Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Real Ebola Epidemic


Let's look at some facts.

1) The current Ebola outbreak began last December in southern Guinea, when a 2 year old boy contracted the disease, likely from a fruit bat or perhaps consuming bushmeat (monkey), altho no one can be certain. Since December 2013, 5,000 people have died from the disease, nearly all of them in west Africa.

2) On March 24, 2014, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) opened up a treatment facility in Guinea. At that point, 59 people had died, and a further 30 or so had contracted the disease. Shortly after, MSF began soliciting volunteer healthcare professionals to work in their ever-expanding facilities. Generally, a volunteer will serve about 8 weeks on a tour. This means that dozens if not hundreds of people have been to the hot zone and returned without incident.

3) Indeed, the first case of Ebola appearing on American soil was Dr. Kent Brantly, followed quickly by Nancy Writebol, both contracting the disease in Liberia this fall, both treated and recovered. Since then, three other Americans have been evacuated to the States and have recovered. None infected anyone else. This includes the freelance photographer Ashoka Mukpo, who worked closely with an NBC news crew that included Dr, Nancy Snyderman (more about her later).

4) The first death from Ebola on US soil occurred in the case of Thomas Eric Duncan.  Not only was his case fatal (and mishandled all around) but he managed to infect two nurses caring for him: Nina Pham and Amber Vinson. Both have recovered.

5) A fourth diagnosed case of Ebola on American soil (Duncan, Pham and Vinson being the first three) occurred this past weekend when Dr. Craig Spencer returned from Guinea and became ill, but not before appearing in public, taking public transportation and engaging in some social activities, including bowling. He may even have sweated a little.

And now we get to the real epidemic over Ebola. You'll notice that for the better part of a year, doctors and nurses had traveled to and from the outbreak with nary a peep from anyone.

And then came Ken Brantly, and it seemed as tho spontaneously our own hot zone had sprung up. Despite the fact that evacuation protocols for a known Ebola case had been put into motion, despite the fact that we've handled worse epidemic outbreaks on American soil (hantavirus springs to mind) and contained diseases, the handwringing fem the diaper-clad set began, fomented in large part by the true epidemic of 2014, FOX News.

The fact that Dr. Nancy Snyderman, upon learning that her cameraman, Mukpo, had contracted the disease promised to self-quarantine for 21 days and then very publicly breaking her own promise, didn't help. FOX, sensing a chance to get a leg up on a competitor, made hay while the sun shined on Dr. Snyderman.

Turning the heat on the panic up a lot. You see, Snyderman returned in early October, just days after the Duncan case was blared around the headlines, including his transmission to Nina Pham.

Never mind that Snyderman didn't contract the disease. Never mind that Duncan didn't infect his family, with whom he shared close contact for the better part of a week. We now had a transmitted case of Ebola on American soil and a celebrity doctor flouting her own rules (and to be sure, perhaps she shouldn't have made a promise she wasn't going to keep.)

The panic that these two incidents created should have been a wake up call to MSF to alter their guidelines for returning volunteers to be acutely aware of the very real epidemic of panic that had been whipped up in the States. By all accounts, for instance, Dr. Spencer followed the guidelines existing at the time for monitoring, except that he rationalized a sluggish feeling as jet lag as opposed to getting to a hospital or doctor immediately.

That he then took a very public form of transportation -- the NYC subway -- and engaged in some socializing after two months in the bush made his case almost automatically a scare headline.

And we Americans will panic at the drop of a hat. Just ask any ammosexual: after six years of Obama's presidency, they still have all their guns (and many more) but swear they will be taken away.

We really are children. Colleges have revoked acceptances of African students, Syracuse University barred an appearance by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who had returned -- three weeks earlier and Ebola free -- from the region, and Harvard has imposed stern limits on students and faculty from traveling to West Africa. A school in Cleveland was shut down and disinfected after it was learned a staffer was on the same flight as nurse Vinson. Parents in Mississippi, which suffers from a far worse epidemic of ignorance, threatened to keep their kids out of school after it was discovered the principal had traveled to Zambia, 3,000 miles from the nearest Ebola outbreak.  A Maine teacher was put on 21 day paid leave just for visiting Dallas for a conference.

And then there's this...

Panic will kill more Americans than this disease. Mark my words.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Peek Inside the Conservative Mind

WARNING: Below, you will be exposed to toxic thinking and noxious conclusions from right-wing partisans. A Level Four HazMat suit is recommended. The CDC will NOT be available for protection. You have been warned. Proceed with caution. Should you experience nausea, vomiting, tearing eyes, a rise in blood pressure SHUT DOWN YOUR BROWSER IMMEDIATELY and seek expert medical attention from Doctors Jack Daniels or Jim Beam.






The Ebola crisis is, in point of fact, a manufactured crisis. Media outlets, tired of covering insipid and meaningless political horse races found a sexy and dangerous news item and not only ran with it, but decided to tie it into the politics of the day.

The prevailing wisdom, of course, is this crisis reflects badly on the CDC. I suppose when you push a false narrative, it has to. After all, the CDC is supposed to be on top of "crises" like these, and handle them with aplomb.

Tell that to the 20,000 AIDS victims who died before the CDC even got their boots on back under Reagan.

In point of fact, the real enemy of the American people is, not surprisingly, the GOP, and Texans specifically. It's no surprise that this outbreak occurred in the state least able to handle an outbreak. Texas has great hospitals -- the heart transplant was practically perfected in Houston -- and clearly there's enough oil money down there to import the finest doctors who want a live of luxury.

Before we get into this too deeply, let's take a look at the timeline of the outbreak:

On September 15, Thomas Eric Duncan becomes exposed to the Ebola virus when he accompanies a pregnant friend to a hospital in Liberia, who believes she is miscarrying. According to the cab driver, they tried four hospitals. None would see her (this echoes later in the tale. You'd like to think the States would be different...). The next day, the friend dies.

On September 19, Duncan leaves Liberia to visit family in Texas. He cannot fly directly to the States, so he flies to Brussels, then DC, then Dallas. He is not symptomatic. Much has been made by the lunatic reactionary fringe of the fact that Duncan "knew" he had the virus, as he quit his job on September 4, and arranging a visa to the US, but that's patently untrue. The visa was of long standing and his girlfriend had moved here long before the contact.

That Ebola was an unmanageable problem in Liberia may have contributed to his decision to leave, but there is no evidence that Duncan even saw a doctor prior to Dallas, much less received a diagnosis. Indeed, all reputable sources point to the September 15 trip as the first time he even sets foot in a hospital and that was for his neighbor.

On September 24, Duncan is symptomatic: fever, and nausea. Two days later, he decides to go to the emergency room, since a) he has no insurance and b) Ronald Reagan mandated that no emergency room may turn away a patient without treatment.

At Texas Presbyterian, Duncan tells a nurse he recently arrived from Liberia but that information does not get passed along because, Texas (In NYC, by contrast, emergency rooms routinely have maps of the world that staff can refer to on which disease outbreaks by nation are charted.) Conservatives have gotten this part wrong endlessly, preferring to point to one interview where the TPH staff said no one was aware of his recent travels. Malpractice suit number one.

TPH, suspecting a low grade virus, send him home with a prescription for antibiotics. Antibiotics, it should be pointed out, are completely ineffective against any virus. Malpractice suit number two.

Two days later, on September 28, EMTs are dispatched to Duncan's home who bring him to the hospital. None of the EMTs have developed Ebola symptoms, we should note. And they would have had less reason to suspect Ebola than the hospital staff. Protocols were followed.

It's not until September 29 that the CDC receives even the most cursory notification of a possible Ebola case, when a relative of Duncan's calls them. He gets shuffled about, and the CDC has not confirmed this phone call, although the State Department, to whom the relative was referred, does acknowledge receiving a call, but that the relative and others who State interviewed denied that Duncan was exposed to Ebola (possibly fearing deportation, or at the very least, quarantine, I suspect).

September 30, four days after the first hospital visit, Duncan tests positive for Ebola. Up to 20 people would have come in contact with him prior to protocols being put in place. The hospital executives have admitted that the initial response to Duncan's case was pathetically, almost laughably, bad.

As you now know, two nurses contracted Ebola from Duncan. One, Nina Pham, was symptomatic as of October 12. It's possible that she came into contact with Duncan's bodily fluids before the protocols would have been triggered, as Ebola may, and I stress may, not have been diagnosed yet (altho the mind wobbles at how you don't put full hazmat gear on for a vomiting patient, no matter what the condition).

Also on October 12, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins orders a watch list of people who came into contact with Duncan be created.

Yet, a moron, one Amber Vinson, gets on a plane the very next day from Cleveland back to Dallas. Malpractice suit number three.

Stories vary about whether the CDC okayed her travel. Vinson and her partisans have suggested the CDC cleared her. The CDC, however, maintains they tried to persuade her not to travel but ultimately relented for her return to Dallas, for reasons unknown.

Mind you, the responsibility for Vinson self-quarantining would have been TPH's and the Dallas department of health, not the CDC. Dallas authorities had already quarantined the Duncan family. The Jenkins order suggests they could have done the same as they identified potential patients.

But it's the CDC's fault. Of course. Because they are the Federal government run by the black guy in public housing.

Never mind that the combined budget for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health were cut 44% in the budget deal last year that re-opened the Federal government.

(And a side note: if this had happened in 2013 under the shutdown, the Republicans would have been revealed as the treasonous bastards they are, since the CDC would have been completely prevented from doing anything except maybe issuing warnings.)

Never mind that we still don't have a Surgeon General, who might have been able to move more quickly on this matter and certainly brought more resources to bear to deal with this problem, because the NRA has vetoed the most recent candidate.

And never mind that the last time the Feds imposed a mandatory quarantine on ANYone, they ended up getting sued (altho a judge threw the case out.)

This is not an epidemic. This is not even an outbreak. We may still see a few more cases in the States, but for the most part, by October 1, the disease was back under control. It's more like a wildfire than a flu. But you'd hardly know that watching the conservative media like FOX News or CNN.

The missteps here are many, and kudos to the CDC for admitting they could have been quicker on the draw -- they could have -- but the bulk of the evidence suggests the problem lies in Texas: in it's poor healthcare system, lack of universal health insurance, and "damn the rules, I'll do what I want" rugged individualism.

Also, the fact that Duncan was not white may have played a role in his treatment at the hospital. I would like to think not, but I'll keep an open mind because this is Texas, after all.

All this occurs over a backdrop of precisely one Ebola death, the fellow who brought it here, and two additional confirmed cases.

Keep in mind that in the same time frame that this "crisis" has unfolded, there have been a thousand deaths by gun in this country.

THAT'S a crisis.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living for a Human Being

The cool inky darkness of a late September morning slipped past me like motor oil as I plunged my pedals earthward, propelling myself up the moderate incline of the bridge to another borough.

I hate riding this bridge, yet it is a lifeline to most of the cycling events in New York City. This bridge has dual anxieties: at once, it is both a lonely ride this early in the morning, yet a ride to be terrified to share the roadway on. The bike and pedestrian path is very narrow and at its pinnacle, there's a very short fence. It would not take much to fall hundreds of feet into the icy maelstrom below.

This bridge, it creeps me out every time I cross it. Cross it, I must. It seems pointless to ride a subway for an hour to get to a starting line when a ten minute bike ride through Harlem serves the same purpose.

I'm lit up like a Christmas tree when I ride this time of the morning, in an hour that I can count on the fingers of one hand. It's quiet. It's peaceful. I ride slowly, deliberately feeling each millisecond of each pedal stroke, assessing how my legs feel. Sometimes, the bridge wins and I end up walking my bike part way across, a function of too much too soon before I've warmed up. Most times, my bike wins.

The noise and vibrations of the roadway transcend to the bike path, as the bridge is a major trucking thoroughfare. Sometimes, the chain link fences along the roadway will rattle as if a gangbanger dragged a 2x4 along the metal wires, a function of heavy wheels and metal bridge joints in the road bed.

And did I mention the stairs? There are stairs to climb or descend, depending on your point of view.

This year, I've had three bikes.



(You may recall a post from a few months back about my accident. That bike, Shadowfax, was totaled, so I replaced that boy with a new girl.) The blue girl, Tiamat, has not been on a ride yet. I only just purchased her and I've been busy with other things.

I made a choice this year to do the "touristycle" thing: all the NYC rides that attract people from all around the world: the Gran Fondo and Five Boro Bike tour, Escape New York and yes, the City Century.

In their own ways, each of these beat me, or more to the point, I let them beat me. The accident didn't help, to be sure. It's a little disconcerting when I realize how close I came to being dead, and never even saw it coming until it happened. I heard a screech, felt something smack me on the ass, and next thing I know, I've got a new bike. A split second, maybe a hundredth of a second, was all that stood between me and a grave. That threw me off any momentum I had built training to that point. That was what? The end of June? 

But more than that, I learned this year that I didn't even know myself that well. 

Its funny. I pride myself on my "nosce te ipsum", knowing myself. And I suppose I should have known that, once in these events, I would go flat out. That's who I am: I have two speeds -- full out, and fuller outer. 

So I burned out. I cracked hard on some hills. I finished them all but I forgot the first rule of riding which is to ride within yourself.

On the Fondo, I found myself racing the sweep wagon, the vehicle that organizers will send out along the route at a pace that should coincide with the slowest possible speed a rider can finish in the allotted time. That was a little embarrassing, particularly as it caught me just ahead of the finish line, but I guess they figured by the time they stopped me and loaded my bike, I could have been across the line on my own steam. My legs were jelly when it passed me, but when it passed me, I found the few strands of muscle fiber left and cranked my way over the finish.

But there was a lot more to the season than just these rides. I made several training rides that I'm very proud of, including the ride that saw my bike destroyed (if I had finished that ride cleanly, it would have topped out somewhere north of 85 miles and would have positioned me perfectly for a century). I did some other tours and rides that I completed, not just finished, in style. Beer at the finish is a powerful incentive. 

I saw some beautiful sunrises, and took some awesome photos. I met and chatted with hundreds of people, many of whom I've seen from time to time out on their bikes, too. I had a lot going on in my life, and though cycling has always been a way to put those aside, this year it almost became an encumbrance: gearing up, watching weather reports, maintaining my bikes, figuring out routes (that one, especially after the accident, was troubling). 

It's October now. The oily darkness smears across the sky earlier and lingers later now. I'll still ride, probably into December, but it will be once, maybe twice a week. I'll revel in the freedom even if it now means keeping one eye and one ear cocked to the rear.

And dream of next year.       

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Wages of Capitalism



Winston Churchill once famously said of Democracy, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Oddly, he also said, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

I say "oddly," because of Naomi Klein and her new book, This Changes Everything.

In it, Klein points out the inherent contradiction that capitalism will somehow solve a problem that capitalism created and that the ultimate solution to climate change will only come when a critical mass of people around the globe realize that the problem with capitalism is, well, it's capitalism. It's an economic system that relies on the basest of human urges to fuel it, thus guaranteeing its success at destroying civilization.

I suspect that there are going to be a series of books by Klein exploring this aspect of capitalism in other areas, but let me outline some of them for you.

1) Capitalism versus religion and morality -- This should pretty much be self-explanatory, of course. Religion is about the masses, and by definition, the masses tend to be poor. In a self-styled Christian society in particular, capitalism is going to be anathema to the message of religion.

But there are aspects of this conflict that need to be addressed. Like democracy, greed warps religion. Just look at Sunday television in any backwater flyover area. Watch the megachurches that care less about the soul of the viewer or audience and more about the pocketbook of the preacher. Capitalism has realized there's money to be made in religion, money that flows to the corporatocracy.

After all, those Sunday church shows, you don't think they're on because they generate ratings for the cable company, do you? They pay for air time, and pay a lot of money. Pastors like Joel Osteen and John Hagee have to instill fear (or desperate hope in Osteen's case) in their parishioners in order to get donations to afford those fees that ratchet up with each new contract. They are infomercials for God and the reason you see so many of them on so many channels is they make a lot of money for the television provider, and no other reason.

This is also why so many churches -- and not just megachurches but your local parish, too -- have abandoned all pretext of a separation of church and state and gone straight for the gut of Barack Obama: they need fear to get donations so they can afford to stay in business.

This isn't religion: this is capitalism turning religion into professional wrestling.

There's a built in army of sheep ready to devour this on their way to the slaughterhouse, too. In one respect, Marx was right that religion is the opiate of the people. It does make things a bit easier to accept your lot in life here when you have the carrot of everlasting happiness dangling in front of you while the mass beats your mule-ass with the stick of eternal damnation.

It makes it easy to scare people when they're already terrified. Just ask FOX News.

But even if you're an atheist, capitalism is anathema to a polite society. It encourages crime. It's right there in the speech that Gordon Gecko gives in Wall Street: "Greed...is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

2) Capitalism versus liberty -- I found it really ironic that a roar and cry went up when it was revealed that the US government was engaged in domestic spying on potentially all its citizens.

After all, we have already been paying for the privilege of that spying for decades now, but to a capitalist construct of a private corporation. Internet cookies are the prime example. but your credit card info has been recorded, data churned and analyzed so that marketers have gotten really good at not only guessing what you'd be interested in buying, but how and where you plan on using it.

Now, you can opt out of that spying, to a limited degree: don't shop online, don't use a credit card, don't join Facebook or Twitter, don't use an EZPass or a Metrocard, but you can't erase your image from all the private security cameras set up around the nation. You can't stop facial recognition software from identifying you when you're at a register, about to hand over a few bucks to buy a CD (remember, you can't download off iTunes).

You can't prevent your emails from being sifted (Gmail is notorious for that) for data and information. You can block cookies, but you can't stop your computer from sending out information to software and hardware providers for diagnostics.

All this is data and information that someone will pay a lot of money for in order to market to you. You're not free. You've never been free. It's all an illusion.

3) Capitalism versus democracy -- let's get right to the nub of Churchill's dichotomy. Democracy is a great form of government in that it's not the absolute worst. It has some very deep flaws that are systemic, mostly centering around the fact that the majority decides things.

That's fair, of course, in a society where information is perfect and cannot be bought and sold -- and there's your hint.

The Founders tried in their quaint little 18th Century manner to prevent that from happening, building checks and balances into the Constitution that preserved the rights of the minority to live in peace when most of their fellow Americans disagreed with them.

The Founders could never have foreseen a rapacious plutocracy that has greater devotion to their bank accounts than to the nation as a whole -- remember, this is a group of plutocrats who vowed their lives and fortunes to this new nation. They assumed anyone who came after would likewise feel the same sense of patriotism, or at least deep gratitude towards the nation that allowed them to "build that."

After all, if I can move billions of dollars oversees with the tap of an Enter key for a greater return than I can get at home, why would I care if that keystroke denies people outside my gates food or education or safety? Why would I bother even fixing the problems here since they don't affect me at all? My money, safely in China where people have it even worse off, is making more money there than it can here, and I can spend some of it to inoculate myself from the troubles outside my gate.

And that inoculation doesn't end with a higher fence or more security guards. It demands that I be pro-active and start expanding my buffers from society at large, because I sense the resentment around me. So maybe I buy a school board first, in order to make sure my children and grandchildren get the kind of schooling they should. And since I pay taxes, I should have a greater say in that education (buh bye democracy!) Next, there's the city council, since they maintain my water and sewer pipes, and in exchange I pay a high property tax. I ought to get a bigger say in how those taxes are spent (usually on education, but also on services like trash pickup and social services for people less fortunate than I. You know, "takers")

It used to be "one man, one vote" -- and even that was predicated on both gender and race, as well as property ownership (one of the great flaws of the Founders was limiting democracy at all).

It has gone from "one man, one vote," to "one dollar, one vote." And that is because of capitalism and its inherent pandering to the greed of people.

There's another quote in Wall Street that I'll end with. Also by Gordon Gecko. Keep in mind this takes place in the late 80s when you read it: "The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?"

And now keep in mind that movie is at the top of the hundred best list for nearly every stockbroker over the past thirty years. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I, Too, Have Often Tried to Fuck Trees

I ran across this item at Addicting Info today:
A community made up of American ex-pats deep in the South American hills of Chile – far away from America’s annoying taxes, healthcare mandate, and legal abortions — was supposed to be a libertarian paradise of rugged individualism. Instead it cost many of the people who bought into it almost everything, and now is buried under lawsuits — a reminder that everything that glitters is not inflation-proof, Ron Paul-backed gold. 
It seems pretty obvious that basing one’s society on a single work of (poorly written) fiction is folly, but for many adherents of Ayn Rand and her seminal book of Objectivist allegorical grandstanding, Atlas Shrugged isn’t just any book. It’s about as close to the Bible that many libertarians have — apart from the Bible, of course. It’s influenced an astounding number of conservative public figures — from Ron Paul to Rand Paul to Ronald Reagan. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Rand-loving running mate and probable 2016 presidential contender, said it was his favorite book growing up.
I don't think I have to analyze the immediate idiocy involved, do I? You didn't build that means that, well, you couldn't build it.

But let me personalize the tale of woe for you:
GGC is an environmentally protected area and it would take the political movement of heaven and earth to allow a community based on small lots to be officially approved. I had the opportunity to ask a question of the salesman who showed my husband and me “our property.” I claimed it because I fell head over heels for the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. I felt an instant connection as though the two of us were old souls who had found each other. I could believe it, I could see it… waking up each morning and having coffee under that tree, telling it about my plans for the day.
Never mind the splinters implied, focus on that first sentence. Galt's Gulch Chile advertised lots as small as 1.5 acres (for $48,500. Remember, this is Chile, not California) but were prevented from selling them because...government regulation. In Chile.

And did that stop the shysters at GGC? Nope. They knowingly sold 1.5 acre lots on a piece of land zoned for nothing smaller than 10 acre subdivisions.

And now, your moment of Zen: