University of Minnesota

Review: "Contagion": Minneapolis faces instant social collapse in latest Hollywood portrayal of martial law!


SPOILER ALERTS! -- Plagued man (lower left) staggers off bus at Lake & Lyndale; Paltrow croaks at Fairview University Medical Center; MDH painted as buffoons; Matt Damon defends saddest Minnesota XMas ever w/ shotgun & sweaters!


Snagged advance tickets to Steven Soderbergh's A-List disease disaster flick "Contagion." Rumpled but sagacious institutions going through the motions make for a dour rhythm & pacing. Overall it resembles a video news release designed to make us feel comfortable with lining up for shots at the FEMA/Red Cross center -- that's the whole catharsis at the end basically. Thanks to Cryptogon for the tip on this film!

But weirdly, a whole vision of wintertime midwest social collapse goes down in my general neighborhood -- Minneapolis to the Martial Law-lockdown Wisconsin border!

The Minneapolis Armory downtown is transformed into a pandemic doomcenter!


It's kind of an initiation into USNORTHCOM CONPLAN 2591 for Dummies: Line up You Crazed Minnesotans! It's NCIS: Team Bacteria, basically plodding dialogue rarely gets any humor catharsis.

It's too bad this stolid film could have been so sardonic – come on, with Fargo you've got a real Minnesota film. Even though few shots except say the downtown Armory actually appeared to be shot here. Still, the blue light & Thanksgiving-Xmas interval of complete doom bore the mark of a dark winter experience. Still this film needed humor -- they just couldn't put much in at all.

Quickly in Minnesota, panic and total social collapse sets in at martial food distribution ops and the grocery store.

contagion-mpls-foodfail.png contagion-groceryfail.png

Army trucks all over downtown in the morning hours:

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Martial law is setup at the Minnesota/Wisconsin border -- closed by the Wisconsin National Guard. Not filmed in Stillwater but should have been. I actually made a sketch of similar Wi/Mn border bridge freakout one time -- this film has it all!




Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) deserves far more credit than the obligatory "baffled public official" exposition scene. They're actually very good at tracing outbreaks -- E Coli strains in industrial food for example -- but get zero credit really. Except for a You-Betcha-Bubble-Suit-Next-to-Mass-Graves type moment.



No one is really portrayed solving things cleverly except Fishburne's people. Will this look kind of like a Duck-And-Cover propaganda film in 50 years? "Cheating" or taking risks bending the rules is peculiarly rewarded -- i.e scientist with Biohazard Level 3 lab still finds the virus growth medium after they try ordering him to shut down.

Jude Law is a pigeonholed as conspiracy disease blogger and you never ultimately see if he's a shady fear profiteer. By the end he's painted as vaguely pitching profitable homeopathic cure for a possible hedge fund payoff. The hedge fund turns him in to Homeland Security. Doesn't make sense. He's left filming silently people lining up at a Red Cross/FEMA arena as they peacefully await shots like lambs.


Even as masked pillagers go through "suburban Minneapolis" in no sense are neighbors considered to be banding together in Minnesota -- though in China a whole village tries to hold the health scientist Cotillard hostage for vaccines.

It felt like there'd been battles over the script. Something about the way that the plots were stubbed out...

Adjuvants get a mention as needed to really get the immune response kicked into action. Delicious thimerosol win! (of course high levels of gross damaging adjuvants are needed because frequently vaccines are weak failsauce)

Just-in-time commercial inventory spells direct social fail: Surprise! I felt like the kind of preparation which local organization like the U of M's top notch Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy which advises better supply chain strategies during dangerous pandemics. The pandemic supply chain fail basically leads straight to pandemonium in Minnesota.

There's no real sense of proper preparation -- a lack of creativity here. Actor Bryan Cranston as the military guy was pretty good.

Spoiler deets-

-- the crucial clue on Paltrow's camera -- Damon finally notices month later. Seriously they never found this earlier?



-- if they point out that fatality level from malnutrition is variable to nutrition, they could have promoted vitamin D but didn't

-- You get vaccinated == Arm Band seemed like prescripting or an introduction, as well as catharsis in plot!contagion-vaccines.png

-- At least no one gets chipped (altho vaccine fans will point out you can hide unique signatures in vaccine fluid)

-- No real 'mitigating' approach - be it neighborhood security radio or taking more vitamins -- no one is really creative outside of the government

-- Dr. Sanjay Gupta - CNN, NBC/Comcast KARE 11 are the media snippets. Gupta mediates the Fishburne/Law throwdown between CDC & Conspiracybloggers.

-- Chinese cooks hug western executive while greasy with pig guts fresh from the Chinese interior.

-- People coughing in the theater are scary!

-- Big FEMA Red Cross polite line of vaccine recipients is the catharsis "landing" basically


I didn't bother to stick around and look at the thank-yous to see who was involved in production. The way that it feels like you're mainly plodding, tumbling through the CDC's cogs reminded me of another similar film The Next Three Days wherein Russell Crowe triggers off similar National Security machinations. Hell the new Transformers movie has the military as a major character collectively. It just doesn't make the stories move along to cover all these institutions and their fictionally presented wonderful operations.

This site is promoted on the trailer -- it doesn't even mention Minneapolis after all this trouble!


Matt Damon gits a shotgun which weirdly wasn't looted from his neighbors -- while the food was.


Chicago gets the martial law treatment like the FEMA Region V headquarters it is.

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Homeland Security Guy always seems like a douche but He Means Well.


Dimitri Martin handles yr viruses


I think this scene was cut? Or was I not paying attention.


Obligatory red blooming map


That about covers it. I always wash my hands and try to avoid touching my face. Minnesota is kind-of used to this stuff so I rather resent we are now portrayed as the exemplars of public panic!

Freedom of consent, total galactose & intellectual property: Minnesota's infant DNA Mayo-Gopher industrial complex

As posted

A new round of documents obtained from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) regarding the state's Newborn Screening Program (NBS) show interesting implications about the difference between its role catching certain dangerous genetic diseases, and the various genetic research and testing programs that the samples ultimately get sent to. There's quite a difference between the "trip-wire" disease screening program and the DNA studies; the role of DNA research as intellectual property suddenly pops up.

The study project authorizations approved by the Department of Health involve DNA research; critics of the policies around the newborn DNA samples want to know what happens to all the genetic data, and who might profit from it. Two big players around here, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, do work on the blood samples. The operative contracts, which include defining the "intellectual property" of what could almost be called the "derivative works" of newborn DNA, of the U of M and Mayo were obtained by lawyer Nathan Hansen, working in concert with the Citizens Council on Health Care, via Data Practices requests.

Here is the University's newborn screening contract and the Mayo's [PDFs]. Fans of cellular rights might find the parts on the State apparently owning their chromosomes a bit profound! [PIM combined all of Hansen's PDFs, now searchable via optical character recognition. Get it now: 105 MB - Acrobat 8+ required!]

The puzzle over infant DNA data handling revolves around a conflict between the state's 2006 genetic privacy law, which is fairly protective of individual rights, and the statute that controls the newborn screening program. In March 2007, administrative law judge Barbara Neilson ruled that the Department of Health was not compliant with the privacy law, and in 2008, SF3138, a bill that leaned towards the program (and backed by the Mayo) got vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty over privacy concerns.

From where should the basic principles about intellectual ownership of one's DNA come, especially when dealing with the property of people that were just born? Parental informed consent is the pathway out. To reform the legally hazy situation, DFLers have basically wanted to make a more clear consent form available to new parents, and roughly speaking, tighten up the sample rules.

If the DNA samples are considered "anonymized" in various ways (generally, but not always, the bloodspots get tied to ID numbers, not with demographic or personal information), then the studies can be exempted from Institutional Review Board examination usually under "Category 4" of 45 CFR 46. This is kind of a misleading idea, though: all those data fields they leave off are just bytes assigned by society; forking out someone's DNA tells everything about them, to a rather serious extent.

It's a salient public issue: CCHC Director Twila Brase and Tom Emmer (R-Delano) appeared on the national Glenn Beck show to chat about the nebulous legal nature of the situation. (CCHC also has a infant DNA website up.)

The CCHC is pleased they've stopped the latest legislation this year from Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), even though Thissen sees his bill as a clarification, tightening rules on sample destruction and the parental consent system.

We'll make a dare for the Department of Health to try: the new parental informed consent form should have a separate checkbox: if the DoH is going to offer their child's DNA to research programs, all derivative works and intellectual property should be under the "Creative Commons" license -- none of this scooting off the chewed up data into the sphere of corporate patents and trade secrets!

One other factor: as public-private partnerships have moved into the area of genetic research, the compensation structures of various researchers have been shifting. The proposed, so-called "Tubby Smith" shift in data classification of public employee outside compensation would obscure how these are set up -- and indeed, if the "derivative works" from the infant DNA data isn't always traced (let alone handled in a comprehensive ethical framework), what's really happening to those little red spots? As always, who profits?

One program serves to improve a commercial "Total Galactose" testing kit from the Finnish group Perkin Elmer [PDF], in effect doing the R&D runs. On the documentation like the MDH Institutional Review Board (IRB) "Re-Reviews of Exempt Research," sometimes children are marked affirmatively on the "Vulnerable Populations Checklist" and, at least on some studies, they are supposed to be evaluated because they "are either not competent or not free to give their own consent;" so why are the studies inconsistent as to whether children are actually involved? In any case, the exhaustive social and economic effect of having their DNA poured into to research projects isn't fully traced in these IRB approvals.

Hansen's sharing more about where else the paper trail leads at his blog. One funny item from the letters Hansen got from Lynn Belgea at the MDH legal office said MDH [PDF] "does not conduct 'DNA collection' from infant children; the department collects dried infant bloodspots, of which DNA is one constituent."

On one IRB review's HIPAA checklist, it was noted the MDH is not a "covered entity" under HIPAA, and "any health information that MDH has collected or received for public health purposes is not PHI [Protected Health Information] in MDH's possession." PHI doesn't seem to extend to the idea of personal ownership of DNA as a kind of "individually identifiable health information" (PHI is described as stuff about payments, health care provisions or the "health condition of an individual") -- but even if PHI included your DNA rights, the MDH wouldn't have any problem distributing it under current HIPAA rules, because it all came in for "public health purposes."

[Get the whole, fully searchable multi-part PDF here, 105 MB including the U of M and Mayo Contracts, the total galactose project, MDH correspondence, years of NBS meeting agendas, and other items. Acrobat 8+ required.]
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