Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

11 Commandments for the Public Servant

This just tickles me. I love people who believe in what they are doing. These commandments are on the back of a pamphlet entitled Property Tax Exemptions for the Homeowner sent out by our Escambia County Property Appraiser, Chris Jones, CFA. I like the way he runs his office. Months ago, when we went down to apply for property exemptions and submit our paperwork, we found all his employees wearing those kind of Land’s End polo-shirts with Escambia County Property Appraiser’s Office logos on them. Pretty cool. The guys who also go out and take a look at the properties also wear these shirts, which help identify them and distinguish them from others like robbers, who may be taking a look at your house for entirely different reasons.

Here are the commandments on the back of the pamphlet. I could weep for joy:

11 Commandments for the Public Servant

1. Taxpayers are the most important people in the community.
2. Taxpayers are not dependent upon you; you are dependent upon them.
3. Taxpayers are not an interruption of work; they are the purpose of your work.
4. Taxpayers do you a favor when the call or come into the office. You are not doing them a favor by waiting on them.
5. Taxpayers are part of your work; they are not outsiders.
6. Taxpayers are not cold statistics. They are flesh and blood. They are human beings with feelings and emotions just like you.
7. Taxpayers are not people to argue with, match wits with or ridicule.
8. Taxpayers are people who need your assistance and it is your job to provide professional quality service.
9. Taxpayers are deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment that you can give them.
10. Taxpayers are the people who make it possible for your salary to be paid.
11. Taxpayers are a vital part of this government and every division thereof.

Kind of refreshing, huh?

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Communication, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Work Related Issues | 2 Comments

Flu Spreads Through Social Network

This is fresh off the press at The New York Times

Close Look at a Flu Outbreak Upends Some Common Wisdom
Published: February 3, 2011

If you or your child came down with influenza during the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak in 2009, it may not have happened the way you thought it did.

A new study of a 2009 epidemic at a school in Pennsylvania has found that children most likely did not catch it by sitting near an infected classmate, and that adults who got sick were probably not infected by their own children.

Closing the school after the epidemic was under way did little to slow the rate of transmission, the study found, and the most common way the disease spread was a through child’s network of friends.

Researchers learned all this when they studied an outbreak of H1N1 at an elementary school in a semirural community in spring 2009. They collected data in real time, while the epidemic was going on.

With this information on exactly who got sick and when, plus data on seating charts, activities and social networks, they were able to use statistical techniques to trace the spread of the disease from one victim to the next. Their report appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists collected data on 370 students from 295 households. Almost 35 percent of the students and more than 15 percent of their household contacts came down with flu. The most detailed information was gathered from fourth-graders, the group most affected by the outbreak.

The class and grade structure had a significant effect on transmission rates. Transmission was 25 times as intensive among classmates as between children in different grades. And yet sitting next to a student who was infected did not increase the chances of catching flu.

Social networks were apparently a more significant means of transmission than seating arrangements. Students were four times as likely to play with children of the same sex as with those of the opposite sex, and following this pattern, boys were more likely to catch the flu from other boys, and girls from other girls.

The progress of the disease from day to day followed these social interactions: from May 7 to 9, the illness spread mostly among boys; from May 10 to 13 mostly among girls.

“Our social networks shape disease spread,” said Simon Cauchemez, the lead author. “And we can quantify the role of social networks.”

Thirty-eight percent of children 6 to 12 were infected, compared with 23 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds and 13 percent of those older than 18. Adults were only about half as susceptible as children, but when they got sick they were just as likely to transmit the virus to others.

The school closed from May 14 to 18, but there was no indication that this slowed transmission. It may already have been too late — May 14 was the 18th day of the outbreak, and 27 percent of the students already had symptoms.

The scientists found no difference in transmission rates during the closure and during the rest of the outbreak. This, they write, confirms earlier studies showing that a school has to be closed quite early in an epidemic to have any effect on disease transmission.

Only 1 in 5 adults caught the illness from their own children, and this goes against one of the most common arguments for closing schools: that it will prevent the disease from moving from the school to households.

“Here we find that most of the infected adults were not infected by one of the children in their household,” said Dr. Cauchemez, a research fellow at Imperial College London. “This information could be used to understand whether it might be better to close a school, or to close individual classes or grades.”

Other experts were impressed with the work. “I think it’s a nice step,” said Ira M. Longini Jr., a professor of biostatistics at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “It’s a beautiful analysis of an important dataset. This virus spreads very fast among school-age children, so the topic is important.”

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Community, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Statistics | Leave a comment

What’s Really Hood: A Collection of Tales from the Streets by Wahida Clark, et al

Sometimes do you pick up a book and you don’t really know why you did? I saw this book in Target, and picked it up on an impulse. I read the cover and thought “you know, this is way out of my culture and out of my comfort zone” but then I thought hey – it’s a sub-culture in my own country, and like isn’t it hypocritical to be so interested in other cultures and then to ignore this sub-culture in my own country? Plus, I had a friend called Wahida, . . . well, it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just the way it was.

I read the whole book. Some of what I read was frankly repellant. Some of the sex was so implausible that I can’t tell if my ideas are just way out of step with the changing times (and there are clues that this may be the problem) or that this sub-culture just has constant, earth-shaking sex.

The book contains five very different stories, but there are threads of similarity that appear in all five. Drugs are rampant, and destructive to individuals, couples, families, children, friendships, marriages, and the social context. Parenting skills are often fragile or non-existent. The male-female relationships are mostly exploitive.

And they all dream of a better life.

I think that’s what kept me reading. The stories are raw. You might not even like them at all, you might wish you had never heard of this book, but there is an honesty in the rawness, and a yearning to escape. The goal of all the easy money in the drug trade is mostly to GET OUT, to run away to some place safe, to live in a place where gunshots aren’t heard, and where kids can safely go to school.

I learned a lot from reading this book, but it was not an easy read. It is gritty, and characters you find yourself liking get killed off. It’s also stuck with me; I find myself thinking about things it brought to my attention. I’d love for you to read it too, and tell me what you think.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Crime, Cultural, Family Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Lies, Living Conditions | Leave a comment