’s statement as a ridiculous threat to the Chinese government. They believe that Google’s consideration to quit is due to its failure to consolidate its position in the Chinese market. In addition, as there is much supportive voice of their home-grown search engine Baidu, it is not surprising to see social conflicts.

In terms of economic aspect, if Google pulls out of China, it may create a lose-lose situation. As China is recognized as a media market with explosive internet growth, it is non-sense for the world’s mostly-used search engine, Google, to quit China. Furthermore, as the internet becomes one of the quickest and most convenient medium for communication, Google’s leave may represent a disconnection of China and the world. With limited communication, economic activities, such as trades, investments, exchange of technological advents, developments and etc, would be hindered and reduced in some circumstances. For example, if there are not enough advertising channels for a company to promote their imported goods and services in another country, it is certainly difficult to help the company maximize their sales. Hence, without Google, one of the global advertising platforms and medium, the opportunities of bringing advertisements especially those of the multi-national-corporations (MNCs) into China will be decreased. As a result, it is possible that MNCs would lose their interests and reduce their investments in China. Eventually, it is an even greater loss to China if there is less investment and influx of global ideas. Furthermore, if Google quits, there will be less competition in the Chinese media industry. This may finally lead to a decrease of service quality. Netizens in China would become the group to suffer.

More significantly, it would increase the political tension between China and US if Google’s leave takes place. Before Google’s threat, the disagreement on the issues of trade imbalances, currency values and US weapons sales to Taiwan have already harmed the relationship between China and US. Now, two different stances of the internet censorship even tighten and worsen the relationship between two nations. According to David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, dozens of China, US and Europe-based users of its Gmail service who are advocates of human rights in China had been “routinely accessed by the third party”. Google even sees China as the only suspect as they think the cyber-attack was too sophisticated which could only be carried out by China. Facing this accuse, however, China denied being behind any attacks and restated its forbiddance of hacking. Not to mention whether the cyber-attack was indeed managed by China, Google performed in a contradictious role in this controversial issue.

Back to the moment when Google was first launched in China in 2006, Google determined to give up its corporate motto, “Don’t be evil” (1) and conceded to the Chinese government’s demands on censorship. Google had made such a decision as it believed it would be more damaging for civil liberties if Google did not enter China. Four years ago, Google proudly entered the Chinese market with its heroic mission to help the Chinese be exposed to the world. Today, it seems ridiculous for Google to quit China as this action could be interpreted as suddenly abandoning the Chinese netizens and resigning from being a hero.

“China’s internet is open, and the Chinese government encourages development of the internet”, stated by Jiang Yu, the spokesperson of Foreign Ministry. It was the first response from China in this news. Perhaps Google can disagree with the level of “open” in the Chinese internet as insisted by the Chinese government, it does not have the power or rights to govern or infringe upon the Chinese’ regulations. Moreover, it is understandable that everyone should follow and respect the laws and regulations of one nation while enjoying various kinds of freedom. It is just the same when it comes to the business circumstances. Hence, when Google is developing its business in China, it should obey the rules set by the Chinese government. Again, it is wondering why Google proposes the release of internet censorship, but not at the time when it entered China four years ago.

As Google brought in the matters of internet freedom, the US government has to come out and assert its own democratic image by supporting Google’s idea to promote freedom. Unfortunately, this struggle would affect not only impair the interests of US and China, but also of the globe. For instance, when there is international agenda about global issues, two big countries would not be compliant but antagonize each other. Consequently, it is hardly to reach a consensus on world’s issues and even harm the global interests, like the recent deadlock of the Copenhagen conference.

To conclude from the above predicted consequences caused by Google’s possible withdrawal, it is not welcoming to see Google’s plan comes true. Again, it is too hard for China to tolerate instability within the nation, there is still a long way to breed ‘freedom’. If striving for freedom in China is the real motivation behind Google’s ‘democratic’ proposal, Google should give up as soon as possible and tries repairing the relationship with the Chinese government, unless it does not deem the rapidly growing Chinese market as an opportunity to be benefited. Yet, when it comes to the question about the real motivation behind Google’s threat, time may tell.

(1) “Don’t be evil”:
"Don't be evil" is said to recognize that large corporations often maximize short-term profits with actions that destroy long-term brand image and competitive position. Supposedly, by instilling a Don't Be Evil culture the corporation establishes a baseline for decision making that can enhance the trust and image of the corporation that outweighs short-term gains from violating the Don't Be Evil principles.

Materials extracted from Wikipedia



(Week 2 )R.I.P. for the Victims in Haiti by Ivan, Ann and Cherry

January 12, 2010 was a normal day for most of the people. However, it was an unforgettable day for Haiti citizens. It was because at the 12th of January a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. News has been flooding through different media channels to people all over the world since the quake. And people like me start to know what is Haiti, where is that place and what is exactly going on there.

Today is 24th of January. Throughout the twelves days after the disaster, different media have kept updating the current situation of Haiti day by day. Citizens in Hong Kong like me have been exposed to different kinds of media and we have seen a lot of stories about the earthquake in Haiti. I notice that there are differences as well as some common grounds between the reports of two types of media-the local media and the global media.

The common ground of them is that both media reported the damage of the place and buildings, the desperate faces of the citizens there, and the help given by people from all over the world.

However, there is a difference between local report and global report. For local report that I saw like TVB jade news report and Oriental Daily, they reported the current situation in Haiti, especially how poor those people were. And a lot of coverage were used to report the death of those Chinese Peacekeepers in Haiti. On the other hand, for TVB Pearl and YouTube, these global media channels, besides reporting the disaster, they were broadcasting some donation shows conducted by US media for Haiti victims.

As far as I am concerned, the reason why there is such a difference is that Hong Kong people are Chinese after all. And those victims are not Chinese in any sense. We naturally concern less about the race that is not the same with us. That’s why they put lots of coverage in the transportation of the body of Chinese Peacekeepers back to China. Considering the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, Hong Kong media kept encouraging people to donate actively. Local television broadcasting companies organized a lot of fund raising shows to help Chinese victims. Finally, Hong Kong people actively donated a huge amount of money to help the victims in Sichuan earthquake.

What I learn from this phenomenon is that love has differences. We love people within boundary. However, I think the world is sort of a family. Through globalization and advancement in technology, human seems to be getting closer. So I think we need to help people no matter where they belong or what the color of their skin is. The reason why human can live for over two hundred thousand years is that we live in a group and help each other to construct community, society, nation and finally the world.